As we mentioned in a previous blog, we are doing a run of three on the biannual medieval-fest at our neighbourhood town of Les Arcs-sur-Argens. It was colourful, photogenic and, hey, it’s August.
Anyway as we said last week, this was the whole medieval experience: or at least the Middle Ages as we prefer to think of them in the south of France; good-looking squires, elegant wenches and a cheerful peasantry with not the slightest thought of a revolution, all doused in an abundance of sunlight and rosé. Apart from the band of lepers there was little hint of the fact that in reality life was nasty, brutish, short and generally flea-ridden.
One of the central features was a procession from the camp at the edge of the town into the market. Because in the south of France we don’t do things in a regimented fashion it was all somewhat loosely managed. Not exactly chaotic but you got the feeling that no one really knew what was about to happen including the organisers.
Clearly too the word medieval was not tightly defined. So the procession included a king and queen, assorted knights, Saracens, lepers, medieval peasants, dancers, jugglers, sheep and so on. There was a rather fine dragon, various ghoulish characters on stilts, some rather alarming dancing skeletons, an extraordinary set of gargoyles that could have given the average small child nightmares for a week and a number of unpleasant creatures that should really have been captioned “based on an original idea by Hieronymous Bosch”. At one point there was also a gendarme who was probably trying to impose some sort of order on the event.
One interesting omission was the almost total absence of nuns, clerics, abbots, friars, monks etc. Clearly the French attempts to erase religion from popular culture – la laicité -actually works backwards. It was also interesting that most of the French soldiery appeared to be dressed for the Crusades. For some reason or other there seem to be no references to the mediaeval wars that we Brits are used to: Crecy and Agincourt are clearly not popular in French history.
One other interesting phenomenon is worth noting. Whereas in Britain you would have to have paid at least £10 a head to get into the centre of a medieval pageant even remotely approaching that of Les Arcs, this was entirely, completely and utterly free. There was not even a charge for the car parking. Probably underneath it all the town, the Department, the Region and ultimately the state paid a lot to make this happen. Anyway, whoever did pay, much thanks!