8.
Dancers of Provence

To dance is human, but to polka is divine.
- k.d. lang


My timing was pretty lousy for most of the trip, but I did get really lucky in arriving in Avignon on that particular weekend. Turned out they were having a major festival of the traditional dances, music, and culture of Provence; all that weekend, up by the Palais de Papes and along the streets of Avignon, you could see people in astonishing costumes, and hear the most remarkable music, and up on the great square they were doing dances such as I'd never seen before.


It was all new and wonderful to me; I hadn't even realized any of this existed - I suppose I knew, if I thought about it, that the Provence region must have its own traditions, since just about any region does if you dig deep enough; but I had no idea Provence had such a rich heritage. Or that it was so widespread; there were groups from as far away as Corsica and Italy.


And I certainly hadn't known that the Provençal language was still alive and flourishing; let alone expected to hear it spoken outside a university language department...interesting sounding language, sounds a little bit like Portuguese in a way, not at all like French. I couldn't understand a word. Later somebody gave me a program booklet printed in both French and Provençal and it was possible to guess at a few of the words - FÈSTO DÓU POPLE PROUVENÇAU, read the title.

I caught all this over the next few days, in between my various comings and goings. Much of the program dancing was at night, on a stage up by the Papal palace, and I didn't figure I'd have much chance of getting decent photos - didn't even take my camera - though I wish now I'd at least tried. It was a strange sensation for me, as a sometime powwow dancer, to be watching and photographing a bunch of white people in colorful costumes doing colorful dances....


One morning I came upon this group working on their routine, getting in a bit of last-minute practice.


As I watched, a beautiful black-haired girl came up and began talking with me in French. I assumed she was local, but no; it developed she was from a town near Istanbul. We wound up talking in a bizarre mixture of French and Turkish, while we watched the dancers practicing their steps. Later on her damn boyfriend showed up. Oh well.


It began raining around midday but later on it cleared off and, walking up to the Palais again, I found the same group sitting on a wall watching the final ceremonies. Their part of the program had gotten rained out; after all that work, they hadn't gotten to dance.


They were obviously disappointed, yet still in good spirits and enjoying themselves. I talked with them briefly; they remembered me from that morning. They wanted to know about powwows. We got into a bit of a discussion about the importance of tradition in a changing world; this in French, but I gestured a lot and it went over well. I had been sitting back at the hotel watching the rain and drinking wine until I was about a quarter buzzed, and with a few drinks in me I will wax profound in just about any language of which I know more than a dozen words.


All of which is getting very far ahead of the story. The Provençal Powwow didn't start till the weekend, and before then I had other and very different adventures.

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