C’est La Grande Pollinisation – Carnaval de Saint Blasi, Pézenas

I’m so pollinated I’m out of breath‘, screams the clearly not anywhere near out of breath, White Queen. ‘Allez les femmes sauvages; enter the magic circle, dance with the men, you must be touched by the branches for it to work‘. She urges now not only her ‘savage women’, who dressed in green costumes with drapes, leaflike dangling from necklaces and headgear adorned with christmas style rights are seemingly reaching a stage of euphoric abandon, but now us, the whole crowd, to boot. ‘Now it gets interesting‘ yells the Queen into her microphone for it to be broadcast over loudspeakers installed on a cart pushed by volunteers.

Frozen Queen?

Frozen Queen?

All this accompanied incessantly to a near deafening almost erotic drum beat struck by costume clad demon-esque creatures which best resemble a cross between dreadlocked reindeer and trolls with jet black painted faces; huge cowbells hung from their necks. ‘C’est la grande pollination‘ she shouts… And as she does so again and again, I am left wondering what lies ahead if we have not yet reached ‘interesting’.

The moment I realised this might not be entirely your run of the mill Carnaval had come around twenty minutes prior to the now increasingly wild dancing taking place in the Queens’ ‘Magic Circle’. The White Queen, microphoned-up, from her – surely absolutely freezing – position, wedged high in the branches of a tree beneath the castle ruins, where the show had kicked off, suddenly interrupted what had until that moment been a fairly standard telling of Boucles d’or et les Trois Ours (Goldilocks and The Three Bears) to question whether a young girl alone in the woods, would these days not lead someone to phone the police thus ending the adventure in its tracks long before any beds might be tested?

A Bear? A Troll? Bizarre...

A Bear? A Troll? Bizarre…

My ears pricked up at this left-field departure from the script. I had, I must confess been tempted to call it a night at that point, blaming the cold and what I assume was about to prove yet another encounter with an incredibly long Son et Lumiere (sound and light) show as I think only the French can make them – I once saw a New Years Eve fireworks display set to a booming narration of The History of Slavery. “Les hommes noire…” it began as blue, white and red stars exploded around us. Yes, truly.

A few minutes later, as we were at the first bowl of porridge stage, emerging from an until this moment dark sort of grotto to the right of the two hundred or so souls who made up the audience, this time loud, I thought slightly unfortunate sounding, noises interrupted the narration of the Queen. Had I thought these noises slightly reminiscent of those which ensue from consuming too many beans, it turned out I was not the only one as The Queen boomed over the crowd – ‘These farting bears! Awww, the smell’. The kids loved it. Farting bears? Really? I once read in some science magazine or other that the average adult breaks wind an incredible forty times (thankfully not always audibly so) during one good nights sleep.

And The Beat Goes On...

And The Beat Goes On…

That being the case, I guess it only follows bears might be at least as flatulent whilst slumbering. However the inclusion of this nod to bodily functions in our fairytale I found both an exceptional, as well as fascinating, if totally unnecessary, level of detail. At this point though, I was hooked – determined to see what the rest of the evening might hold in store.

Suddenly they charged… Aroused from their slumber and encouraged by the green clad ‘savage women’ several of whom began the evening suspended from ropes over the ruined castle ramparts, the ‘bears’ launched themselves at the audience. It was actually quite scary. For the predominantly child accompanied crowd, having woollen, horned, black face-painted beasts emerge from a dark cave and charge you, screaming, whilst hammering big drums, cow bells clattering, must be petrifying. Had I been ten years old I would have run all the way home, traumatised and never to approach my home town castle after dark again. They breed ‘em tough in Pezenas; not one toddler budged. In fact they loved it. As the savage women completed their abseiled descent to trance-like music, reaching our level, and with the bears calmed a little, we all seemed to sense it was time get into formation and as a cavalcade we set off away from the black castle and down into the illuminated Medieval streets below. ‘It is time to wake Saint Blasi’, The Queen urged us.

And so it was, a few streets and a lot or drumming and whistling later, we found ourselves ushered into the magic circle, all the time reminded that the winter is nearly over and this is the moment of the ‘Big Pollination’. By now the music – or rather beating, the sort of beats which at the time of Elvis would have objected to as devil rhythms and accompanying whistle blowing was nearing frantic levels. Green confetti spewed all over the crowd from the waving arms and hands of the savage women as they whirled around making sure they were being touched by as many as they possibly could of the bundles of green painted branches which now emerged from who knows where. Here we danced around for a good ten minutes until all and sundry were pollinated to the satisfaction of the Queen – she really was very adamant on this detail. ‘And now the big moment – A la Eglise!’ – onto the church she screamed and once again we set off in an unruly procession (three local municipal police, looking totally out of place all the time a hundred yards ahead, presumably as a nod to public safety).

A few diners, tourists, either ignorant of the evenings proceedings or having decided it’s too cold or too local to participate, look on astounded from lit, heated restaurants as we pass. Some emerge onto the street; looks of bafflement. We must look odd, to the extent they totally forget that quintessential tourists gesture; raising ones arms and preferring the viewfinder to reality.

Saint Blasi Leading The Chants...

Saint Blasi Leading The Chants…

I see no one take photos. On the steps of the church we pause. The White Queen is now adorned by a huge floral crown yells at us to sing – to awaken from his winter slumber, Saint Blasi. The singing, banging and whistling reaches fever pitch. Everyone knows the words – I make out one; Pézenas. It’s a mixture of French, Occitane and Latin. Then dressed in purple robes and wearing a traditional mitre Saint Blasi obliged and rises from his sleep. It’s an incredible mixture of Catholic, pagan and local all whisked into soufflé of the bizarre – at least to the uninitiated. ‘Thanks for waking me’, yells the – also microphone linked – Bishop; ‘I am your patron saint as well as that of respiratory ailments’ he adds, keeping in line with the surreal nature of the whole thing. He screams at us to march on, ‘Spring is here!’… This time in Latin – where we are headed next I can only wonder.

As we leave the city gate, it feels as though the whole town is now united in song. I still am none the wiser as to the words, but it’s a good tune. Akin to the rare, more educated, melodic songs one can sometimes hear at sporting events. Drumming and whistling. Signing. Pézenas! Pézenas! They chant. Around a corner a further figure is waiting for the procession – another Bishop, this time dressed in yellow, accompanied by a donkey and two small, very young children carrying a stick onto of which is attached a huge cows horn – the sort at the entrance to Western towns in the movies. The whole thing comes to a halt in front of a cafe with the bishop leading more and more chants. A man in drag emerges from spotlight window and strokes his well-endowed chest. A neighbour from an opposite window receives loud ‘boos’ from the crowd each time he speaks, there is a long theatrical debate, a chest of money is thrown out of a window, then pulled back in from the chain to which it was attached. And as it bogs down into a rather drawn out, very detailed debate in a mixture of three languages, my now frozen toes finally give in and I decide to leave the folk of Pézenas to finish their show unaccompanied by tourists.

'Pézenas, Pézenas, Pézenas'

‘Pézenas, Pézenas, Pézenas’

As I wander back to my hotel, the blood flowing back to my complaining toes, I am puzzled – yet very happy by what I have just witnessed. I am afraid if you were expecting answers, this piece provides none. I don’t know what it was all about. Wonderfully local, gloriously un-PC, completely bizarre, to the purists possibly even blasphemous at times, the Carnaval of Saint Blasi, Pézenas, Languedoc-Roussillon, France is one of those if not life-affirming, then certainly travel-affirming events. On this my research tour of a tiny corner of Europe in deepest, darkest, coldest February I have twice been the only client in tiny charming hotels, twice eaten with the proprietor – I was the sole diner – of delightful restaurants, been given private impromptu tours of places I was not expecting including a cheese farm high in the mountains of Spain, been the only overnight visitor to one of the most beautiful villages I have ever seen, had two castles and one Abbey all to myself, at one point driven nearly 50 kilometres along the most beautiful roads of Cathar country without encountering one other car, found parking everywhere and of course no queues and all with the glorious feeling of needing no reservations – not too planned.

Seeing This Made Me Stay...

Seeing This Made Me Stay…

A French singer who has accompanied me (on the stereo) of some of the journey has a line in one of his songs – ‘man doesn’t descend from apes, more like from sheep’. Certainly for tourists this is still thankfully the case. This out of season trip has shown me that travel is not dead and true experiences are still out there, off the beaten path and out of the crazy season, to be had.

My recommendation for those who doubt; come to Pézenas next February and let the White Queen pollinate you; you’ll see…

Happy Travels

(I wish to apologise for the quality of the photos – all I had with me was my iPhone – which is rubbish at night, but I wanted you to have some idea. In addition I have not included a lot of historical background; Carnaval, Pézenas, Saint Blasi and so on. Sometimes the magic of an event can be spoiled by too much understanding I feel. It’s all there on the internet if you wish to look it up).

~ by 2ndcupoftea on February 9, 2015.

9 Responses to “C’est La Grande Pollinisation – Carnaval de Saint Blasi, Pézenas”

  1. Strange, weird ….I want to go!!! Hope all is well with you. Renae Rebechini

    • There’s a blast from the past – hello Renae! How are you? Great to hear from you – Yes I very much think this would be your sort of thing. Thanks for reading and many hugs – to Dale too of course if you see him…

  2. Life is grand. I’m retiring in June. More time to wander about the world. All suggestions welcome.

    Dale and I have a lunch date on the calendar. I’ll say hi for you. Many hugs to you. Hope you are doing well.

    Peace,
    Renae

  3. Could you please put my name on the sign up sheet to be a “femme sauvage” next year? What a great research trip and great article. Ha ha know just what you mean, I have sat through several interminable “son et lumiere” shows in France! Think the photos are very atmospheric actually.

    • 😉 I knew you’d like that. I want to be one of those big bear-troll creatures next time around… What a fun evening it was. Glad you know what I mean about the sound and light shows – my goodness. This was exceptional. Hope to see you both (and B) soon…

  4. Thank you so much for this article Thomas! Tomorrow, the show will continue with “Sant Joan fa la noca” (Saint Jean do the wedding) 21H30 place Gambetta! I hope we’ll come to see us! It will be great, believe me!
    Amélie, the girl you meet tonight place Canabasserie.
    http://www.temporadas.org/le-collectif/
    https://www.facebook.com/CollectifTemporadas

    • I will come for sure – I am so glad to have the approval of a Femme Sauvage of my article 😉 Depending on your costume I might not recognise you, but I will try 😉

  5. those events are “celebrations of the seasons, the nature, our roots…” also, it’s a tribute of life! the association is open to everybody! so, if you want to join us,it will be a pleasure! COME ON!

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