Saturday, June 5, 2010

Today Around Town

Here was the question: where was everybody going to go?

The basic problem was this: today was Montpellier's Gay and Lesbian Pride day (the event is always referred to in English, for some reason), and according to an unreliable source, 20,000 out-of-town revelers were supposed to be coming to town for this.

It was also the 15th annual Festival of Fanfares, which clogged the Comédie with crazy people playing brass instruments and oboes (not the kind you see in orchestras, but a local wooden variety properly referred to as a hautbois) and drums. When I went out at noon, this was all further complicated by the local Palestinian supporters massed with sound systems and leafleters and Palestinian flags, protesting the latest dust-up in the Gaza.

And this was even further complicated by the fact that the Comédie currently looks like this:

That big barrier which goes all the way around the Fountain of the Three Graces, which you can see in front of the Opéra Comique, for which the square is named, is hiding some kind of renovation work that they started months ago, and somewhere on the other side of the barrier is a nice sign which says that this work will be finished at the end of May. Which May, though, is not specified. Anyway, I peeked today, and it's really not finished. To the delight of the café owners whose establishments ring the square, the barrier covers up about 70% of the square footage of the Comédie, where I believe a large number of the 20,000 proud gays and lesbians are planning to dance tonight, because if you turn 180˚ from where this picture was taken, you get this:

Which is a big disco stage from Radio NRJ. I heard the sound check, which was doing the best it could to defeat old-time stereotypes of homosexuals as people with exquisite taste. I imagine that stereotype will be ground into the earth even more in the next few hours, and stop at 1, because it's a city event, unlike a  party by Les Lunkheads (who've been pretty quiet recently).

The city solved part of the problem by moving the event I was most interested in, the Fanfares festival, to another quarter of the city entirely, over to the Beaux-Arts and Boutonnet districts, where they've blocked off streets and erected stages so that these weird bands, with names like Texas Couscous, Pink It Black, Monty Pietons, WestCostars, and many others, will play this evening as the beer flows. Without the acoustic baffling provided by the buildings between me and the Comédie, I'd say this would be a bad night to have a place in the Beaux Arts (which, I keep reminding myself, is a pretty nice little district).

I was unaware of the schedule, which starts at 6, so I wandered over at about 3, and stumbled on these guys:

They were playing in the market square, and right after I snapped this, they launched into "Hava Nagila," although I don't think it was a political statement. Unfortunately, at just this moment, my battery crapped out, so I didn't get a picture that was so cute I could probably have sold it to the local paper: behind the tuba player was a little girl of around 3, a look of intense concentration on her face, a wooden recorder gripped tightly in her fist, squeaking along with the band with all her might.

I'm not sure what the deal is with these Fanfares, because I really don't know anyone here clued in to the local culture on this level, but they apprear to be Associations, and their instrument cases have dozens of stickers from similar festivals to this (and a couple of fences along the way to the stages had posters for about a dozen upcoming Fanfare Fests all over this part of the country). The presenters, too, the people who put up the stages, also seem to be Associations, with one wearing the name Les 100 Ado-Rators des "Punk's Not Dead."

Too deep for me. I'm going to stay home and read. I'll miss the hautbois, though. They were intense.


  1. Glad you got your electricity back, and hope you've got things worked out with Orange...
    No real insight into the origins of the Fanfares thing, but it's been held in the Beaux-Arts district (not the Comédie) for as long as I can remember (we moved here in August 99) and is usually a lot of fun (some great groups, some dreadful, often hilarious costumes, hot dog stands of varying dodgyness...).

  2. 18,000 people turned up, so my estimate was pretty close to on target.

  3. Hey

    Not like I'm an expert, dude, but I know just a wee's an ol'skool/ancienne regime trad thing, and usually there's just a practice or two... it's just a way to dust off what you learned, however briefly, back in schooldays.... and comin' from New Orleans, it makes complete sense to me...

    The thing that makes the Most Complete Sense to me, though, is the time, a couple years or so ago, just about this time of year, when a friend was in Paris and we went to the goofy bar where Serge, the big-ass-butcher-ass guy who LOVES both Le Rock Et Le Roll (everything, indiscriminately: hardcore, fake Stevie Ray Vaughan bands, ska, punk, rock classique, what-ever-the-fucque, so long as its loud and annoying and loud) well, he always has bands in on Fridays, and he makes his wife and daughter work the bar so he can videotape them (and then he has acres of boxes of these videos that he plays when he's not playing Pink Floyd) (and the bar is wallpapered in the greatest collection of picture disks you can imagine, the ceiling mostly 'early 80s New Wave hilariousness, but the glass boxes on the walls from all across the last, uh, three centuries, swear to God) (for which you gotta give him credit, 'cause most collectors just park them up their ass...) (anyway, we go there on a Thursday, when there's never-ever any music, and sure 'nuff, there's risers on three sides of the the absurdly tiny stage, all of them surrounding The Single Smartest Man In The History Of Dudes In Bands In The History Of Dudes In Bands, who is playing a snare drum, while all around him are like 27 or 32 or 29 or more lovely French gals in their twenties, each wearing a white t-shirt with the name of the band and a pink mini-skirt, and black fishnets, and they're fanfaring through dead-simple arrangemnents of things like "Le Freak" and "Superfreak" and such. And really, it's pretty much all I need out of music, now that I think about it.

    Well, I couldn't help but start steppin', ala New Orleans, and when they quit commencin', I got to talking to a couple of the gals, and they very charmingly invited me out to the next night's gig, held annually at the fuckin' Palace at Versailles, first major hall to the left as you come in. The deal was that it cost ten Euros, but if you came naked, you got in free, and there were going to be dozens and dozens of fanfare bands, and you had to get there early because it would always be oversold, and they wrote my name down to put it on the list regardless, and my pal, in town for just a couple days, a guitar player for that Big Time Industrial Band you can guess, who was there in that very moment and everything, had us go out to dinner at a very lovely restaurant the following night on the Left Bank, with his friend, a very worthy guy, and . . . and . . . and . .. well, I didn't go.

    Do you have a sense that I have a sense of regret? If only so that I could fill you in more on the culture of fanfare?

  4. Ed, I have a scholarly little tome called "Fanfares: Structures socio-musicalse aux sens larges" by some dude called Philippe Meunier, who may be a sociologist, ethnomusicologist or just a trainspotter from Brussels.

    The book somewhat elucidates the history of fanfares in France and Belgium, as well as the influence of jazz, Balkan music, techno, funk and "chanson réaliste", whatever that is.

    Of course all the elucidation is done in French, but it might be of interest: you can actually download it for free as a PDF -


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