Every year, Chalon sur Saone becomes a mecca for artists, hippies, and actors during their five-day festival called Chalon dans la Rue (Chalon in the Street). I have somehow missed the biggest event of the area each time I have come here. This time, though, we were in the right place at the right time, and today we were going to go with my friend Claire.
Pascale (Claire's mom) lent us her car and Tyler drove. He was really excited; it had been nearly four months since he'd driven! On the way he commented (with a smile) that it seemed like cheating to go so fast with so little effort. It felt like we were in a movie, cruising down the highway, in France, in the summer, in a convertible(!) with the top down!
We parked the car safely behind Claire's grandparents' house and walked towards the festival. First things first—we went off in search of lunch. Through crowded hippie markets we walked, past racks of colorful, patchouli-smelling genie pants and pot paraphernalia, until we found Claire's favorite Kebab restaurant.
At last, we felt like we were served a fair portion for the money we spent! Five euros bought us half a loaf of bread stuffed (and spilling over) with spicy shaved meat, fresh vegetables, and a variety of sauces. We devoured our gigantic gyro-type kebabs with a little less refinement and gastronomic inhibition than our french neighbors. DELICIOUS!
Satiated, we left the restaurant and headed back in the direction of the festival. We again jostled our way through the insane crowds, taking care not to lose each other during the long, slow trek through the people-packed centre ville. On every street corner and in every "place" or square, there was some form of entertainment. We couldn't tell what they all were though; there was usually a thick wall of bodies blocking our view in every direction. The luckiest spectators were standing on steps, or sitting perched above the crowd on statues and balconies. Little girls with clown-made balloon hats had perhaps the best views of all, sitting high on their fathers' shoulders.
Escaping la foule (crazy crowds) we made our way to the quai and followed the Saone for a few minutes before reaching our intended destination. The show we wanted to see was classified in the local newspaper's festival guide as "circus/acrobatics." Sounded great to us! On the way we stopped to listen to a gypsy jam band, and later, a livelier one whose distinguishing feature was that it was playing inside an old-fashioned caravan. You couldn't actually see the musicians but you could hear the music and the outside of the caravan was shaking a little. It was supposed to be artsy and conceptual.
Finally we arrived at the town park where our chosen performance would be and saw that it had been transformed into a grand theater complete with circus tents, high wires, and all kinds of other acrobatic equipment. We sat on the dirt ground and waited.
After a short while a sad, skinny man in a patched-up suit with metal cones on his head appeared. He did a quick cone-juggling act before preceding to put the cones on his feet and walk around with a very slow, very faint rhythm. Accented with a few snaps, it was a horribly boring and poorly executed one-man version of "STOMP." We all looked at each other and grimaced—we were in front and couldn't leave. We hoped his act would improve, but alas, it did not.
Luckily, his performance ended quickly, and a new one began. It was a couple who, wordless, told the story of their relationship with a very convincing interpretive dance. It was very clever, and their acrobatics were truly spectacular. At one point the lady even played the accordion as she was being tossed in the air around her lover's shoulders! When their act was over, we applauded loudly, placed a small tip in their hat, and left the park to see the next show, which turned out to be Tyler's favorite.
In the largest square of the city, the one surrounded by cafes and graced by the pristine Cathedral St. Vincent, a very good showman opened a box, and out launched one of those self-expanding tents, the kind that just pop open like a college student's laundry basket. Simply put, the next half an hour was spent watching him try to put the tent back in the box. It was classic slapstick humor, elegantly executed and brilliantly clever.
By the end of the show, he had the crowd (us included) completely under his spell. Everyone laughed hysterically when he managed to turn the tent he was battling into a giant puppet, manipulating it to make it look as if it was a ferocious man-eating monster. It was an even bigger hit when the "monster" magically produced an identical miniature tent baby.
After the crowd dispersed enough for us to move from our enviable spots on some stairs, we made our way back to the car and home to the l'Hostis house. A long dinner was consumed, and then all of us, excluding Philippe, hopped back in the car for the final performance of the festival.
It was 10:30 when the show started on the Place de la Mairie, and hoards of people filled the streets once again. The lights dimmed. Intense, eerie music began playing loudly. Across the square, high on the church tower, was a figure dressed completely in white. He hung by his feet, suspended from a zipline, and he carried a suitcase in his hands. Suddenly he zoomed across to the other side of the square, his suitcase opening, and thousands of feathers spewing out of it, making a trail in the sky.
More people appeared, and more feathers fell like snow, pure white against the blue-black night sky. The rest of the performance continued with various creative methods of feather distribution: huge fans acting like feather-guns shooting streams up in the air, a basket with two people and millions of feathers that slowly flew, dumping armfuls as they passed.
It was absolutely stunning and very, very surreal. Towards the end a huge inflated creature that looked a cross between a snowman, a maggot, and an angel floated around in the crowd. We had never seen so many feathers in all our lives! When the show was over, some people had huge piles of feathers covering them, others took home great armfuls in their backpacks. As we walked back to the car, talking about how cool the show was, I was glad I wasn't part of the cleanup crew.