It was a seething 34 degrees when we arrived in Marseilles at the beginning of September complete with kilt, sporran, sgian dhubh (plastic but still raised eyebrows at airport security), tartan sash and accessories. We had been asked to perform a traditionl Scottish country dance at a local theatre in the south of France as part of the Jour de la Paix celebrations, and as we slipped our costumes into their cases, we were relieved to be back in our light summer clothes. We made our way along the coast on the familiar train journey from Marseille to Toulon. A month in this heat, how will we survive? And are we mad to bring our Scottish culture to this Mediterranean paradise?
“It’s been far too hot!”
“This heat is exhausting.”
“What we’d give for some fresh air and rain.”
That’s what we heard from our neighbours and friends. La chaleur had been incessant this summer, almost 40 degrees at times.
A sweltering day was spent in Toulon shopping and eating out in Les Halles in the heart of the city: a refurbished original building that was beautifully air conditioned. We came out into the sweat-inducing heat, and after two more shops, we sat down for a welcome coffee in the water fountain square before heading home by train. It’s a scenic 20-minute journey from Toulon to Bandol; the little pink rooftops, swathes of beaches and bays, glimpses of yachts and marinas, all swiftly pass by and before you know it, it’s time to get off.
And each night we practised our dance. The easiest of all Scottish Country dances: the Gay Gordons – and apart from this routine, our days were filled with early morning tennis; late afternoon swims and dinner on the terrace. Days slipped by.
There was a concert in the baking heat. A Spanish themed concert in the local church. The College pupils had been invited and there was an excited throng as we waited for it to begin. Teachers circulated. One, a handsome young Michelangelo lookalike with long brown curls and a goatee beard, quietly keeping the teenagers in order. The head teacher, in a cream linen suit, stylish haircut shaved at the sides like a footballer, spoke eloquently to the pupils before introducing the musicians from France’s National Orchestra.
“It is so wonderful to be given the opportunity to respect and be shown the example of professional musicians who have come here to play for us,” he said.
We listened to Bizet’s Carmen, a Cuban piece that exemplified the Latin influence on Spanish music, and an Argentinian Tango, so popular in the UK, we were told. The College pupils, at first fidgety and full of giggles, soon calmed down as the magic of the music and the heat, transported us to Seville.
And then the rain and lightning and thunder came. Everyone was so grateful as the days became cooler but still pleasant for our daily routine of tennis; swim; dinner. Our dance-display was coming ever closer, and we continued to practise with a full-dress rehearsal. I attached the tartan sash to the shoulder of my dress and the White Heather Club came to mind. We packed some whisky with little paper cups and some Scottish fudge.
And so it happened. We danced and the demonstration number we had planned seemed to last a lot longer than our 2-minute rehearsal. We seemed to be repeating the same steps and sequence for double the time than we had practised. And then it ended, we stopped, we bowed, we smiled, we paused, and then the roof was raised in rapturous applause. Cheers and encores and bravos. We laughed and proudly said that we’d do it again but needed some people on the floor. And of course, we got a few volunteers and off we went. Then we shared the little paper cups of whisky and pieces of fudge. More reticent members of the audience made their way to the front to savour the whisky and we were surrounded by good cheer and chatter. Two young women arrived. They had heard there was a Scottish Dance demonstration. They had been searching for an association in the Cote D’Azur area but couldn’t find one. Could we do the dance again for them to join in? And so off we went again to more laughter and cheers….
It was soon time for the airport and our return to Scotland, but as we went through security we learned all flights to the UK had been cancelled due to an air traffic strike. We had no alternative but to return to our Cote D’Azur paradise until the next available flight in five day’s time. We texted our friends.
“Great stuff, you’ll be here for my apero evening” said our Irish tennis friend.
“Come to us on Saturday for a light supper,” said our Jour De La Paix friends – “and we can finish off the Scotch!”
“Meet us for a coffee at the port, after the Brocante on Sunday,” said our two dancing friends looking to learn Scottish Country dancing.
And as we chatted, we realised that one of them was an aficionado of Celtic music. Originally from Lorient in Britanny, she has her own Celtic musical group: Celtic Souleu and they celebrate St Andrew’s night in a local restaurant with bagpipe players each year. She attends the Celtic Festival de Lorient which only a few years ago featured the Millport Pipe Band.
“Oh you know the Millport Pipe Band and the little Scottish island of Cumbrae?” she asked.
“Of course we do. In fact, I have just published a children’s book: ‘Vikings and Skylarks on Cumbrae’.
It’s inspired by true events on the island when the Vikings lived side by side with the Scots in the Middle Ages.”
“Oh how can we buy a copy, and when can we visit your little Scottish island?” they asked.
And finally, before we headed home, we attended the inauguration Mass for the new priest, a George Clooney lookalike, sophisticated and suave in his brogues and jeans. With a glass of rosé in hand, he welcomed us all to a wonderful buffet and said we’d get to know him as Pere Café Du Café as he did little without a coffee in hand. As we mixed with the parishioners, our Celtic Connections were fully embedded as the head of Étoile Bandolaise spoke to me about the itinerary for their intended visit to Scotland in 2023. Bien Venue en Écosse! Celtic Connections in the Cote D'Azur Rock.
9 responses to “Celtic Connections in the Cote D’Azur￼”
Really interesting, Maura. I could imagine Ii was there from your lovely descriptions. Bravo!
Thank you Hazel for reading it – our dance was a big hit.
Absolutely wonderful to read Maura. So lovely to see the interactions of cultures and generations and school teachers and priests looking and sounding human.
Lovely picture of you and hubby.
You are a gifted writer who transported me there with your descriptive writing. Thanking you for sharing x
Thank you so much for reading it Charlotte – you’ll remember Vic in his kilt on the way to Marseille
Very enjoyable read Maura! Very evocative of the atmosphere, the heavy air and the joy of rain! What a lovely picture of you both doing the GG’s – so elegant – I’d have been galumphing around like a sack o’ tatties
Thank you Carol for reading and commenting on this little Blog. You would be beautiful doing the Gay Gordons I’m sure! I called my little French neighbour today and its 25 degrees there today and the people are still swimming in the Med x Quelle Chance!
Tu es tellement gentille de partager avec nous en détail ton séjour récent en France Maura!
J ai bien apprécié tes photos et honnêtement tu me donnes vraiment envie de visiter un jour ce coin…Ton mari et toi vous êtes un beau couple!!
Je te remercie beaucoup!!
Merci Geraldine pour tes mots très sympa. Je suis très touché que tu as un moment tranquille dans ta semaine pour lire mon petit Blog. Mon mari va en France demain pour faire les petites choses dans notre appartement pour une semaine – et moi je reste ici pour aider ma fille et fils avec les petits enfants…..mais ce n’est pas grave – j’espère y aller en Janvier. À mardi matin! x