Thursday, June 24, 2010

focs de la Sant Joan

On Wednesday evening, down the mountain they come with torches blazing. The fire at the Canigou peak has been lit (at midnight of June 22nd). The flame bearers can descend the mountains on the 23rd to their Catalan village and light all the village fires in celebration of Catalan unity. The people gather for an evening of Catalan dance and a glorious firework display, while the fire, made strong in Sorede by a mound of old vine roots, now rages high into the night sky.

This is the celebration of Le Feu de la St Jean. Or, in Catalan – Focs de la Sant Joan.

I knew it was coming. All Sorede shop windows bore reminders streamed in the Catalan colors of yellow and red: come to the celebration of St. John’s on June 23rd.


And on the morning of 23rd, you knew that this day is different. Special. Preparations have been under way for some time now.

Even as to us, waking up to a cloudless sky, it is just another glorious day in the beautiful region of Languedoc.



The morning stroll to and from  the bakery and cafĂ© bar has become somewhat long. The more we know and understand about Sorede, the more delight there is in meandering up one street and down the next.

(We learn, for example, that there are many ways to cross the river that separates our apartment from the center of the village.)


I stop at the tourist office and ask for a list of people who rent out rooms and homes in the summer. Back at our place, I circle those who are within our price range (the very cheapest). It’s a sizeable group of twenty. Ed places each on the map of Sorede. Our goal is to walk past every one of them and assess it from the outside. From this, I’ll have a short list of places I would be happy to inspect further.

And here is the amazing thing I discover about Sorede. France is so wired (with nationwide access readily available if you're near any other user) that it hadn’t struck me that the villagers here would not all be in some fashion users of the Internet. But in fact they’re not. From my list of twenty, none has a presence on the Internet and only one has an email address.

If ever I have wondered why there are no Americans here, the answer becomes obvious now: you can’t find a room here if you live across the ocean.

Ed tells me I could work to put Sorede on the tourist map and it is a tempting proposition. As it is, many of the rentals stand empty.

In the afternoon, I call one after another. Both Ed and I like to have Internet. We cannot find any access to it.

It is late before we put the project to rest for the day. We distract ourselves with a walk to our neighbors to buy the newly ripened juicy as can be white peaches from just outside Sorede.


It's a very warm day and though it is past six, we think a trip to the beach -- the little one at the beachside community of Le Racou is still a good idea.

Ed swims, I people watch. The water is cool still and most everyone stays out of the bay. Some strip down to get the perfect feeling of warmth on most every part of the body, some strum a guitar, some walk along the water's edge, some merely play in the sand. It is a very very pleasant evening by the sea.




But this day really does belong to the people who regard themselves as Catalonian. We notice it's hard to make your way through the villages now. Access is blocked as preparations are underway for the evening celebrations.

We make our way back to Sorede, and eat a dinner Au Margeau, where I ask for the most local fish, following a plateful of local oysters.


It's 9:30 now. The time when the villagers begin to gather outside La Salle de Fetes.

A small chorus sings, young girls do modern dances, but in between, all evening long, groups of men and women form a large circle and dance the lovely Sardana.


The younger dancers break in and form their own circle within the larger one.


It's extremely moving to see this. A dozen young boys now breaks in and they, too, hold hands and work on the delicate steps. Those who are not dancing, are watching in gentle appreciation.




There are speeches, of course. About inclusiveness. About fraternity. About the importance of cultural connectedness.

The mayor announces that the flame bearers are making their way down the mountain -- and you can see them: a small snake of fire slowly winding down the forested slopes to Sorede.

And eventually they arrive. Young people mostly, carrying the torches that will light the village fire.



The flame is carried to the old wood of the grape vines. The fire is tremendous. And immediately, the sky is filled with fireworks.



With the last explosion, for us, the event draws to an end. Many stay and continue to dance, but it is near midnight. We follow a slow trickle back to the village...


...then across the river, and home.