Monday was one of those magical moments. Those times when I have to pinch myself, because everything is so beautiful. After living here for nearly two decades, I finally attended the Festival of Carcassonne.
It was “Le Presbytère,” by Béjart Ballet Lausanne. The production was conceived by the company’s founder and premiered in 1996 as a tribute to Freddie Mercury and Béjart dancer Jorge Donn, both of whom died of AIDS at the same age, a year apart. The ballet is set to the music of Queen and Mozart. Just perfect. Like salted caramel. In addition to some Queen hits, there were also some of the band’s less-famous songs, so it managed a balance of familiar without crossing into predictable.
Quite the opposite of predictable were the costumes, by Gianni Versace, still eye-popping after all these years. One dancer, Julien Favreau, seemed to embody Freddie Mercury, very flamboyant, with such a chiseled, blond handsomeness and thousand-watt smile that he seemed more cyborg than human. Another dancer, more mournful, dressed in black and with dark hair, seemed to represent Donn.
I won’t prattle on about the ballet except to say it was fantastic. I will prattle on about the theater. Nestled against the backside of the Cathedral Saint-Nazaire, medieval towers peek over the top of the stone walls. The theater was built in 1908, only about 50 years after Eugène Viollet-le-Duc restored la Cité, to some criticism, but let’s face it–the place was a wreck and was about to be torn down. The theater later took on the name of Jean Deschamps, the guy who in 1957 got the Festival of Carcassonne rolling. Like Carcassonne’s main theater, it isn’t very big but punches above its weight for star power. The last concert by Johnny Hallyday (like a French Elvis, but with a far longer career–a French institution) was there, in 2017. A choice between la Cité, with its 3,000 seats, or Bercy (official name: AccorArena; another American blight reaches France–corporate sponsor names), the suburban Parisian stadium where Johnny gave 101 concerts and seating goes as high as 20,000? I’ll take Carcassonne, thank you.
Before entering, we had to get a bracelet confirming we were Covid-free (masks still obligatory inside). There were two points–one at the main gates to la Cité for people with the QR code on their phones showing they were fully vaccinated. The other, set up in tents between the two sets of ramparts, for rapid tests. We waited about 10 minutes for the results on a roped-off lawn with dispersed plastic chairs. My second vaccination was less than two weeks old, so I had to get a free rapid test, for which I reserved online–but it being Carcassonne there was no wait even for the people without reservations. We showed a security guy the results sent by SMS to our phones, and he put bracelets on our wrists. To get into the theater, we had to show both our tickets and our bracelets.
Yesterday, July 14, was of course the French national holiday. Carcassonne’s mayor canceled the fireworks and the usual “braderie,” or sidewalk sale because of the uptick in Delta. A noisy protest came through later: “Non au pass sanitaire”–no to the health pass. The government has an app, TousAntiCovid (Everybody Against Covid). You scan the QR code that you get after a vaccination, or upload PCR test results, and you can show this pass for entry to things like the ballet. Each EU country has its own app and they recognize each other’s, for thing like travel. The QR code, which apparently has high security, came out after my first shot (I got AstraZeneca, so the spacing between the two doses was long). I worried about how I would get it, but boom! It came in the mail a few days later, without my having to ask. French bureaucracy can be beautiful.
French President Macron announced on Monday night that this proof of vaccination would be required in more places–not just events with more than 1,000 people but even stores and restaurants. I am 100% in agreement. You can drink, you can drive, but you can’t drink and drive because it endangers others. You can shop, you can refuse to be vaccinated, but you can’t shop if you aren’t vaccinated because it endangers others. Apparently the idea of not getting in to places motivated a million French to sign up for shots. Also, Covid tests are no longer going to be free. Two things the French hate: not going to cafés and having to pay for health care. They are still figuring out how they would enforce it, but I don’t doubt they will find a way.
Quite unrelated, but just a moment of delight: I was on my usual promenade by the river when I heard a loud thumping behind me. A bunch of young guys from the nearby army base jogging by. There’s a passage à gué, or a path that sometimes is just above the water but is easily flooded–it isn’t a bridge–and they headed over it. Then they started jumping into the river. I thought of lemmings. Usually the river is crystal clear, but rains in the mountains have sent down a lot of silt. I had two worries: they are going to catch something–not Covid but schistosomiasis or similar–and WHAT ABOUT THEIR SHOES??? Still, everybody passing by had a good chuckle at the young clutch jumping around in thigh-deep water.