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.

Credit to Béjart Ballet Lausanne. Screen shot from one of their photos of the ballet, a piece that was especially wonderful. We were asked not to take photos, and anyway, sometimes one needs to put down the phone and immerse oneself.

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.

How about those towers? They’re the newer ones, from the 12th century. The old ones have flatter roofs and a line of red brick (to help the builders see they were level) and were built by the Romans. Carcassonne’s ramparts have 52 towers.

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.

Boys will be boys.

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.

The reflecting pool at Place Gambetta.

23 thoughts on “Culture, at Last

  1. Like you I am very pleased with my QR code, which opened musea, theatre and cinema for me again. I think Macron’s decision to make restaurants and terrasses qrcode obligatory was a superb idea to get people to the vaccination centres.
    We will try to make it to the Corse this year and we hope that we will not have to change plans on the way like we had to do last year.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How marvelous! This event looks worth scheduling a trip to Carcassonne around, if it weren’t awesome enough already. Thanks for the photos and great descriptions. Good luck with all those anti-Covid measures. I think we’re going to need them all…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. There’s a whole lineup of concerts, theatre and dance every July for the festival. In August, it’s medieval stuff–like rodeos but with “knights” instead of cowboys, and held between the two sets of ramparts. Very fun as well.

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  3. Oh, lucky, lucky you!! Your ballet sounds amazing and the theatre setting is gorgeous. It reminds me of the open air concert I went to in Athens in the Odeon of Herodus Atticus – another setting imbued with history. Quite by chance, I have just blogged about some ballet today, too, and was tossing up whether to use the word ‘cyborg’, but went with ‘androids’ instead – a bit of synchronicity!

    I’m still some weeks off my second AZ vaccination shot and there’s chatter now that I should be having Pfizer instead since I’m 55. It’s all very disorganised here in Australia, and it sounds so sensible in France. You’ll be well on your way to enjoying more stuffs!

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    1. Is it disorganized, or is it that the information is all new, the data is still being collected, and advice must be tacked according to the latest best statistics? I have a lot of sympathy for public health officials.
      Your Athens experience sounds fabulous. Jealous!!!!

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      1. It’s disorganised from the point of view that limited supply meant my age group was ineligible up until just recently. There are still hospital workers that are only now getting vaccinated and there are many frontline occupations that aren’t deemed essential workers – eg: bus drivers. Pfizer is hard to come by or qualify for and it was after I received my first AZ that we were told I should be getting Pfizer, and it can’t be agreed when second shots are to be given in any event. All rather basic issues that have been handled more smoothly by other countries … And the Athens concert was incredible!!

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  4. I love that theatre, saw Elton John there a few years ago, supposedly one of his last concert tours, but he announced others after that 🙂 Our festival in Saint-Chinian is starting on Monday, and as of Wednesday we need to check all the passes or vaccinations – it’ll be interesting, but I think our concert goers will all be prepared!! I’m keeping my fingers crossed anyhow!
    Enjoy the summer!

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    1. Wow! To see Elton John so up close (even the back seats are close)! The system here, with getting a bracelet in a separate place from the entrance to the concert, worked really well. For all I know, there were other events requiring a bracelet in the neighborhood at the same time.

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  5. If you’ve been vaccinated then how are you “endangered” by the unvaccinated? Either you are protected, or you don’t think the vaccines work, i.e. you’re a vaccine denier. Everybody has now been offered the vaccine, and those who have declined will have to live with that decision, for better or worse. Their status makes no difference to you. Why should they be coerced into state mandated medical procedures for a disease that is now endemic and broadly equivalent to influenza? It is not irrational to wait until the clinical trials have concluded in 2023 to make an informed decision. Go ahead and live your life as you see fit, but please afford the same basic freedoms to those whose risk assessment of Covid-19 differs.

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    1. I have a friend who has a kidney transplant. She has had three doses, but has to be very careful because her immune system is suppressed to keep her from rejecting her kidney. I have innumerable friends with cancer, also with suppressed immune systems. They’ve been vaccinated, but still have to be careful. There have been 3.54 billion doses administered globally, with great results and few side effects. No vaccine is 100%. I got the cholera vaccine when I lived in Africa–50% efficacy. It seems that the burden of proof is on the vaccine deniers/hesitant to avoid crowds, including cultural events and restaurants, until they are ready to be vaccinated. Macron isn’t forcing people to be vaccinated–he is saying that if you aren’t then, like no shirt no shoes no service, you aren’t welcome in public spaces. Very logical and responsible.

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  6. My husband (who has cancer) and I are fully vaccinated, but we have young grandchildren who are ineligible for vaccination. There have been numerous cases of ” breakthrough” infections in the vaccinated population. Even though I may not become severely ill if I were to contract Covid, I could unwittingly transmit the disease to my grandchildren or others. In the States, the vast majority of those currently hospitalized with Covid are unvaccinated, and many are young. The more the virus circulates, the greater the chance of a variant emerging that is even more vaccine resistant than Delta. For all those reasons, I say “oui” to Macron’s ideas!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely. Even though I’ve now passed the 2-week mark for my second shot, I am wearing my mask whenever other people are anywhere nearby. Why risk it? If we want this nightmare to be over there are two things to do: vaccinate and wear masks.
      Good luck to you and to your husband. Sending hugs and positive energy.

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  7. That sounds like a magical evening. And what a setting!
    Nice to know that Béjart’s work is ongoing, given that dance companies aren’t exactly profit centers. I remember the company from when it was based in Brussels.

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    1. Really!?!? I was a fan of Rosas in Brussels but I only recently learned of Béjart. I didn’t know you knew BXL! At la Monnaie, I saw the opera that made perhaps the biggest impression on me: Monteverdi’s Orféo, on starkly blank sets that were filled with the dancers of Trisha Brown. I was dumbstruck at how a little lighting and a bunch of bodies made the best depiction of hell ever.

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  8. It sounds like a perfect evening. I was last in Carcassonne three years ago, and it’s always a magical place. Although it’s only a couple of hours’ drive from us, we don’t get to that area often. I agree with you about the vaccine and behaving responsibly. I will be interested to see how smaller venues cope with checking passes, but I guess there must be apps that do it.

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