Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Vacation Frenzy and the Missing Olympic Event

August. The height of the craziness that is vacation in France, particularly in the south.

Appropriately in the French language, the word vacation is only available for use in the plural form LES vacanceS. The Larouss Chambers French-English dictionary uses the example "to take two months off" or "to have a two-month holiday". Anything less is hardly considered "vacation"; so for short periods you are more likely to hear the word congé, as in congé maladie (sick leave), or un jour de congé (a day off). Vacation in France is sacred. Beat me, whip me, god-forbid-pay-me-less, but don't even think of touching my vacation.*

I've never researched when this rabid attachment to vacation started, (sometime after WWII maybe?) or how it came to be that such a large portion of the rest of Europe and the world should gleefully participate.** But, rarely in France can you escape the glaring evidence, and in the south, anywhere near the Mediterranean, it is an inundation of gargantuan proportion.

Reasonable people, with the means to do so, escape well before the hordes arrive.

Sadly we are neither. So we are left with little alternative but to slather on the sun-screen, pinch our nostrils and jump into the maelstrom, hoping against hope that it doesn't suck us down to the lowest level of humanity so well on display in the streets and on the beaches.

We limit ourselves to rather short outings, and venture onto the roads during periods the least likely to get stuck behind a 20 kilometer line of camping cars. And surprisingly, delightful moments can be found, even near the sea.

As evidence, I present photos of an outing to the small but commercially viable port of Sète, a few kilometers down the coast from Montpellier.

This day was I believe, the French Championship of Joute Nautique. The biggest jousting tournament on the water is the tournament de la Saint Louis, held also in Sète on the 25th of August. (Every year since 17something or other.)

As you can see from the first photo, we arrived on time.

No one in the south of France arrives on time, so naturally, nothing starts on time.
But eventually, the crowds and the participants arrive and prepare for the first joust.

In our neck of the woods, it is always the red versus the blue, and everyone is dressed to the nines in white. No tacky shorts, no flexible (sissy) jousting poles. These guys are serious.
Line up.Prepare for the attack.
Go for it. (PS: Aww, I think it is just too cute the way the guys throw their arms around each other to protect their seating partner from accidental blows. "Honey, watch your head!")

Winner still standing... loser in the drink.

All in all, not a bad way to suffer through a day of the dreaded Les Vacances.

*... I know, neither self-employed people like myself, or farmers, or some minimum of civil service personnel, and all sorts of normal schmucks are stuck working and rarely if ever have the opportunity or take the opportunity to go on vacation. Martyrdom is our lot.
**... neither the time nor place to get into an analysis of vacations-school vacations - childcare -government support or lack thereof - family values - US vs France - etc etc etc.


Doc said...

From one martyr to another--at least you need sun screen. Here it's cold and rainy.

wcs said...

And the boats are rowed! I can see this sport in the US only with big honkin' noisy polluting motors on those boats. And the jousters padded and helmeted like a Green Bay Packer. With scantily clad cheerleaders on the dockside.

Hmmmm. Gotta go. I have to call some people in Hollywood...

Reb said...

ok, that is just the WEIRDEST sport (can you call it that?) I've ever heard of. Thanks for enlightening me. I think.

Pardon My French said...

Damn - I was all excited about blogging about the joutes but your pictures are just so much better! We stopped by Sete (coincidentally) on the first day of the fete de St Louis and saw the opening joust. All in all it was a great place to spend a 'vacances' day!