Sunday, 15 June 2014

Post 36 Les Saintes Maries de la Mer.

21st May. Every year many Gypsies come to Les Saintes Maries de la Mer from around Europe, for a pilgrimage. On the 24th, Sara la Kali is carried from the church and out into the sea, the local Camargue horses are ridden in procession. For several days there is music and dancing in the streets and cafes.

As well as a pilgrimage, it's an opportunity to make money. There are hundreds of sightseers and tourists and they introduce a terrible predatory voyeurism to the event. An English journalist stopped a Romanian Gypsy violinist in the middle of a tune to interview him, she said to him, 'there seems to be a special sort of symbiosis between Sara le Kali and the Gypsies,' he replied, 'Oh yes, we make money out of her! I like the honesty of the reply and is definitely better than fraudulent piety.
Sara la Kali
It's a chance for me to make some money too. l stop my wagon, right on the sea front beside Jan, who came down from Holland in his roulotte thirty seven years ago and now travels in the south of France. He is very kind and friendly and he lets me put my horse in a field with his horse, which is perfect, l'm really grateful to him.
Francois, a French basket maker, is also next to me with his roulotte and when l try to buy a basket off him, he gives it to me, which is really kind . There is an English lady in her 70s and she comes down every year in an ancient camper van, she is very kind too. I get busy making copper candle holders and l have some already made and a basket of pegs to sell. People enjoy watching me working and everything sells. I'm really pleased and selling things is also a chance to practise speaking French.
Tinkering. Photo by Belle Benfield
It's a very relaxed atmosphere and people are here to enjoy themselves.
Flamenco dancers
Flamenco. Photo by Belle Benfield
Hungarian music
It's lovely hearing Gypsy music from Spain, Hungary and Romania and jazz Manouche. In the mornings l get up early and go to a cafe and treat myself to a grande creme. During the days it's very busy and it's exhausting talking to hundreds of people and having large cameras pointed intrusively at me, but it's an occupational hazard and l make the best of it. After long hot days in the sun, tinsmithing, it's nice to have something to eat in a cafe and then wander around listening to the music. Long after the sightseers have gone home some of the musicians continue to play for their own pleasure and the music takes on a new better quality.
Flamingoes, photo by Belle Benfield
After a week here l'm exhausted but content, l've ridden my horse in the Mediteranean, nine months ago l rode him in the sea in Cumbria. Now it's good to be on my way again.
Leaving Les Saintes Maries

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Post 35. La Camargue

10th May. I got to  a lovely town called Sommieres, l stopped by the river near the arena or bullring and watched the young men learning how to be Razeteurs. The bull doesn't get hurt. The young men have to run pretty fast and try and pluck a ribbon from between the bulls horns; before the bull gets to them they have to jump out of the ring at the last moment, the bull is very athletic and good at jumping too.
Poppies near St. Laurent-d'Aigouze en Camargue
It's pleasantly hot, dry and dusty here, there are berries on some of the Mulberry trees, they taste a bit like blackberries. The nuts are ripening on the almond trees. I watched two ladies fishing and catching mullet near St. Laurent d'Aigouze, they had a stick fire and cooked them straight-away. Later they gave me two that they'd just caught and l cooked them, delicious.
Cooking mullet for dinner, in Camargue
I've travelled 800 miles [1,300 km],since l arrived in Calais, l'm elated to reach the Mediterranean. It's been quite a journey. It's taken 14 weeks, but three of those weeks l didn't travel and l had the odd day off too.
Stop'd at Quissac for a coffee
If you drove here in a car you wouldn't experience much at all. You wouldn't smell the Jasmine as you went through Aigues-Mortes, you'd have trouble parking, you'd be on big boring roads, you'd have to fill up with petrol......
You wouldn't stop for the night down an old track and hear the birds singing, flamingoes flying over in the sunset, you wouldn't hear a thousand frogs croaking, you wouldn't sit round a stick fire cooking tender steaks of the taureau, [the bull], you wouldn't shake hands with the horseman who was proud of the huge grey mules he'd purchased from Spain...... if you worked out the time you spent earning the money to buy and run your car, the time you spent sitting in your car travelling to and from work, you'd be surprised to find you were also going about the same speed as my horse, but with more inconvenience and little real pleasure; if you factored in the noise pollution and general degradation to the environment, you might find that you were going backwards.
On one side of the track are tough Camargue ponies, suited to this harsh but beautiful landscape, they are lean and look well, [you don't see fat ponies here], on the other side of the track are the black bulls of the Camargue, with their long sharp horns. A grass snake slivers across the track.
13th May. The Rhone Delta. I cross a river on a ferry, l like the idea, 'the ferryman takes me to the other side.' Have you ever been to the other side?
The ferry goes every half an hour, l have quarter of an hour to wait so l have a  drink in the cafe,  the horse waits patiently in the road, he's not tied up, he just stands there nicely, a car pulls up behind him and forms a queue. I finish my coffee and the ferry arrives.
The horse walks up the metal ramp onto the ferry, l think he quite likes the sound of his feet on the metal.The engines of the ferry are really noisy,  the horse stands quietly. On the other side of the river the metal ramp slams and grinds noisily onto the tarmac and we continue on our way.
Horse is not too bothered
The horse had never been on a ferry before like this. It's worth remembering that the instincts of a horse are never far from the surface; in times of perceived danger their instinct is to run as fast as they can. Not a great idea on a ferry whilst yoked up to a wagon. Just in case there was a problem l had a towel ready to put over his head, so that he wouldn't be able to see. It's hard to bolt when you can't see and what you can't see you don't worry about. Having success with horses is all about good preparation and training, before you take them to a show or on the road. Harvey Smith the show jumper said, 'you win your rosettes at home, you just collect them at the showground.'

The Rhone Delta
There are Camargue ponies everywhere, along the sides of the road are 'Promenades a Cheval,'  a couple of dozen horses will be tied up next to each other, all saddled up, patiently waiting to be ridden. An English 'horsey' person might describe the scene as, 'bored horses stand waiting to be ridden,' but they've got it the wrong way round. If you want to see bored ponies, go to an English riding establishment, watch the bored horses pawing the ground, fidgeting and pulling back on their lead ropes because they've never been taught how to be tied up and stand quietly. These horses know the value of standing quietly, conserving their energy. I doubt if any of these horses ever get laminitus. They're lean and fit. Not all the horses are Camargue ponies, some of the larger ones are Spanish.
For some days a strong wind blows from the north, maybe it's the Mistral, l don't know, it doesn't drive me any madder, despite its reputation. It does keep the midges and mosquitos away.
17th May. Went to St.Gilles, set off at 7am and got there at 11am, 20 miles [33km], went past lots of rice paddies, needed some shopping, bought a plastic tool in the pharmacie for removing ticks. It works well. Chemists in rural France sell veterinary supplies too.
I'm back in the Garrigue, l see date palms, huge cacti flowering. The wind drops, the temperature rises to 32oc. l stop by a canal, l spend the afternoon reading on the bed, well dozing really, it's cooling down a bit by 8pm, l make some dinner, then play my pipes, at 9pm the midges come out for their dinner, that's me and the horse. I retire to the wagon, the midges are French and are too polite to come in the wagon, Scottish ones do and are much fiercer. The mosquitos don't bother me, they prefer the blood of ladies and children, the horse gets lots on him but he doesn't seem bothered. In the morning l get up early and go back into St.Gilles, l have a look around and find a nice piece of grass in the large car park. There's shade for the horse and the grass is still green, so the horse is happy. There's a tap nearby. I buy a piece of pizza and a small quiche Lorraine and that's me organised for the day. I lie on the bed reading and sipping water laced with lemon juice, the water tastes slightly brackish and the lemon disguises it. Apparently St. Jacques de Compestela also came here, but this isn't really a touristy place. I like it, it's slightly run down and no one bothers you.
After a couple of days l go back down to the Camargue and go to the Gypsy pilgrimage at Les Saintes Maries de la Mer