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.
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.