Carnaval 2020

After all the great celebrations of Christmas and New Year have exited stage left, all eyes in Bize turn to the next big spectacle: Carnaval !

This year’s Carnaval poster, listing four days of events.



The theater
For our group, Lou Recantou, we meet at a variety of places to work on the elements of our Carnaval parade entry. To plan for costumes and shoes and jewelry and hair, we usually meet at Eliette and Claude’s house. For making flowers, we meet at Recantou headquarters, or Eliette’s house, or Pierrette and Jean Marc’s house, which is where we also do all the work on our parade vehicle.

Here’s what I love: Jean Marc’s garage. I feel right at home there, and I think it’s because it feels much like my dad’s garage. It occurs to me that a garage is the original man-cave, and in the case of my father, it was a place where he went to solve problems and be creative. He was not a man to throw anything away (“I might be able to use that some day!”), so there was stuff everywhere. To the untrained eye—meaning to everyone but Dad—it looked like a mess, but Dad knew the location of every single thing, and when there was something he needed, even if he hadn’t laid eyes on it for ten years, he could go right to the spot. But the greater thing for me was always knowing that creativity happened there. My dad was one of the best problem-solvers I’ve ever known, in addition to being artistic, clever and creative, and he could work miracles with random pieces of wood, string, glue and all the other crap in that garage.

And now there’s Jean Marc’s garage. The first time I was there, it was the myriad hand-written signs that caught my eye. But there’s a lot more inside. This year was my third Carnaval, and I was present for some of the tricky problem-solving involved in putting together our decorations for the vehicle, a Citroën Méhari. That meant more time in the garage, with its work benches and an endless variety of tools; a host of antique wooden wardrobes being used to store costumes and decorations from a lifetime of Carnavals and parties; and spaces filled with scraps of wood, cardboard, pipe, and really, you name it. It’s as close as I can imagine to my dad’s garage, and I like being there.


Quote Baudelaire
In the garage with poet Charles Baudelaire, 1851: “If wine disappeared from human production, there would be a void in health and intelligence, an absence that would be more awful than all the excesses of which it is guilty.”


Quote Abbé
In the garage with Abbé Pierre, founder of Emmaüs, 1954 (abbreviated): “When the law is such that workers, with their salaries, cannot find housing, it is the law that is illegal.”


Quote Hugo
In the garage with author Victor Hugo, 1875: “The formula for the republic knew full well what it said: the graduation is perfect: Freedom, Equality, Brotherhood. Nothing to add, nothing to take away. These are the three steps to the perfect political system. Freedom is the right, equality is the fact, brotherhood is the duty. All humanity is here.” [I knew the sense of the words, but it proved difficult to accurately translate. Thanks to Sue, Olivier and my French teacher Claudine for helping!]
Every work session includes treats. On this day chez Pierrette and Jean Marc, there were homemade pastries called oreillettes, along with the choice of either bubbly or hot tea, all at a lovely table set up in front of the garage and with a view of the mimosa tree in bloom.



Making Flowers
Making crêpe-paper flowers at Eliette’s house means pushing tables together, bringing in some garden chairs, and working to the hum of stories and laughter.


Writing a script
We learned that our club’s theme this year would be India, and shortly after that, the meetings began for designing our parade vehicle and figuring out our costumes.

Eliette had wanted a giant papier-maché elephant for our parade car, and she told everyone to stockpile their newspapers for the cause. But papier-maché requires time for each layer to dry before applying the next, and early January was far too late to begin the process. She rather dolefully announced that there would be no giant elephant for the parade car, so we needed to explore other ideas. But no matter what we’d be building, there would always be the need for crêpe-paper flowers, and so, as every year, the women had several get-togethers for making the flowers. (Click here to see a lot more photographs about this process in my post from last year’s Carnaval.)


Photo Set
Left: hands fly as the paper is scrunched up to make a flower. Right: another day, another flower-making session. Always with camaraderie and laughter.


Flower Wagon
A wagon full of crêpe-paper flowers—a tiny percentage of what we made!



Photo Set
Building the Taj Mahal. Left: Bea, Pierrette, Maryse and Martine working on the cardboard cutout of the Taj Mahal. Right: the completed Taj Mahal, made of flowers and attached to the parade car.


Building the set
Our parade car, a lime-green 1965 Citroën Méhari, was parked in its usual home in Pierrette and Jean Marc’s garage. We all met one day in early January to figure out how to decorate it without a giant elephant. One person arrived with a little statue of a circus elephant, someone else brought a huge plush tiger, and yet another person brought a lime-green snake. We seemed to have some pieces to work with, and that was enough to earn us our cake and drinks in the kitchen. With a keen sixth sense, a few of the husbands arrived just in time to join us for the goodies, which included blanquette and a gâteau des roi. Blanquette is our regional sparkling wine (a process that actually predates that of Champagne, the more famous French sparkling wine). Gâteau des rois is a festive cake that is served throughout January to celebrate Epiphany.

The next time we met at Pierrette’s house, there were some new additions to work on, including a car-width cardboard cutout of the Taj Mahal, which would be covered in flowers and mounted to the Méhari. There was much debate about what color to use for this, and I found it interesting that the word “white” wasn’t often mentioned. However, someone did prevail, and the Taj Mahal appeared white and tan, with some yellow (gold) on top.

There were also cutouts in the shape of India, which would also have flowers attached. Eventually, it was also decided to add a red flower to mark each of the major cities, but India has a lot of major cities, and so we ended up with three: Bombay, Calcutta, and Goa. I asked, but never did get a clear answer on why those three.


Photo Set
The elephant after getting some India-themed clothes. Left with Eliette, and right, with Béa.


Photo Set
This is why we’re here. In the darkness of winter, Carnaval provides a chance for friends to create something together, to share stories, to laugh. In short, to be a community. Left: Marie Thérèse and Dominique don the garlands they’ve been making. Right: Rose Marie peeks out from a map of India.



Designing the costumes
On another track, the women gathered at Eliette’s house one day to start thinking about our costumes. We all needed saris, and we needed lessons in how to wear one. We needed other clothing items, too, and we needed jewelry. Unlike the previous years, Eliette did not have a stash of possible costumes, thus for the most part, each of us had to find or make our own. I don’t sew, so I ordered mine online. And Maggie, who had lived in India when she was younger, gave us a demonstration of how wear a sari.

The men had it easy, most of them wearing long tunic shirts and baggy trousers, while a few also added turbans.


Janice Lynne
My friend Janice and I model our saris at the end of the parade.



On with the show!
After several sunny days, our parade day dawned grey and a little damp, which certainly did keep some people away. The crowds were smaller, but those who were there still had plenty of fun. The bands played, including my favorite drum band, 100% Oaï Spirit. We participants danced along the parade route, stepping out often to greet folks we knew. The confetti flew, bags and bags of it, along with silly string and poppers. Cheers went up for the various floats and other parade entries. And of course, there’s wine and beer and punch to drink to help everyone get into the spirit.

Once the parade gets started, I’m pretty much in place with everyone from Lou Recantou, so I can’t see all that is happening. However, I did manage to arrive at the start early enough to get photos of a few other groups.


Photo Set
People of all ages participate in Carnaval. This is a group of parents and kids, who’d painted a very nice totem pole for their float, and then wore cowboy and Indian costumes. Love that horse!


Equipe Charlie
Where’s Waldo? In France, the question is “Where’s Charlie?” And this team took it one step further, in search of Dany.


Photo Set
Left: the drum group named 100% Oaï Spirit, who are full of energy and keep us moving through the whole parade. Right: members of one group with a Hawai’ian theme.


Lou Recantou
Our club had a dandy time, walking and talking, dancing and waving to friends, tossing confetti and sipping on muscat. Here’s the photographic evidence of an afternoon well-spent in the company of friends.


Our troupe just before the start of the parade.


Photo Set
One of our town’s doctors, Céline, with her adorable children Noémie and Martin. Later I spotted Martin having the time of his life with silly string.


Photo Set
Left: an exuberant Rachel tosses confetti in a great photo by my friend Sue. Right: Janice, Roy and Casey the dog.


Photo Set
Left: at the start of the parade, Pierrette and Béa, with Eliette in blue. Right: during the parade, Martine, Rose Marie, Eliette, Béa and Michel.



The after-party
After the parade, everyone—participants and viewers alike—is invited to our salle des fêtes (the place where most town events take place) for celebratory drinks. You can stay there all night, as the post-parade party slides right into the second of three dances held during the weekend.

Our club always hosts a dinner for those who participate in Carnaval, a catered meal with all of us squeezed into club headquarters. It’s a wonderful way to relax with the friends who worked hard together over the past several weeks, sharing stories of friends seen in the crowd along the parade route and stories of Carnavals from years past. This year, it was one man’s birthday, so the whole group sang to him. The room had a remarkable atmosphere of warm conviviality and shared joy, everyone satisfied and basking in the glow of another great Carnaval in Bize.


Cool Beard
Four-year-old Martin is fascinated by (somewhat older) Jean Marc’s fake beard during the parade. The sense of community during Carnaval is what makes it so very special, and what entices younger generations to continue the tradition.


Click here to see my blog from 2018, and here for the post from 2019.


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