This Fall, I head to Montpellier to engage in a year-long study of Occitan and Les chants d'Auvergne (The Songs of the Auvergne) by Joseph Canteloube. Join me on this linguistic, musical, and personal adventure!
Here in Montpellier, I have the good fortune of living with a family that places a very high value on both classical music and language. They have a set of 6 year-old twin boys named Arthur and Nathan who attend what is called an EscòlaCalendreta [es’kɔlɔ kalen’dretɔ]. A calandreta is a private bilingual school, which teaches in both Occitan and French.
PROUDLY BEARING THE OCCITAN FLAG
Saturday I was invited to tag along for the calentreta’s celebration of Carnaval, the main event of which is a parade through the city center. I had to catch up with them midway through, but that wasn’t difficult…all I had to do was figure out which direction the loud drums and other ruckus was coming from.
Oh, how cute they all were---all the families marching along in costumes together! People wear whatever sort of costumes or masks they want, although ‘chevalier’ is a very poplular one among boys. Kids were running around, throwing confetti at one another. People were also dancing to the traditional music that was playing.
There is a large human-like figure that is carried along, which is named Carnaval. At the final destination, everyone accuses Carnaval of being responsible for all the bad things that have happened during the year, as well as all the generally crummy things in life. My understanding is that, way back when, Carnaval represented the king, or whoever was in power. It was an occasion to voice complaints and, as the figurine was customarily lit on fire, an opportunity to suggest what might happen if those complaints were not addressed.
People get to boo loudly at each accusation, which I must say is quite satisfying. (One of the kids in the video above is accusing Carnaval of assigning too much homework---the one that gets the most boos, of course!) A lot of household items have broken in our apartment lately (including the desk chair I use), and we had a good chuckle and sigh of relief in putting the blame on someone else! The kids took turns doing the accusing, which all took place in Occitan. Customarily, this figure is then burned, although this one was lowered and ripped to shreds by the kids in a fit of shrieking. Good times…stick it to the man!
TAKIN' DOWN THE MAN..
...AND RIPPIN' HIM TO SHREDS!!!
Arthur and Nathan were sure to save some of their confetti for good use later on, which mainly consisted of asking me to close my eyes and open my mouth… ha, ha, very funny boys.
My one-way ticket is booked, and I've sold my desk (among other things). I'm going to France!
For those of you who haven't already received an earfull from me about this project, let me do a brief rundown in FAQ form:
What is Occitan?
Occitan is a romance language spoken in parts of Southern France and Northern Spain. It is NOT a dialect of French, it is it's own distinct language. It's the language closest to Catalan, which I will get to learn a little bit of as well.
Are you going to be in Paris?
Sure, from time to time, but the bulk of my time will be spent in Montpellier. This beach town on the Southern coast is also a big college town, where the Universite Paul-Valery has an Occitan department. I will be doing a condensed, two semester-long program for professionals wishing to learn the language to support their career goals. I'll even get to do an internship!
Why do you want to learn Occitan, anyhow?
The more I looked into doing this, the more reasons came bursting forth:
a. It's an excuse to spend time in France (and get fluent in French already!).
b. My family comes from not-too-far-away in the Pyrenees---and some cousins speak Occitan!
c. I'll get to perform Les chants d'Auvergne in the very region they depict, having gained a rich knowlege of the language, culture, and folk music traditions.
What are Les chants d'Auvergne? The Songs of the Auvergne, are a series of orchestrated folk songs, collected and set by Joseph Canteloube in the 1920's. If you're not already familiar with them, I highly recommend YouTubing "Bailero." Further discussions of these EXQUISITE songs will appear in later posts, and I invite commentary.
SO, that's the gist of it. Please feel free to post comments, ask questions, and send your general good wishes!
I look forward to sharing this journey with all of you who won't quite fit into my suitcase to come along. :)