For the last five years, the area of La (normalement) Belle France around Guillaume’s favourite campsite has been staging a photographic festival. The festival’s form consists of several Chemins de Photos [photograph trails] “en grand format et en plein air” – large format photographs displayed in the countryside. We were camping here five years ago when the first running of the festival got underway. We had been a little bemused when farmer Luc began thumping large wooden stakes into the shallower waters at the edges of the lake beside which his campsite sits. Confusion diminished a little when our friendly sheep farmer subsequently attached boards bearing photographs to the stakes; “curiouis”, we thought but at least we now knew what the stakes were for. Quite why one would want photographs staked into a lake remained a mystery.Luc and Nadine introduced to us the concept of the Chemins de Photos. Ah ha.
Photos printed on paper in the open air just north of the Pyrenees (18kms north of Mirepoix, to be exact) did not fair too well for festival #1, which was a bold idea on a relatively modest scale. In the intervening time the festival has clearly continued and, happily, advanced considerably. Festival #5 has a free guide book together with a souvenir brochure [€3], both well produced in colour, and a title: Scènes de Vies [Scenes of Lives]. There are now 21 locations in various villages around the area, some with multiple installations. The photographs are now printed on a plastic, or plasticized material, so are at least weather resistant and may last until 30th September when the festival ends. [In the modern vogue, let’s hope that plastic doesn’t end up in our oceans.]
Today we had been invited by Nadine to join an organized tour by bus of some of the installations. Friday and Saturday had been clement, mercifully, and the farm ground had dried to a firmer consistency. Sunday had brought another deluge so the ground was now once again soggy. Today’s forecast was no better. The concept of wandering around open air exhibits on muddy ground in occasional heavy rain may not have been highest on either of our bucket lists but what else were we to do on such a day? Besides, Nadine had generously insisted on paying for us so we gratefully grabbed waterproofs, donned shoes that were washable and set off at 08:45 to join in the fun; given such hospitality it would have been rude not to.
Over coffee and cakes, two token Brits joined 25 hardy French souls at Fanjeaux. Finally we boarded the bus and began. So did the rain. The driver did a magnificent job negotiating the narrow lanes, most often single track, to some of the tiny ancient hilltop villages. At each installation there was a sometimes lengthy introduction about the photographer and their chosen theme. The introductions were, of course, in high speed French that was way above our level of comprehension. One lady volunteered a teenage girl, maybe her daughter, to translate for us. That would have been way too complex so I thanked her and said it was unnecessary – that, at least, was well within my French. We understood some of what was being said but missed the majority of it. No matter, pictures speak a thousand words.
At Belpech, where the rain had relented, there were three installations to wander around before an included 3-course lunch was served. The lunch was preceded by further high speed speeches, both from a festival organizer and from the mayor of Belpech as one of the hosting villages. It was a bit like the Oscars – much thanking and congratulating. These folks certainly could talk. Mouths that were needed for talking were finally freed to eat. I thought our over-worked brains might get some respite now but we were seated with Nadine, who usually moderates her speed in deference to us, and another. Nadine’s speed returned to native normality in the company of her compatriot and we were left mentally scratching our heads once more. The food was good, though – a little too much for us in the middle of the day but good. The river flowing through Belpech had clearly flooded – debris was strewn on the bank – was swift and the colour of mud washed off the surrounding countryside.
This year’s continental European summer continues. The overflowing lavoir at one of our earlier stops may give an idea of just how much rain this country is having to try to absorb. It is failing noticeably.
French lunchtime appetites sated, we re-joined our bus for the afternoon continuation of more villages with more installations viewed in ocasional further dumps of rain. Another lady with some English had befriended us and had volunteered a few explanatory clarifications in English, not so much of the photographs but of some of the village architecture. At least it gave our brains a brief rest and hers seemed to enjoy the exercise.
At 18:00, after nine hours of intense French, we finally returned to Fanjeaux but the tour was not quite over. As is usual, our farm has an installation to be seen around the lake but the farm ground was too muddy to contemplate hosting our bus. So, those who had not yet seen enough collected their cars and swarmed the extra 3kms in convoy to the lakeside. As the foreigner but one knowing the farm intimately, I was amused to be shepherding all the French-registered cars whose drivers were less than familiar with the geography.
The photos are of widely varying subjects and styles so naturally not everything appeals to everyone. Our last lakeside photos are of Emperor Penguins raising chicks in the middle of an Antarctic winter, taken by a German photographer who indulges in photography in extreme conditions. Mid-winter Antarctic penguins most certainly fitted his brief. As a wildlife enthusiast, this series is my personal favourite from this years disparate collections.
Honestly, the day was too long. I well remember touring the remains of no fewer than eight ancient Cambodian temples in one day. It all blurred into one and I felt completely templed out. This was a similar experience though clearly the weather conditions had not helped.
And relax …