Monday, February 18, 2013

A Carnaval Tradition~ en Provence

My sketch, 6 X 9 inches
One March, in the hilltop village of Venasque in Provence, while on an immersion trip with Valérie Guillet & the Language Exchange (click here to see this semester's French offerings) we were surprised by music & costumed villagers (des villageois déguisés) parading through the streets. It was le Carnaval de l'école (school children's carnival), which occurs each year on a Saturday about 40 days before Easter, just about the time that other cities are having Mardi Gras celebrations. Some people in the parade held signs that had messages like "No to war" (Non, la guerre) or "Neither violence, nor misery"  (Ni la violence, ni la misère). The final destination of the parade (le défilé) was the square just outside of the rampart, the defensive wall built by Romans in 1347, where a huge paper maché "evil" octopus une pievure maléfique) was waiting.  

Photo taken by Jean-Paul Guillet, the father of Language Exchange's Director, Valérie

The villagers, especially the children had written messages about things they wanted to let go of. Perhaps they were wrongs they'd commited, perhaps they were cruel aspects of life, I didn't know for sure because they were written secretly & folded up. They were gathered & placed in the lap of la pieuvre maléfique. La pieuvre had a log (un bûcher) under it which would have been set on fire, so that all would be burned, except drizzly & windy weather didn't allow it (we heard it got done later in the week). This ritual's purpose was to chase away evil spirits (pour chasser les mauvais esprits).

You might ask: How much power can a ritual like this really have, be it Christian, pagan or any other religion? Well.  I came to Venasque on the previous day with 3 mauvais esprits: a toothache, (mal aux dents), a backache (mal au dos) and broken out skin (une maladie de peau). By the next day, all 3 had disappeared! I'm not kidding (Je ne blague pas)!!

To my French readers, including Professeur Guillet: Please excuse any errors of French, &, as always, corrections are welcomed!


  1. the ability to let go would be a great power, i think. so whatever ritual enables that, i say, go for it! :)

  2. In Nice, at the end of Carnaval, the king is put on a ship and burned on the sea.
    You asked about "Inversion": during the carnaval days, the master becomes domestic, and the servant becomes master; the ugly becomes beautiful(Prove : this octopussy in your sketch) and what beautiful is said to be ugly,disorder rules , etc...the society is getting mad and things go upside down.Then , at the end , all this madness is burned , and society comes back to normality.That's a new rebirth.
    and I would choose a venitian or comedia dell'arte's mask, if I wanted to get disguised;
    (and BTW, I did not find ANY mistake in your french! )

  3. I love your sketch, especially the way you've done the people. The simplicity is perfect - just enough detail.

  4. What an engaging story! I must try this sometime with my own misdeeds and worries. I really appreciated the additional explanation from Malyss, too.

  5. Love the drawing/rendering and the story that accompanies! (And thank you for reminding me of Nunzio-Bunzio!) xx

  6. I think your sketch captures the area very well. Interesting to read about too.

  7. Your sketch is so fun. In fact the whole story is one of fun and goodness. An octopus that can rid you of your wrongs who was made up so nicely in his/her chair. A surprise treat for all of you. barbara

  8. Thanks for that bit o' history. I know so little about it.

  9. How fun!! I've been to Provence many times, but I don't remember ever going to that little village. Next time...

    Love your sketch!! xoxo Silke


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