This Sunday was May Day here, the day the French simultaneously celebrate workers (like our Labour Day) and spring (like our Victoria Day).
We knew something was afoot when we picked up our baguette at on Sunday morning and the boulanger handed us a small bouquet of flowers and wished us “Happy First of May.”
The big May Day event here in Aniane was the Au Bonheur des Jardins, held on the edge of town in a large walled compound that looked like it had been a armory in an earlier life.
We figured, from the publicity, that the Au Bonheur des Jardins was a festival of flowers and plants. What couldn’t be effectively be communicated on the posters, however, was that it was a died in the wool “Birkenstocks and apple cider” hippie festival of flowers and plants.
Some things, it seems, transcend cultural divides, and “back to the landism” appears to be one of them, for we might just as well have been at any Canadian gathering of organic farmers, folk musicians and hackey sack devotees.
All the telltale signs were in place: the healthy brownies for sale that tasted like chocolate pressed wood pulp, the man selling energy detecting handcrafted wooden pendulums, tables covered with pamphlets selling the international solidarity movement, recycled stuffed toys in the children’s “fishing pond” game, the drummers drumming their handmade drums, and the shiatsu stand in the corner.
Of course, this being France, there were also mimes on stilts, handmade goat cheese, and flagons of wine available to go with the brownies.
Although I’ve flirted with the edges of hippie culture in Canada — when Catherine met me I had a full beard and hair down to my shoulders in a pony tail, after all — I was always a tourist, eating the carob burgers by day and running out to Mcdonalds by cover of night. In the end I found conforming to the rules of the Birkenstock crowd as confining as conforming to the rules of the suit and tie crowd, and went my own way.
But I found Au Bonheur des Jardins oddly alluring.
Somehow being amidst something so disturbingly familiar but in French (and thus completely without chance of recruitment) made for a very pleasant afternoon. I sat back and drank my mint tea (leaves left in, of course) and ate my brownie, and just watched it all unfold. I even screwed up my courage and bought some artisanal cheese (very good, from the Champagne region) and some handmade books (cookbooks about basil, eggs and olive oil).
Catherine, frighteningly at home in any situation, simply dove in. She and Oliver made handmade paper, fished for recycled stuffed toys, and watched the mimes up close. She bought some myrtle juice (we’re still not sure what a myrtle is) and some more cheese and some weird substance from which she can purportedly make tea.
Monday morning, life returned to normal.