Kittens! There were kittens! I woke up the next morning to discover the children playing with the two 5 week old balls of fluff outside my room. I took a long warm shower and was clean for the first time in a week! I had brunch which included a brilliant idea: cantaloupe filled with port! Yummy! After eating, GuyRo and Celine took me with them to the Old City. I should explain a little about Briancon. While much of the city dates from the work of millitary architect Vauban and King Louis 14th in the 17th century, their are buildings from at least 700 years ago, and the town has been around much longer than that. The town is the highest city in the EU and is surrounded by even higher mountains. For a long time it was an important military stronghold and so the old city is heavily fortified and the mountains are dotted with different forts, meant to control the valley pass. The city endured many attacks, most famously defending against a siege by the Austrian army and holding the pass. The whole thing is rather impressive! We entered the city through a large stone gate above a bridge and started down the main street of the town. The street was lined on both sides with all sorts of shops, selling everything from tourist gifts, to incense, to crossbows (which I concidered, but thought it might be difficult to explain while hitchhiking!) The really exciting part, however, was a small canal that runs through the center of the street.
It was initially built as part of a complex water system throughout the city. This canal was designed in case of fire, and water still runs in it today. The chief purpose of it now seems to be the entertaining children and cooling of dogs!
We wandered up and down the streets, talking to people, playing in fountains and looking at shops. Celine bought us all crepes (really, I can’t quite express how awesome these people were!) and then we went to go see GuyRo’s son who was working at the museum of mines, near the top of the city.
It started to rain a little bit, so we didn’t stay up their long, but headed down to walk along the edge of the cliffs, overlooking the river. Their young son had gotten an ice cream cone, which he seemed intent on dropping, while their daughter practiced her comedic skills. She was amazingly funny, even when I didn’t understand what she was saying. She seemed very intent that I not get lost or be left out, and would remind her parents every few minutes if I was straggling; “Jeremeeeeeey!”
We headed home and I relaxed for a bit and wrote about the previous week. The blog is serving as a journal of sorts; I am less inspired to write just to myself, but I really want to keep a record of this trip to look back on.
We were invited over to dinner by a friend of GuyRo’s. He is a respiratory doctor who works in a nearby clinic and the hospital as were the two other men at the party, so much of the conversation revolved around that. While some of the guests spoke a little English, it was another great exercise in following along in French; each time I catch a few more words and snippets, but it is still difficult to talk.
I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the awesomeness of the French philosophy surrounding food. This might seem like old news to most people, but I didn’t really appreciate it until I got here. Meals come in courses and are served separately from each other. At this party we had snacks and Champagne while talking, then appetizers of mozzerella, basil, tomatoes and olives. The meal was of green beans and veal, which was amazing, followed by the cheese course, desert and finally coffee. In the begining of my time in France with people I (used to seeing all the food availible presented at once) sometimes would wonder if it was going to be enough, and eat lots of bread or salad. Of course, by the the time all the courses had come out I was totally stuffed. Another interesting thing is that people seem to be suprised that I like French cheese. Apparently the French think that all americans are into cheezwiz. I explain that I like to eat bio (organic) and that I spend lots of time in vermont (Haha, it means green mountain) and that they have good cheese there too. The Freedom Fries conversation came up again, which they were not too upset about, but smashing french wine? Terrible!
The next day GuyRo helped me translate my interview questions and introduction into French (thanks!) and I went out to check out the site of the Bacchu-ber performance! I had read all the English language material on the dance, which takes place on August 16th every year in Pont de Cervières, a small town in Briancon.
It has been performed for a few hundred years, and basically no one knows where it comes from, what it means or why it is performed the way it is. Theories range from a military dance performed in ancient Rome, to a dance for the God Bacchus, to a ritual performed by survivors of a plague to thank St. Roch. If you want to know more about this and other sword dance history, check out Steve Coursin’s book. As I walked down to the site I started seeing more and more things that I had read about. Signs for Pont de Cervières, the no parking sign for the festival and the dance, Rue de Bacchu-Ber, and the performance site!
I think the project finally hit me when I found the headquarters of the Bacchu-Ber society. After six months of applying to the Watson to do just this, finding records of the dance online, seeing the same three pictures and looking at maps of where I was going, here I stood in front of a building with crossed swords on the door, thousands of miles from home, in a tiny town near italy. Wow! I was sort of stunned thinking about the whole thing. I really am so lucky to be doing this. If you told me a year ago (before I had even heard of the Watson) if this is where I would be I wouldn’t have believed it.
I went up and knocked on the door, but no one was there, so I left one of the written introductions I had made with GuyRo tucked behind the swords and wandered back. When I passed the performance space I found the the children were practicing their dance (not sword dance)