Sunday, April 1, 2007

Annual Plowmen's Festival

In our Royans region, the major event marking the start of spring is the Plowmen's Festival in the nearby village of St-Jean-en-Royans. It's a purely pagan festival, in the original sense of the Latin words pagus, meaning "a country district", and paganus, "a villager". This annual event takes place inevitably close to the date of the great Judeo-Christian spring festival of Easter. Although the Vercors has always been a highly religious region—which once included three great 12th-century monasteries, one Cistercian (Léoncel) and the others Carthusian (Ecouges and Bouvante)—there is little doubt that the pagan Plowmen's Festival is more joyous in a popular sense than the celebration of Easter at St-Jean-Royans. The parade of floats, drawn by tractors, has always been an unsophisticated rather kitsch event, appealing above all to children. [Warning: The rest of this lengthy post is likely to be extremely boring for readers who might have ceased to look upon our marvelous world through the innocent eyes of wonderstruck children.]

While waiting for the parade to start, the Three Little Pigs are safe inside their house of wood, whereas the Wicked Wolf, standing in front of the door, looks bored. In the final rush to finish the float, somebody made a spelling mistake in the panel attached to the nose of the tractor, and had to insert a last-minute letter "C":

Little Red Riding Hood, holding her basket of provisions, is chatting calmly to another Wicked Wolf, while her rural grandparents are seated patiently on the float:

I forget what happened exactly (my fairy-tale culture is worn at the seams), but apparently Pinocchio got involved with some kind of a blue-gray aquatic creature:

Aladdin found a Magic Lamp, and that pale blue phantom-like thing emerging from the lamp is a so-called Genie:

With the village church in the background, the float presenting the complex drama of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is being dragged by an ancient dwarf-driven tractor that is an authentic museum exhibit, which causes genuine tractor-lovers (so I've been told) to stand still, open-mouthed, in admiration and awe:

If I understand correctly, this is the Handsome Prince on Horseback who kissed Snow White, lying in her glass coffin, and brought her back into our everyday world:

We have here a side-view of the resurrected Snow White, apparently seated on the rump of her Prince's steed:

To be perfectly truthful, I didn't succeed in identifying the two females seen here, seated below a shop sign marked séduction coiffure (hairstyle seduction), but I suspect that one is an Ugly Queen and the other, maybe, a Wicked Witch of one kind or another. I don't know who did the role-casting for the Plowmen's Festival.

No fairytale-oriented Plowmen's Festival would be complete without Alice in Wonderland. There's a delightful rural Royans touch here. The magic potion labeled Buvez-moi (Drink me) is contained in an old-fashioned milk can.

When they're not wearing fancy dress and crawling in their tractors through the main street of the festive village, some of the young drivers are no doubt authentic plowmen, equipped with state-of-the-art agricultural equipment of the kind seen here:

Finally, the parade closed with the maidens of St-Jean-en-Royans dancing on the macadam:

The only problem as far as the Plowmen's Festival is concerned is the weather. The first days of spring might be ideal for plowing the fields, but it's still a little too chilly for enthusiastic dancing in the street. This morning, as often happens at St-Jean-en-Royans, the fairy-tale princes, princesses, assorted elves, goblins and wicked wolves had to dash for cover when sleet started to fall upon the floats. Here in the Royans, the most extraordinary fairy tale of all would be a sunny Sunday for the Plowmen's Festival.

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