Monday, February 8, 2010

Bretons at play

I thought I knew a thing or two about what goes on in the native land of my ex-wife Christine, but I've had occasions to discover that many Breton traditions escape me. The last time I visited Christine, she and our son took me to a simple country tavern where local musicians had decided to get together for an evening of Irish music. Although I was familiar with musical evenings in Paris cafés (where I used to play guitar and sing Leonard Cohen stuff), I have to say that this event in Brittany was one of the most unexpected and extraordinary musical evenings I had ever experienced. It was ostensibly a normal tavern with ordinary customers (like Christine and me) dropping in for drinks. But I soon discovered that almost every individual who stepped through the door of that tavern that evening was accompanied by a musical instrument: violin, flute, guitar, bodhrán, etc. By the end of the evening, we were among the few non-playing people, surrounded by some thirty musicians... who all managed to collaborate splendidly!

Today, for the first time, I heard about Breton wrestling, called gouren. You lose, apparently, as soon as you get knocked off your feet. Thankfully, during all the years I've known Christine, she never once tried to do that. This video shows Breton girls wrestling on a beach:



In traditional bouts, the grand champion receives a special trophy: a live ram, which he has the right to hoist up onto his shoulders.

I appreciate the symbolism of this trophy. Back in the days when I had a small flock of sheep at Gamone, I was often knocked off my feet by a blow from an otherwise friendly ram. Funnily enough, they always attack you from behind, and when you're least expecting it.

Now, there has been a court case in Brittany because the league opposing cruelty to animals considers that there's something immoral in the idea of awarding a live ram to the winner of a wrestling tournament. But the legal judgment was most appropriate: the animal-rights plaintiff got knocked off his feet.

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