Growing up I heard the southern America folk tradition that eating black eye peas on New Year Day would grant good luck and prosperity in the coming year. We often had black eye peas with bacon on New Year Day. The superstition goes back to the mid-1800s in the US.
In France (along with Italy), there is a similar tradition of eating saucisse et lentilles (sausages and lentils) on New Year Day for good luck. I especially like saucisse et lentilles made with Saucisse de Toulouse and green lentils du Puy (which are sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s caviar” because of their flavor.)
I like the idea of matching, but independently created folk traditions that transverse cultural and national boundaries. So, of course, for my New Year Day lunch I enjoyed a bowl of saucisse et lentilles. Any good luck resulting in 2017 would be welcomed, but you can’t go wrong with a delicious, steaming bowl of saucisse et lentilles on a chilly January day or on any day for that matter.
It’s January 1, 2017 and my New Year resolution is to be far more consistent posting to our blog. So my first post of 2017 is its first micro-adventure: the Premier Bain de l’Année (also called the Bain du Nouvel An), the first swim in the sea of the new year. This is an annual event in Argelès-sur-Mer taking place at the central Plage d’Argelès-sur-Mer (Argelès beach) adjacent to the Esplanade Charles Trenet.
With the overcast morning’s air temperature at 11°C / 51°F and the Mediterranean Sea’s temperature at 14°C / 57°F, the swimmers and their supporters gathered at the beach as colorful traditional Catalan fishing boats (called “barques” in French or “llaguts” in Catalan) arrived to assist the event. At 10:00 a.m. the swimmers started to disrobe to their swimsuits while their supporters kept bags of dry clothes and towels for the swimmer’s return.
At 10:30 a.m. there was a series of whistle blasts and the swimmers ran to the water. Many swimmers looked festive wearing Santa Claus hats, outrageous wigs, and costumes. One female swimmer wore a sparkling ballerina’s tutu.
No, I did not join the swimmers this year. The dogs and I offered our support and admiration from dry land. Perhaps next year . . . NOT.
The swimmers had a spectacular time. They swam, splashed, posed for photos, and there was a spontaneous group sing-along with two dozen hard-core swimmers long after most participants had returned to shore. There were swimmers of every size and age with all having tremendous fun. It was difficult to estimate the size of the event, but my guess is there was 50 to 75 swimmers with 200 supporters cheering them on from shore.
As the swimmers eventually became too chilled to continue, their supporters would meet them at the water’s edge with warm towels. There were free hot drinks and certificates of bravery waiting for the swimmers back at the Esplanade.
Tracy and my most recent micro-adventure was joining 10,000 other spectators at the 600th observance of the annual Procession de la Sanch (The March of the Penitents) in Perpignan on Good Friday, 2016. (La Sanch is pronounced “lah sank.”)
Outside of Spain, the Procession de la Sanch isn’t really performed any longer. In France, it is only held in the southern Catalan country. The largest and most famous of the French penance processions still performed during the Semaine Sainte (Easter Holy Week) is the Procession de la Sanch a Perpignan. Nearby Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure also still perform la Sanch ceremonies, though on a smaller scale. The event was originally brought to Perpignan in 1416 by Saint Vincent Ferrier, a Valencian Dominican. (Remember, Columbus reached the “New World” in 1492, 76 years after the first Procession de la Sanch.)The Pyrénées-Orientales département (which includes Perpignan, Arles-sur-Tech and Collioure, sometimes referred to as Catalunya Nord) has strong Spanish and Catalan roots that has helped this French department retain a traditional event that is typical of the Semana Santa (Spanish Holy Week). The strength of this French-Catalan-Spanish blend can be easily seen in the departments’ flag, gold and red stripes, the same colors as those used in Catalan and Spanish flags.
The somber, masked procession began centuries ago as a method to support condemned men on their final march to execution and ensure their Christian burial. La Sanch’s robes and the conical hoods (the hood is called a Caperutx — today the entire ensemble is referred to as Caperutx)were worn by the executioners and the prisoners to conceal their identities. Apparently early on in history the victims and families of the victims were a bit too happy to pull them out of the procession and just beat them violently to death in the streets.
The Caperutx worn during La Sanch are either black (worn by the penitents representing death) or red (worn by the leader, the Regidor, representing blood), only the children and priests in the procession (representing the innocents and the saved) wear white. A Regidor, in his red Caperutx is at the head of the procession and rings an iron bell to warn of the coming procession. The robes worn in la Sanch, while reminiscent to the costumes worn by the Ku Klux Klan, actually predate the Klan’s by 500 years and have a completely different origin and meaning.
About 700 members of local associations, Confrérie de la Sanch, organize, march, and carry the approximately 35 “misteris” in the procession. (“Misteris” mean mysteries in Catalan.) The misteris are litters with life-size portrayals of scenes from the Passion of Christ. Weighing between 60 and 100 pounds, the misteris may be carried by up to eight persons. Some of the penitents in Caperutx carried drums and beat a steady, slow tattoo for the procession. Penitents also may sing”goigs,” traditional songs dating back before the 15th century, that recount the sadness of Mary’s suffering in Calvary. We didn’t hear a “goig” being sung while we were watching the procession.
The Procession de la Sanch takes three hours (from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m.) to circle the historic downtown of Perpignan and passing other parishes, starting and ending at Église Saint-Jacques(Saint James’ Church) which dates back to 1245.
Prior to the procession start, we visited Église Saint-Jacques. We found a beautiful 13th century church with a unique bell tower that was built in the southern Gothic style. Its most unusual feature is that there are two Catalan-styled altarpieces at opposite ends of the single nave with the organ at the center. Inside the church were many of the Misteris with their fresh flowers being displayed before the procession. We had a wonderful opportunity to see the Misteris up close and appreciate their size and weight. We spoke with another visitor to the church who was admiring the Misteris. He was French, but had completed his doctorate at the University of Minnesota. He recounted the history of the event with us and told us we were very welcome there and encouraged us to have a look around the church. Since Tracy and I share an appreciation of sacred architecture, his invitation was quite welcome.
We choose a location to watch the procession in Place Puig (Puig Square)in the Quartier Saint-Jacques which is also referred to as the Quartier Gitan because of its significant Gitan (Roma people, often called Gypsies or Gitanos in Spain) community. While waiting for the event to start we visited with a local Gitan man who explained the Gypsy history of the area and how the former military barracks adjacent to Place Puig were converted to public housing and was now home to primarily Gitan peoples.
The procession was preceded with a loudspeaker explanation about the history and meaning of the event. After the announcement we heard the tattoo of drums and the procession became a solemn, slow-moving parade. Approximately 700 men, women, and children participated in the procession. Although it is easy to fixate on the penitents wearing the Caperutx hoods and robes, there are a surprising number of women dressed in black marching in the procession. The misteris on their litters looked impressively heavy as their were carried on the procession. Both the men and the women carried misteris. The carriers had an unusual technique of using a forked walking stick under the carrying poles to support the weight of the misteris when the procession stopped and to trade carriers. The use of the forked sticks was performed without verbal direction with orders by tapped by the team leaders with their stick on the ground to alert the other carriers. Tracy noticed that several women were wearing heels up to 4 inches to allow all the women carriers to be the same height. Several of the hooded penitents wearing the Caperutx elected to walk the entire route and to carry the misteris in their bare feet.
I spoke with one of the marchers who was collecting charity contributions from the crowd. He attempted to chat with us in French, Spanish, Catalan, and, I think, Caló (Gitano-Roma) before I explained that our French and Spanish was very poor and that we were Americans. While saying he didn’t speak English, he spoke enough English welcome us, thank us for a supporting the procession,and gave us a prayer card with the “Our Father,” . . . in Catalan, of course. It is always amazing to us the number of multilingual people we meet in the Pyrénées-Orientales département, even though English is seldom one of those second languages, usually the French people in this area of the south will most often also speak Catalan, Spanish, or Maghrebi (Moroccan Arabic – Darija.)
At the end of the official procession pasted, members of the public joined at the end of the parade and followed the official participants.
In all, it was a unique opportunity to watch the 600 year old Procession de la Sanch in person. A chance to observe a traditional Catalan and Spanish religious ceremony performed in a very secular modern France. To be involved in the conclusion to the penance and atonement of the Lenten season in a historic ritual dating back to 1416. It was an extremely powerful experience.
I was part of the Twenty-sixth Amendment’s first class of 18-year-old voters allowed to participate in federal elections and have voted in every election since. My first degree was in political science and I have a master’s degree in public administration and public policy. I have a personal philosophy of “voting for the person, not the party” and have changed my party affiliation numerous time to support a candidate I believed merited my support in a primary election and I have voted for local, state, and national candidates of all parties. I have volunteered to work on election campaigns. I follow elections, legislative sessions, and court decisions the way some people follow the NFL football season. I believe voting is a privilege and a duty and find it appalling that the US has such low voter participation. I strongly support programs like Oregon’s “Motor Voter” system to encourage more people to actively exercise their political franchise. Since moving to France Tracy and I have made a point of “voting back home” by use of absentee ballot.
Hello. My name is Alan and I’m a politics addict.
I can tell you that Tracy, who does not share my politics passion, puts up with my obsessive following of all things political with the same kind of patience that she did when the kids were little and telling her why they HAD TO hit their brother first.
I had recently — and by recently I mean every day since the Iowa Caucus and New Hampshire Primary — been lamenting the fact that our home state of Nevada has replaced primary elections with the caucus system since 2008. There is no option to participate by “absentee voting” in a caucus which requires face-to-face participation.
However, while reading about the upcoming March 1, 2016 “Super Tuesday” presidential primary elections, I discovered that Super Tuesday includes the Democrats Abroad Global Presidential Primary that we can participate in.
Democrats Abroad is a fifty-two year old, official Democratic party organization representing US citizens living permanently or temporarily overseas. It has “state-level” recognition by the National Democratic Party for representing overseas voters. The Republican Party has a similar organization, Republicans Overseas, but the Republican National Committee does not considered Republicans Overseas a “state committee” and it does not conduct its own global primary.
From 1976 to 2004 Democrats Abroad have sent delegates to Democratic National Convention using a caucus system. Since 2008, Democrats Abroad have conducted Global Primary Elections for Democratic party voters among the approximately 8,700,000 Americans that live overseas.
2.) Take a couple of minutes to join Democrats Abroad via their website. You list your name, date of birth, phone numbers, US voting address, and your physical address abroad. After completing your application you are sent a e-mail link to activate your membership account.
3.) You are then authorized to vote at one of the 121 official Voting Centers in more than 40 countries, during the week of March 1 to March 8. (There are ten Voting Centers throughout France.)
4.) If you are unable to vote in person (Toulouse is our closest Voting Center and we are in the middle of moving), you can e-mail, fax, or “snail mail” your ballot to Democrats Abroad. In just a few minutes, Tracy and I downloaded, filled-in our indentification information, selected a candidate, signed, scanned, and e-mailed our ballots to Democrats Abroad ahead of the March 1 to March 8 physical voting period. A mailed ballot must be postmarked by March 8 and ballots received after March 13, 2016 as deemed invalid and will not be counted.
5.) Of course, you can only vote once for a presidential candidate: either through the Global Primary Election or through your home state. You can either vote absentee, or participate in the caucus in your home state. or participate in the Global Primary Election.
Based on the results of the Global Primary Election, Democrats Abroad will send 21 delegates to the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Our home state of Nevada will be sending 43 delegates to the Democratic National Convention.
Tracy told me I was “way too excited” about being able to vote in a primary election.
Hello. My name is Alan and have I mentioned that I’m addicted to politics?
Tracy is across the room on her laptop diligently searching for a 12-step program.
Tracy made a wonderful traditional US style Christmas dinner for us with turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, but with the French touches of Muscat de Noël wine and a Bûche de Noël cake. New Years Eve 2015-2016 dinner was then up to me to make a proper French Réveillon dinner . . . or at least as proper of a Réveillon dinner as this US Expat can figure out, shop, cook, and serve.
Réveillon is the traditional dinner that people in French-speaking countries celebrate the night before Christmas and New Year’s Day. Some of the traditional foods vary by region but can include turkey with chestnut stuffing, caviar or smoked salmon on blinis, oysters, foie gras, lobster, and coquille Saint Jacques (scallops). (More descriptions of Réveillon dishes with “food porn” photos at “The Local-France” Ten dishes that make up a French Christmas feast. )
For our New Year’s Eve Réveillon dinner I prepared:
Roasted Magret de Canard (oven roasted duck breast.)
Grilled Boudin Blanc de porc with truffles. (White pork sausage with black truffles.) Boudin Blanc in France are made with milk while the Boudin Blanc made in Cajun Louisiana is made with pork and rice stuffing.
Pan-fried Foie Gras (Duck Liver.) (I have previously learned the trick to remove the battery from the smoke alarm when cooking Foie Gras. The high heat pan and high fat content of the Foie Gras can trigger the smoke detector.)
Quiche Lorraine with bacon, cheese and scallops in place of Coquille Saint Jacques for our seafood course. (A purchased quiche since I didn’t think I would have enough time to cook everything.
A canapés and cheese plate including Catalan Sausage, duck breast, Foie Gras, Chevre (goat cheese), Brie, Fourme d’Ambert (raw cow’s milk blue cheese), with Rondelé de Président Ail de Garonne & Fines Herbes (creamed cheese spread) and small toasts. Several of these cheeses are contraband and cannot be imported into the US.
For dessert a Bûche de Noël au chocolat (chocolate cream “Yule Log” cake with layers of crystallized sugar filling) purchased from our nearby pâtissier.
And, of course, Champagne. (What’s the point of living in France without toasting the New Year with real French champagne?)
Our canine children, Sami and Lou, enjoyed a bite of duck with their dinners too. Sami especially loves Canard!
On Saturday and Sunday, January 6 and 7, about 3.7 million residents of France, with 1.5 million in Paris alone, conducted national Unity Rallies in memorial to the victims of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hyper Cacher kosher grocery store in Paris.
Twenty thousand marched in Carcassonne, a community of about 50,000 residents. The tragedy created a consolidating influence similar to what occurred in the US after the 9/11 attacks, Oklahoma City Bombing, and Boston Marathon Bombing. There was very much a “United we stand, divided we fall.” message being conveyed.
Alan participated in the one hour event that included a “Blanc Marche” or White March from the Jacobin Gate to La Cite de Carcassonne, while Tracy and Sami stayed in and watched the Paris Unity Rally live via an online link.
After the mass murder of 12 people at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office in Paris on January 7, 2015, there has been an outpouring of support for the Freedom of Expression and journalism, whether satire or straight news reporting, in France. It started as a hashtag on Twitter of #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) to show support to the victims and survivors of this terrible act of terrorism. #JeSuisCharlie soon moved to the front page of newspapers around the country and to people and businesses posting “Je Suis Charlie” in their windows. We were pleased to see “Je Suis Charlie” posted around Carcassonne which has also hosted Unity Rallies advocating free expression and in memory of the victims.
We were able to watch a part of the internationally renown Tour de France bicycle race. Leg 16 started in Carcassonne.
The 101th running of the Tour de France’s stage 16 raced through Carcassonne literally a half block from our apartment. This stage was the longest of the 2014 race with 237.5 kilometers (148 miles) from Carcassonne traveling west up through the Pyrénées mountains and finishing in the village of Bagnères-de-Luchon near the Spanish border.
The Tour de France was actually two events for us. The first was a parade of sponsor’s floats, called the Tour de France Caravan at 8:45. Dozens of cleverly designed floats drove by throwing novelties, t-shirts, hats, and samples.
At 10:45 the racers (followed by their support vehicles) sprinted past as they circled the town and headed west. We got to see the traditional yellow jersey on Italian bicyclist Vincenzo Nibali at the head of the pack of the 22 teams. Although this was the mass start at the beginning of the race with careful riding through the narrow, twisting city streets, the entire pack of nearly 200 racers past us in less than 20 seconds. We were cheering for US racer Tejay van Garderen who was in sixth place overall. Thirty-four year old Australian Michael (‘Mick’) Rogers used his experience to climb the five peaks and power through the 237.5 kilometers (148 miles) to win this stage with a time of 6 hours, 7 minutes, 10 seconds.
After the chase cars, there were support trucks, motor coaches, and media mobile broadcast trucks.
We had a great morning experiencing in-person an event that has been exciting the world for over a hundred years. We are also anxious to learn if Vincenzo Nibali will be the overall winner when the Tour de France’s concludes this weekend.
Tracy and I participated in the Au Panthéon Photo Project that is visiting 8 national monuments in France collecting portraits of visitors to later use as an art project of portraits covering the enormous scaffolding system that will be surrounding the Pantheon in Paris during its renovation this year. The Centre des Monuments Nationaux commissioned contemporary artist JR to create a participatory work inspired by his Inside Out projects, “encapsulating the humanistic and universal values embodied by the Pantheon.”
From March 5 to 29, The Inside Out project’s unique mobile photo booth is visiting the Basilica Cathedral of Saint-Denis near Paris, home to the royal necropolis and its collection of 70 sculpted recumbent statues; the medieval city of la Cité de Carcassonne; Angers Castle, home of the Apocalypse tapestry, the largest known tapestry from the Middle Ages; the Carnac Megaliths near the Morbihan Gulf, the largest group of standing stones in the world, a key place in European prehistory; the three towers of La Rochelle, facing the Atlantic as some of the most important medieval maritime fortifications; the Palais du Tau in Reims, the royal and episcopal residence associated with the coronation of 32 French kings; the Savoye villa à Poissy and its modernist architecture by Le Corbusier; and returning to the Pantheon in Paris, the masterpiece of the architect Soufflot, located on the Montagne Sainte-Geneviève. People unable to come to one of these locations may still participate by taking a photo at home and uploading it to http://www.au-pantheon.fr/en/.
According to the Au Panthéon website, “The portraits that best represent the diversity of the contemporary world will be used to create a mosaic that will be visible around the drum beneath the dome, and on certain places within the monument. The aim is to use all of the portraits in the final work. It will be inaugurated on Tuesday 22 April 2014.”
During our visit the mobile photo both produced poster-sized prints of our images like a giant Polaroid camera. We added out photos to the temporary mosaic of photos on the sidewalk outside the barbacane surrounding the Château in La Cite De Carcassonne. Although there was a lengthy line to participate in the free process, we had a great time visiting with an American expats family from Oregon currently living outside Aix-en-Provence, our upstairs apartment neighbor and her friend also visiting from Oregon, and a French women recently returned from Miami where she was working for an US company. Sami the MinPin enjoyed the attention from the crowd as well.