The great big mimosa party …

The Fete du Mimosa in Roquebrun takes place this coming Sunday, February 10, 2019.  The weather forecast looks good, so perhaps I’ll see you there?? 🙂


… takes place each year on the second Sunday in February in the village of Roquebrun, in Languedoc.  Why, I hear you ask?  Well, Roquebrun, also known as Le Petit Nice because of its microclimate, is a perfect place for growing mimosa, and at that time of year the trees are in full bloom in Roquebrun and nearby.

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The Fete du Mimosa is now in its 22nd year and the main event is the parade of the decorated floats in the afternoon.  This year’s theme was “comic strip heroes” and we saw Tintin, the Smurfs, Becassine, Marsupilami, Lucky Luke, Boule et Bill, Bob the sponge, Titeuf and the Simpsons, all made by the local association Les Amis du Moulin and decorated with over 100,000 colourful paper flowers over the course of the winter.  More about the procession later, first some impressions of mimosa blossom!

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The yellow mimosa bloom seems to be especially pretty against a deep blue sky.  There’s something incredibly generous about a mimosa tree in full bloom, it almost shouts out that spring is only around the corner.  If you arrive for the fete in Roquebrun, you are most likely going to walk across the bridge.  Straight ahead of you you’ll see the mimosa stall, where you can buy your very own bunch of mimosa blossom to take home.  The scent is beautifully delicate and will make your house smell lovely.

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All along the main street are stands selling a variety of local produce and handicrafts, and there’s plenty of street food too!  On the Place de la Rotissoire the organising committee had their own food stall, with a great BBQ to one side!  Those guys were prepared for some serious cooking!

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I found some delicious Bugnes at one stall, strips of dough, deep-fried and dusted with powdered sugar.  Wikipedia has the English version of this as angel wings, but I also give you the French entry, in case you are tempted to make this!  A search on one of the popular search engines will turn up a sleigh of recipes.

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There were also the requisite sausages, along with lots of other food, from frites to pancakes and crepes made with chestnut flour.

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But back to the parade…  I got a sneak preview as some of the floats were driven down the main road (there really is only one in Roquebrun) to the starting point.  And they looked pretty good!

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After some lunch and a walk around the market I was ready to find my spot for the parade.  One of the walking bands entertained the waiting crowds for a little while, before heading off to the assembly point.  And then, after some waiting, there was this almighty bang – it really made me jump.  Apparently the sign that the parade had set off at the other end of the village!!  The master of ceremonies preceded the first tractor and it was Becassine who opened the fun!

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The floats and tractors were by now extravagantly decorated with mimosa bloom, and the floats were full of costumed children throwing confetti at the spectators (and each other!).  The Smurfs and Bill et Boule were next, and following each float was a band.

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Lucky Luke came next, and in my book this float won the prize!  Check out Lucky Luke’s cigarette!  And the horse was having such a great time!  AND the band following were all dressed in mimosa yellow!

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Tintin was next, followed by a brass band in green.

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And finally there was a float with three comic strip heroes:  Bob the sponge, Titeuf, and one of the Simpsons, I think it must have been Bart.

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Next came the Buffatiere and I doubt that you’ll have seen anything like it before.  A group of dancers, dressed in white (night) gowns with white nightcaps on their heads, dance around a wheelbarrow full of flour, with bellows in their hands.  Sounds pretty innocuous, doesn’t it?  Well, the dancers get to have their fun by blowing the flour-filled bellows at each other and the audience, and giving some of the bystanders a floury hug.  (For some history about the Buffatiere I found this website, in French only.)  I took a brief video for your amusement.

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But the party wasn’t over quite yet – there came the Fontaine a Vin, a mobile wine bar kind of thing, sponsored by the Cave Cooperative, and distributing small cups of red wine all along the way, with the ladies all dressed up as Becassine.

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Now, with Roquebrun being a one-street-town, the whole procession went as far as the Cave Cooperative, where it turned round and came back again!  So another chance to wave at the children (one enterprising boy started to throw branches of mimosa from his float at the bystanders, as the confetti had run out :-)), listen to the music and get covered in flour.  Oh yes, and then the wine came by again.

One of the bands consisted entirely of drums, and they were pretty good, so I’m sharing a video with you.

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And then it was over for another year!!

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Out with the ashes

By the time you read this post, the Carnival season will be officially over – Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday will have been and gone, and it’s time to put the glittery costumes away for another year!  Southern France is not as strong on Carnival traditions as Venice or some regions of Germany, but nevertheless it does get celebrated.  I went to record one such recent celebration for you – the Carnival in Narbonne.

There was a lot of expectation in the air before the parade started!  Children all around were getting quite excited!

And then it all started.  First came a traditional brass band and some majorettes:

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Next came a drum band, whose members had elaborately painted faces:

They were followed by a group dressed in the most beautiful costumes and wearing masks such as you would see in Venice:

Then there was an enormous green frog:

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followed by a group of ‘ragged’ children, their parents and another traditional band:

Hot on the heels was a ‘Disco’ float!!  The sparkly wigs could be seen from miles away! 🙂

The driver of the float was beautifully dressed in a silver suit, great wig and sparkly earrings!!  He put the guys on the float in the shade – totally!

There were a number of comic strip characters:

And then came a band called Les Yeyettes – they played really well and had made a great effort with their costumes!!

Then some new Minions came along, different from the ones we had seen before. This time the figures on the floats were totally covered in flowers

The theme for this year’s carnival was “King of Pop”.

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When I saw that poster, the penny dropped for me – that’s why I was seeing so many afro wigs in the parade!!

I caught sight of these two little old ladies a little too late – they didn’t seem to be connected to any of the floats, but they were having a great time!!

The next two floats had a reggae theme.  I was amazed at the creativity and the ideas people had come up with.  The rasta wig is made with parts of a curtain designed to keep flies out!!

By now most of the bystanders were covered with confetti in various degrees!!  Some peoples’ haircuts seemed to be prefect confetti collectors 🙂

The “guingette” float was one of my favourites.  They’d gone to a lot of trouble creating the impression of a garden cafe!

The ladies in red preceeded the carnival queen and the two runners-up.  See how the carnival queen is getting ready to confetti-bomb the bystanders??

The parade ended with a representation of a king and some musical instruments – a different king of of pop??

And then it was over – everyone had had a great deal of fun!!

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Occitan Carnival

Last Saturday the 29th Occitan Carnival took place in Beziers.  I was curious, so despite the weather forecast I decided to give it a go, and I hope you’ll be glad I did!

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The carnival procession was due to leave from Place de la Madeleine at 2pm, so I thought I’d get there a little earlier to check out what was going on.  First thing I noticed when I parked, was that there were a lot of people on the Allees Paul Riquet and they looked as though they were part of the carnival.  Yes they were, but the carnival was still starting on Place de la Madeleine and then meeting up with them.  OK, so I snapped a few pictures for you – of the Animaux Totemique, the totem animals of various towns near Beziers.

P1010503First off La Tortue de Lignan – the Turtle from Lignan sur Orb

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Then Le Cerf de Servian – the Stag from Servian

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The dragon seemed to be carrying King Carnival, I don’t think he belonged to the totem animal species.

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This is the head of Le Poulain de Pezenas and I’m stumped to translate Poulain

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Here we have L’Herrisson de Roujan – the hedgehog of Roujan,

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and finally Le Pelican de Puisserguier.  All these strange creatures are linked by legend to their town or village, and I’ve not yet had a chance to do much research into all those.  Totem animals have been part of the Occitan culture for centuries, and usually play a role in all the festivals of their hometown.

So on I went to the Place de la Madeleine in search of Beziers’ own totem animal Le Chameau de Beziers – the camel.  And sure enough it was there, surrounded by a group of participants, who looked like they were being briefed by the man in the multicoloured coat.

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And then I spied yet another camel…

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As more and more people arrived, so did the band which was responsible for the “warm-up”, and they did a pretty good job keeping everyone entertained!  Here’s a little video clip.

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And then they were off, the camel leading the procession through the roads of Beziers, to Place Jean Jaurres, to join the other totem animals waiting for them.

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On the Allees Paul Riquet the atmosphere was great, with lots of children and their parents dressed up in costume.  The carnival is organised by the Calandretas, the Occitan schools of Beziers and their parent-teacher associations.  I loved the look of those two selling confetti!

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After a little while the procession started in earnest up the Allees, led of course by the camel!

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You might just be able to see it, there is a real live camel on the very left….  All the animals were followed by a band and groups of children, whose costume reflected the totem animal they were following.  After the camel came the turtle with the lovely eyes!

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and then the pelican from Puisserguier.  He was a bit wild, swaying from side to side and  trying to fly off!!

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And most of the children accompanying the procession had bags of confetti, which were liberally thrown in every direction.  Some seasoned carnival spectators had come prepared to ward off unwelcome confetti 🙂

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But it was all very good-humoured, even though I got a bit of dusting of flour by some passing children, who had “cleverly” mixed their confetti with flour.

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The stag from Servian was followed by the drum band we had seen earlier, and then came the Poulain from Pezenas.  This is one of the more famous totem animals in the area, and it did have “star power”, dancing, swinging and running all over the place!

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After the Poulain came a group of beautifully dressed dancing-girls – they did have a slightly scary look, but had put a lot of effort into their act!

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There were a good number of people on stilts, and I didn’t see one of them tripping over!!

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Somehow we missed the hedgehog, perhaps because he was so small, but there were various other animal costumes, frogs, snails and wait, is that a cow or a bull?

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Outside the theatre the whole procession came to a stop, to pick up the dragon carrying King Carnival, and that’s where I got a good look at the real camel!

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IMG_5880Great wig!!  King Carnival was taken with the procession on to Place du 14 Juillet, where the children would be sitting in judgement, and of course he would be condemned to be burned on the spot.  Out with the old, in with the new – a good old pagan springtime  festival, tolerated by the catholic church over time…

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One last gold hat, and the confetti, and we’re done with Carnival for another year!

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Mardi Gras in Southern France

in Limoux (not all that far from Carcassonne) to be precise.  Limoux has a carnival tradition which reaches back unbroken to the middle ages, and the carnival takes place each weekend from early January to mid March.  You’ll find the 2013 programme here.   Now, the carnival in Limoux is not like the famous one in Rio, or like some in Germany or elsewhere in France.  There are no floats, nothing particularly showy, just costumed people.  It is a lot about tradition, and it is “by the town for the town”, so not designed to be a magnet for tourists.  My experience of it started on Mardi Gras 2013, mid morning, when I arrived in Limoux with a small group of friends.  The town square, Place de la Republique, where the carnival takes place, looked deserted.

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For a moment we were wondering if we’d picked the wrong day.  But then we came across a poster, and sure enough today was marked, so perhaps we were just a little too early.  So off we went to the Cafe du Commerce for some coffee and hot chocolate.

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When we re-appeared the square already looked a bit livelier.  The carousel in the middle was being uncovered, and a stall had set up, selling carnival masks and such.

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Place de la Republique has arcades around three of its sides a feature in several towns in the area (Mirepoix and Revel).  On the fourth side a mock arcade had been set up, and we thought the action would start there.  Wrong!  It all started outside the Brasserie la Concorde, with the band playing a tune, and the costumed characters emerging from that establishment, to dance a waltz with some of the bystanders.

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The group then proceeded along to the corner, and into the next bar, for a glass of Blanquette de Limoux, what else?

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Limoux has a great many different bandes des carnavaliers and each group is allocated a day, during which they entertain the public three times.  They first come out at 11am, again at 4.30pm and finally with flaming torches at 10pm.  The morning “outing” is dedicated to local events, the afternoon and evening have a “Pierrot” theme.  I saw the morning outing of “Les Anciens” and the characters were superb.  The most fascinating face was the one we called the sweetie lady – she had a cart loaded with sweets and biscuits which she offered to the bystanders.

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Then there was what I thought was the town crier, who carried a drum and later on a megaphone.

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I don’t know who the man with the big wig was supposed to represent, but his mask was particularly life-like.

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The waiter was also very good and later on he would turn into Monsieur le Maire.

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Not to be missed was the curé or town priest

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And even the pope had made the effort!

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Leading the dance (for it was a dance) was Mr Andrieu, the grain merchant who also sold small livestock – he had chickens, pigeons and goldfish on his cart!

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The miller is a traditional character of the Limoux carnival, the millers are the ones opening the very first session each year.  Tradition has it that he carries a whip, why I don’t know?

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The barber was carrying a huge comb and pair of scissors, and occasionally he would try to comb someone in passing 🙂

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The butcher had a clothes rack with him, where he’d suspended a selection of goodies!

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There was a gent who could have been a chauffeur with his peaked cap.

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And then there was a rather large lady with long hair, who had a slightly crazed look about her.

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I’m fairly certain that there was no woman hiding behind that mask.  In fact it was not all that long ago that women were admitted to the carnival groups, before that it was all exclusively male!

There were a few other characters, who could have been anything, local gangsters or mafia or just guys dressed in dark suits.

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Back to the action.  After that first brief dance everyone had piled into the first bar, just off the square for a quick drink.  Meantime everyone outside was eagerly awaiting their reappearance, and as time went on the crowd seemed to be growing.  And then they came, the band struck up again, and they were off in their dance, one or both arms held aloft, turning with graceful movements.  Every so often the grain merchant would throw a shovel-full of wheat or maize over the bystanders, and so they went through the arcade at the bottom of the square and into the next bar!  One thing though, there was an air of solemnity about the procedings, an earnestness that was not spoilt by cheering or clapping from the crowd (except that we did of course, instantly marking ourselves out to be strangers!).

Here’s the video I took for you – sorry about the shakiness, and no the sweet lady is not going to beat the children with her stick!!

Re-emerging thoroughly refreshed, they headed for the third arcade, where they made a pit-stop at the Cafe du Commerce, all that dancing must make one mighty thirsty!!  Or perhaps the rubber masks make you incredibly hot and you just need to take them off for a moment or two?

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When they emerged from their third bar-stop, they made their way up to the fake arcade, and opposite that the crowds were now eagerly awaiting what was to come next.  I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be great fun!  Even the chickens thought so, they’d started exploring the cart, and wait, where did the enormous ears come from on the guy with the big wig?  Monsieur le Curé was destined to have a good time with his bottle of blanquette!

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So it turns out that the guy with the big wig was in need of a haircut.  The barber tried with his yellow scissors, but they proved to be useless for the job, so he fetched a pair of hedge clippers!

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Off came bits of the wig, and of course later on the whole wig.  Swiftly followed by first one and then the other ear!!  Ouuch!!  Then it was time for a shave!

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The poor man was covered in shaving foam, and the whole then rinsed off with a bucket of water that was thrown over him!!  Lucky there was a plastic sheet covering him!  Meantime the butcher had been cutting up bits of offal and throwing it to the crowd, the curé had popped the cork and showered everyone with bubbly, and the grain merchant slung out several more shovels of barley over the heads fo the crowd.

Just when I thought it was about over, I could hear the band play again.  Oh yes, where had the musicians disappeared to?  Now they were coming down a side street, preceded by the loveliest majorettes I have seen in a long time :-), closely followed by the driver and M. le Maire.

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And then they all started up again, not going far mind, because there was another cafe just by the corner…

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The crowds started to disperse and we thought it was time we should look for somewhere to eat.  We had a look into Brasserie La Concorde and saw that they were advertising vin chaud; since it was cold we thought it was just what we wanted.  And while warming ourselves with that we had our last glimpse of Limoux Carnival as the characters came into the bar for their last stop, or perhaps it was their headquarters, as they all disappeared downstairs.

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My first experience of this famous carnival and I’m very certain that I’ll be back before too long!  We finished our morning with lunch at Le Cafe Gourmand on Place de la Republique, which I can heartily recommend.  The lunch menu was EUR 14.50 for three courses and included a glass of wine and coffee.  The food was freshly prepared and delicious, and the service very friendly.  We all had Potee aux Choux for main course, a wonderfully warming stew with beef ribs, smoked sausage, potatoes, carrots, celery, and of course cabbage.

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After that we went for a walk around Limoux and bought some Blanquette, but I’ll leave that for another post!

The great big mimosa party …

… takes place each year on the second Sunday in February in the village of Roquebrun, in Languedoc.  Why, I hear you ask?  Well, Roquebrun, also known as Le Petit Nice because of its microclimate, is a perfect place for growing mimosa, and at that time of year the trees are in full bloom in Roquebrun and nearby.

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The Fete du Mimosa is now in its 22nd year and the main event is the parade of the decorated floats in the afternoon.  This year’s theme was “comic strip heroes” and we saw Tintin, the Smurfs, Becassine, Marsupilami, Lucky Luke, Boule et Bill, Bob the sponge, Titeuf and the Simpsons, all made by the local association Les Amis du Moulin and decorated with over 100,000 colourful paper flowers over the course of the winter.  More about the procession later, first some impressions of mimosa blossom!

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The yellow mimosa bloom seems to be especially pretty against a deep blue sky.  There’s something incredibly generous about a mimosa tree in full bloom, it almost shouts out that spring is only around the corner.  If you arrive for the fete in Roquebrun, you are most likely going to walk across the bridge.  Straight ahead of you you’ll see the mimosa stall, where you can buy your very own bunch of mimosa blossom to take home.  The scent is beautifully delicate and will make your house smell lovely.

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All along the main street are stands selling a variety of local produce and handicrafts, and there’s plenty of street food too!  On the Place de la Rotissoire the organising committee had their own food stall, with a great BBQ to one side!  Those guys were prepared for some serious cooking!

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I found some delicious Bugnes at one stall, strips of dough, deep-fried and dusted with powdered sugar.  Wikipedia has the English version of this as angel wings, but I also give you the French entry, in case you are tempted to make this!  A search on one of the popular search engines will turn up a sleigh of recipes.

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There were also the requisite sausages, along with lots of other food, from frites to pancakes and crepes made with chestnut flour.

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But back to the parade…  I got a sneak preview as some of the floats were driven down the main road (there really is only one in Roquebrun) to the starting point.  And they looked pretty good!

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After some lunch and a walk around the market I was ready to find my spot for the parade.  One of the walking bands entertained the waiting crowds for a little while, before heading off to the assembly point.  And then, after some waiting, there was this almighty bang – it really made me jump.  Apparently the sign that the parade had set off at the other end of the village!!  The master of ceremonies preceded the first tractor and it was Becassine who opened the fun!

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The floats and tractors were by now extravagantly decorated with mimosa bloom, and the floats were full of costumed children throwing confetti at the spectators (and each other!).  The Smurfs and Bill et Boule were next, and following each float was a band.

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Lucky Luke came next, and in my book this float won the prize!  Check out Lucky Luke’s cigarette!  And the horse was having such a great time!  AND the band following were all dressed in mimosa yellow!

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Tintin was next, followed by a brass band in green.

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And finally there was a float with three comic strip heroes:  Bob the sponge, Titeuf, and one of the Simpsons, I think it must have been Bart.

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Next came the Buffatiere and I doubt that you’ll have seen anything like it before.  A group of dancers, dressed in white (night) gowns with white nightcaps on their heads, dance around a wheelbarrow full of flour, with bellows in their hands.  Sounds pretty innocuous, doesn’t it?  Well, the dancers get to have their fun by blowing the flour-filled bellows at each other and the audience, and giving some of the bystanders a floury hug.  (For some history about the Buffatiere I found this website, in French only.)  I took a brief video for your amusement.

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But the party wasn’t over quite yet – there came the Fontaine a Vin, a mobile wine bar kind of thing, sponsored by the Cave Cooperative, and distributing small cups of red wine all along the way, with the ladies all dressed up as Becassine.

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Now, with Roquebrun being a one-street-town, the whole procession went as far as the Cave Cooperative, where it turned round and came back again!  So another chance to wave at the children (one enterprising boy started to throw branches of mimosa from his float at the bystanders, as the confetti had run out :-)), listen to the music and get covered in flour.  Oh yes, and then the wine came by again.

One of the bands consisted entirely of drums, and they were pretty good, so I’m sharing a video with you.

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And then it was over for another year!!

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