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What Shall We Do With The Drunken Donkey? 

Lorient Interceltique Festival
Who are the Celts?
 

WHOOSH! The eight months since we arrived at our little hamlet, Questellic, has passed with great speed. The expectations of slow and gentle country living has, for the meantime, been surpassed by the reality of having to establish house and home, create a vegetable garden to sustain us and learn a new language. 

There have certainly been more ups than downs along the way, including a litter of Labrador pups simple events have taken hilarious turns, new discoveries have led to unexpected events and the friends and neighbours we have met along the way have enriched and enhanced our new lives.

 
September 2006

What Shall We Do With The Drunken Donkey? 

The drunken doneky near CallacHaving lived in Questellic, near Callac, for just a few weeks - and feeling completely out of my depth, I was only too glad to help when asked. Until now, our neighbours had been harvesting their crops, feeding the needy and keeping body and soul together;  Edward had been busy evaluating this and measuring that and I had been admiring the pretty flowers and scowling at the stripy wallpaper.

The neighbours always had a task to hand, moving sheep, lambing, harvesting their vegetable garden, and the general upkeep and maintenance of their land  and animals . All that time, when everyone else had appeared so industrious I had lagged behind kicking the sand and feeling quite the proverbial fifth wheel - mais non!  The world was about to change! I had a responsibility, a chance to prove myself - to show my worthiness and capabilities.  The horses were changing fields and I was being asked to lead the donkey!!  

The donkeys’ companions comprised an unbroken stallion, a pubescent foal and a protective mare - all of whom were being led proficiently by Ed, Chantal and Jean François to a field not but 50 meters away. This orderly procession was being followed by me and a not so accommodating, stubborn as an ass, donkey. He pulled me this way, I tried to pull him that way, he broke loose, I tugged and pulled to bring him back. He snorted, he cajoled, he bordered on mayhem - but I had my pride at stake!! I was in charge of the donkey, the most docile of creaturesDonkey in Questellic near Callac - and I would prove my worth. I told him as much, gave him my meaningful eye, asserted my authority - and in another life would have willingly bum ski-id down that hill. He was off! He grinned at me ( and I’m sure he laughed as the first strains of Bonanza started up) Bedlam quickly ensued - the  orderly line in front of me dispersed, the donkey neighing and rampaging through them  before taking off down the hill. The stallion, having been startled rose up kicking and as Ed tried to restrain him he was knocked to the ground.  Flat on his back, I thought the frightened horse would kick and trample him to death. Ed bravely rolled from danger, righted himself and regained control - body and mind in tact. 

Much muttering and nodding of heads followed as the neighbours gave each other a knowing look, as much to say “we should have known better” as they tried to recapture the runaway donkeyThe drunken donkey in Questellic near Callac de Bretagne and soothe the frayed horses. Once settled, it was back to the shed for a much needed pastis and post mortem of events. My nerves shattered having almost witnessed Eds demise, I defended my position - the “docile donkey” had been uncontrollable, clearly something had been wrong he had almost appeared drunk! Realisation dawning, Jean François left to check and came back laughing. Yes, he confirmed, the donkey had indeed been drunk! Prior to changing fields- the donkey had been tethered in the barn for several hours - rather too close to a barrel of potatoes! He had eaten the full barrel which had then fermented in his stomach - the donkey had effectively consumed five bottles of VODKA! I suppose the lesson learned here is not so much “Don’t drink and drive” as “Don’t Drive a Drunken Donkey”! A bientot.  

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Lorient Festival 2007

Lorient Interceltique Festival

Every year, from the first Friday to the second Sunday of August  ( a duration of 10 days) a huge Festival takes place in the Breton town of Lorient. The Festival Interceltique was born from a desire to protect and promote Celtic cultures  in Europe and has grown from a humble homage to become one of the biggest events in France.  The Celts celebrating their culture are from The Asturias, Brittany, Cornwall, Scotland, Galicia, Ireland and The Isle of Man. Canada and Australia also join in the celebrations  - both being rich in Celtic culture from the long history of emigrating Celts to their lands. 

The atmosphere hits you as soon as you enter Lorient. Flags hung across the streets dance colourfully in the air, strains of music lift the throngs of people excitedly from one attraction to the next and the atmosphere is buoyant and lively. 

The Festival is currently celebrating its 37th year and with Ed and I both being Scottish it is by happy coincidence 2007 is the year for celebrating the traditions and customs of Scotland. Ed looking dashingly handsome in his kilt was asked to pose for photographs and not being of the shy and retiring type was only to happy to oblige!!   

It is easy to see why over 650 000 visitors are attracted to Lorient every year. As well as over 20 show venues throughout the town where headline acts such as The Dubliners appear, the streets are alive with music. Impromptu jamming sessions at street corners with barflies and singers joining in the chorus to bars staging bands playing in synchronicity either side of the marina, the yachts bobbing almost in appreciation of the music. The ambience this creates is warm, welcoming and typically Celtic. Walking through the festival site there is something for everyone, fairground attractions extend from fishing for floating plastic ducks through to Wall of Death rides and Jack and Christie’s favourite - the glass maze. I believe it is not as easy as it looks! On a calmer note, the “Rue de mots” is a tree lined avenue exclusively for traders of books and poetry. The atmosphere here is altogether more tranquil though just a fascinating with a wide variety of books on Celtic culture and poetry by Celtic writers. 

Although snack bars were aplenty the festival “village” was set in a square to help provide an authentic village atmosphere in which to enjoy a couchon grille or BBQ. Stalls selling everything from festival t-shirts to full Highland dress displayed their wares with flair and colour. 

Meandering through the crowds, there was a buzz of excitement. From a large marquee festooned with Saltire flags boomed the sound of drums and pipes. Crowds thronged round to the stir of the bagpipes. ”The Red Hot Chilli Pipers” an innovative Scottish pipe band was playing contemporary music with traditional Scottish instruments. The air was filled with the sound of the pipes, the music loud and lively lifting the atmosphere and filling it excitement and joy.  If ever I could be evoked into feeling homesick this could have seduced me. Scotland was presenting itself with style, taste and imagination. With the music as a background different aspects of Scotland were there to be explored. The fine cuisine proffered included salmon from the River Tay, Scottish lamb and succulent Aberdeen Angus beef - effectively whetting the appetite of all and sundry. To complement this Malt whiskies from the Highlands and Islands were available for “a wee dram”, a popular stall as you may imagine but deservedly so. The children had their face painted with the Saltire flag and spent the rest of the day proudly displaying their heritage. 

The Grand Parade which takes place on the 1st Sunday includes over 4500 musicians from every Celtic region and provides a colourful and emotive display of the Celtic nations taking part has become such a popular attraction ( after being televised throughout France) that to observe it from a good position you have to arrive a 6am. 

For my part, it was a wonderful day out and a fabulous experience. I am looking forward to the 38th Festival.

A bientot

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WHO ARE THE CELTS? 

History books somewhat unflatteringly sum up the Celts as being nice barbarians who were crushed by the Roman legions for their own good. The reality is different however. They were the strongest nation in Europe whose land stretched from the Black sea to Ireland. Forerunners of non-figurative art, they were the first to work with iron when the Greeks and Romans were still using bronze. They invented all the basic tools used up until recent mechanisation.  

Thousands of our rivers, valleys and towns have kept their Celtic names. One of the first and foremost examples of this is "Paris" which the Romans wanted to call Lutèce. King Arthur, Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table all feature strongly in today's global cultural imagination. "Halloween", the Celtic New Year, is back in fashion and these inventive, brave and sometimes revelling ancestors, previously considered to be stifled by history, have sprung back to life.  

The Asturias 

The Asturias is a self-governed principality in the northwest of Spain with 320 km of coastline between Galicia and the Cantabrian Mountains and a population of just over a million inhabitants. Asturian is a Latin language and is known by 60% and spoken by 30% of the population. Over the last 30 years there has been a strong movement towards a linguistic revival, which can be seen in education (30,000 students study it) and in the media with a plan for an Asturian language television channel. 

Brittany 

Armorica was populated by Celtic tribes. After the defeat against Julius Cesar's fleet, the towns became romanised but the Romanisation hardly affected the countryside. 

Then large numbers of Britons chased out of Great Britain by the Angles and Saxons came to settle in Armorica, giving their name to their new homeland (Brittany). They brought Irish Catholicism with them and founded parishes, hermitages and abbeys.  

After its victory over “Charles the Bald”, Brittany maintained its independence until the 16th century, and retained its own parliament up till the French Revolution. The Breton language, which is close to Welsh, is spoken in the western part of Brittany.

Cornwall

Cornwall, whose capital is Truro, is a county with 400,000 inhabitants in the extreme south western part of England. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, it is known as the British Riviera. 

Of the same Britannic branch as Breton and Welsh, the Cornish language has survived miraculously. Lost at the end of the 18th century, rediscovered thanks to documents from the Middle Ages, then reconstructed, interest in Cornish has been rekindled and it is now enjoying a new upsurge of interest in evening classes and leisure studies.  

Scotland 

After the referendum on devolution, Scotland has recently re-opened its parliament, which had ceased to exist in 1707. The Scottish language, which was mainly spoken in the Lowlands, has almost disappeared, leaving just a few expressions that survive in the local dialect of English. 

Gaelic, spoken in the north-western Highlands and the Islands, suffered enormously from emigration, and is now only spoken by 60,000 people. It is, however, making a strong recovery thanks to active political backing resulting in the opening of schools and the creation of Gaelic language radio stations and television channels.  

A proud land of wide-open spaces, Scotland is a country with distinctive countryside and inhabitants, faithful to their traditions, such as the kilt, whose pattern and colours denote the different clans. It is a destination worth the pilgrimage for its Scotch Whisky, bagpipes and dances not to mention its unusual games such as "caber tossing" or “throwing a weight for height”.  

Galicia

Located in North West Spain, between Portugal and the Asturias; Galicia is an autonomous province with 3 million inhabitants. The capital is Santiago de Compostela, and the main towns are Vigo, La Coruna and Lugo.

The most important Galician city is said to be Buenos Aires. There was so much emigration to Argentina that the Spaniards use the term “Galicians” when talking about-Argentineans.

Galicia's countryside is undulating and green, not unlike Brittany, especially along its coastline where the rias with their mix of fishing, aquaculture and tourism are evocative of Brittany's Abers and Avens. The Celtic language was lost under Roman occupation, but has left traces in some place names. 

The Latin language however, which is quite similar to Portuguese, managed to survive after a number of metamorphoses and movements for its defence since the 19th century. Galician now shares the status of official language with Castilian, and is a mandatory subject at all levels in the educational system.

 Isle of Man 

Located in the Irish Sea, the 570 sq. km. territory of the Isle of Man has 60,000 inhabitants, half of whom live in the old-fashioned seaside resort Douglas. This autonomous tax haven inherited the oldest parliament in the world from its Viking conquerors, the parliament has been operating on the Celtic hill Tynwald for more than a thousand years.

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