Sunday, 9 December 2012

St Barbara

Although I can't get in a lather over Sunday trading, I do try to avoid visiting any shops on that day.  Except for Sundays in France, when I will happily visit the boulangerie to buy fresh bread.  And so it was, exactly a week ago, that I found myself buying bread at my favourite boulangerie in Pouancé.  (I also bought some patisserie which later proved to be delicious, but that's a digression.)  As I left the shop, I noticed a police van approaching at slow speed with blue lights ablaze.  It was then that I heard the band.

(Why is it that French bands sound so discordant to my English ears?  It's almost as if they are playing off-key or slightly out of tune.  To somebody brought up on the music of the bands of the Royal Marines and the Brigade of Guards, French military-style bands just don't cut the mustard.)

As the police van passed me and the band approached, I was immediately transported to a December day three years ago.  That was when the Old Bat and I were in Châteaubriant and I was trying to take a photo of the château reflected in the windows of the Glass Theatre. (It didn't work.)  On that occasion, what seemed like the entire manpower of the local fire station, led by their band and all their vehicles, came marching up the hill and off, we assumed, to the nearby war memorial.  (If you are feeling sufficiently masochistic, you can read about it here.)

After the police van came the tricolor, escorted by a fireman and a firewoman, each carrying a fire axe, then the discordant band, followed by a mass of men and women in uniform.  Given that the population of Pouancé is little more than 3,000, I was surprised how many people there were marching.  Presumably some were full-time firefighters while others were part-time volunteers (which might explain why some were wearing traditional French caps and others red baseball-style caps).  They were followed by a van, a fire engine and an ambulance (French firefighters are also trained paramedics).

 Being on my own and not in any great hurry, I joined the throng of camp followers and tagged along behind.  Our destination was the local war memorial.  After some time while the fire brigade got themselves sorted out, the buglers sounded a short fanfare and the big cheese, accompanied by a man dressed in scruffy civies, marched up to lay a wreath.  Another fanfare (the same tune as before), and then it was time to present awards and so on.  I drifted away.

That afternoon we were invited to take tea (or coffee or beer) with Jacques and Brigitte.  While we were there, I asked Jacques about the parade.  He explained that this was to mark the feast of St Barbara (which was actually two days later) who is the patron saint of the French fire brigade.  And miners.  And artillerymen.  And the US Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Ordnancemen (according to Wikipedia).

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