Along with the influx of brain impaired tourists, loonies in lycra and people apparently unaware that roads may occasionally be used by motor vehicles, summer brings us the tourist office’s animation programme, most of which takes place up and down the pedestrian shopping street, outside the post office or next to the Mairie’s pond.
Animations generally consist of yet more cycling (and occasionally running) up the local hills; assorted artistic endeavours for children; musical evenings ranging from highbrow concerts in the church to karaoke outside the post office; and occasional exhibitions and film showings, usually involving bikes, mountains or both. On a particulerly exciting week we might get a travelling circus, which involves having an exotic menagerie tethered to posts around the municipal water feature for three days. The menagerie generally consists of at least one camel with a bad attitude, some goats, a donkey and a couple of skittish llamas being chased round the Mairie by a small dog. I suspect this offers more entertainment value than the circus itself.
So far this week we have had kiddy face painting, a Wii tournament and fireworks, it being Bastille Day. Later on we are promised a circus spectacular ‘full of humour and poetry’ and advertised as being suitable for English people. I don’t know whether this means it’s in English, it has a chap holding up subtitles or it consists of bawdy humour full of innuendo and Hattie Jacques lookalikes.
The worst of these events has to be the karaoke. Set back from the main drag and protected by the buildings between us and La Poste, we are spared the full horror of small children and tipsy campers caterwauling down a microphone while the backing tape plays a bland instrumental version of ‘My Way‘, but anyone whose apartment overlooks the main street deserves a significant reduction in local taxes during July and August as well as a free supply of earplugs. I have never ever seen the attraction in karaoke from the point of view of either the participants or the audience. I think I’d sooner dig my own eyeballs out with a fork.
The bulk of the musical entertainment is provided by a series of random bands usually doing cover versions of Stones and Oasis tracks with varying degrees of competence and a blatant incomprehension of what they’re singing. The French are still thoroughly obsessed with the Rolling Stones despite the fact that the last time they did anything of note was in the late 60s (and not their late 60s, which is where most of them find themselves these days).
But despite the standard repertoire of Anglophone pop/rock sung as though the words have been left out in the rain, every band will play at least two French songs, and always the same two French songs. They might run through a bit of Manu Chao as well (which they generally make a much better fist of, presumably because they know what they’re singing about), but they will always, without fail, treat you to ‘Oh Champs Elysees’ and ‘Les Cactus’. This is odd, because these two chansons stick out as completely incongruous in the middle of a set consisting almost entirely of clichéd rock anthems. I can only presume it’s some kind of bylaw – anyone wishing to perform in public must give you Champs Elysees and the cactus song regardless of anything else they plan to do.
Oh Champs Elysees is the work of Joe Dessin, a singer/songwriter born in New York to an American father and a Hungarian mother, which completely fails to explain his prolific output of French chansonnery. Presumably he just saw an available niche and went for it.
Les Cactus was originally brought to us sometime in about 1967 by one Jacques Dutronc, a man who looks alarmingly like Antoine de Caunes and quite possibly has the Inspecteur Clouseau accent to match. He laments the proliferation of cacti in modern life before describing his efforts to combat the plague by keeping yet more cacti in his bed and his underwear, amongst other places. I can only hope that this is a metaphor.