Sunday, 1 April 2012

Celtic Connections

Two weeks ago (yes, I am very behind with posting at the moment!) this Scottish blogger went to Normandy to celebrate an Irish saint's day with some Breton friends (that I happened to meet living in Northern France). It was my first Fest Noz (the Breton eqiuvalent of a ceilidh) and I was intrigued to see what was the same and what was different.

The most obvious, was the costumes. There was one man in a kilt and several people in Paddy's Day hats and fluorescent green, but the official costumes were the long black Breton dresses with coloured shawls and lace headdresses for the ladies and fancy shirts and black hats for the men.

Celtic music is fairly interchangeable, in the sense that you can easily perform one country's dances to the music from another country, and the bands played a mixture of Breton, Irish and Scottish tunes. The traditional instruments in Brittany are the biniou, a small set of bagpipes, the bombarde, which looks a bit like a big clarinet but makes a much louder noise. There are big drums and the "conductor" waves an enormous flag to keep the beat. Like the Highland bagpipes, these are really more outdoor instruments than indoor ones, so it was a bit of a relief to find that they were going to alternate with less strident accordeons, fiddles and guitars.

I was really looking forward to taking part in the dancing and luckily my friends were up for leading me into the fray. To my totally ignorant eye, there seemed to be two basic kinds: ones where we moved round with very repetitive steps and arm movements in a circle that were fairly easy to do (badly) and couple and set dances that were a bit more complicated but looked like more fun. There seemed to be less emphasis on formations than in Scottish dancing and more on intricate footwork, so I mostly just sat on the side for these.

Unfortunately, I didn't feel comfortable taking photos, as it was one of these events where everybody else seemed to know each other and I didn't want to feel like a tourist, so instead here is a picture of an advert for Breton strawberries that has been making me smile in the metro this weekend:

(To appreciate the humour, you have to know that Breizh, the Breton word for Brittany, pretty much rhymes with fraise).

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