Monday, September 13, 2010

Occitan Dancing at Usseaux Festa

Playing the Ghironda and fishamonica

This time of the year we are starting to have the local sagre and feste for everything under the sun that is harvested or gathered in the woods. We have the Porcino, the polenta, chestnut, truffle, potato, honey, apples, and, and, well, you get the idea. However it is just starting to get into gear and I still have one fun summer festival that I didn't quite get posted before we officially went to autumn harvest festivals, so I'm putting it in here to tantalize.
All join in

All of you that enjoy folk music and dancing do put it in your diary to make plans to join us next August for a bit of dancing in the high alps of Val Chisone.
Town ovens and wash basins looking up towards Ossiera Park

This particular village festival of Usseaux, that we found ourselves kicking our heels up and joining in on a bit of two stepping and twirling around the village piazza, is in upper Chisone valley, just up the road from us.  I've written about Usseaux on more than one occassion as it is one of my all time favorite villages. You can read those posts here and here. Chisone valley has a rich and varied history being known as one of the Valdesian or Waldensen valleys, where the first Protestants, long before the reformation,  ended up in to avoid persecution back in the 11th century. These valleys were then part of France and the Savoy kingdom, and later became known as part of Italy's alps. They were, and still are, the western most edge of what was known as Occitania. Most people, if they are familiar with Occitania, think of it as a language particular to France, but it seems that it is a dialect of Catalonia. There are so many dialects in this area, that it is hard to keep up, especially as I struggle along in my grasp of Italian. Fabrizio, who also speaks French, understands Occitan, but doesn't speak it, although there are people here who do. Our friend Enrico Bernard, of "Bernard Elixirs" , who lives across the Chisone river from us and whose family are Valdesian, speaks a Patois dialect in their family and also speaks Occitan. See what I mean about a lot of dialects going on? Sheesh!  Mountain people seems to have a strong affinity with the essence of Occitan  and it's history. It seems to represent a sort of special designation of pride, independence and fierce individualism that strikes a cord with many people and very much so with the mountain dwellers.  
Occitan flag with Usseaux' cow bell awards collection displayed in the town library.

We took a friend along with us that was keen to check out the festivities. We did our favorite Usseaux tour, that commences with a stroll around the utterly charming hamlet. Tiny though Usseaux may be, a meander  though the village over  the well maintained gray stone streets, will be rewarding indeed whilst taking in  the various hand painted murals and vertical meridians that decorate the mostly all restored buildings. The large slate roofs are extremely impressive espcially when you consider the cost of restoring them, let alone the fact that if you are restoring an exisiting roof and trying to match or patch, the stones must be hand cut to fit in place. We observed on older artisan plying his craft one day as he worked to replace part of the roof on the local church. Hard work indeed. The mural painting is an old tradition that has only more recently been revived though out our valleys. You get a sense of Usseaux's former prominence in the valley before most people drifted away due to the myriad of reasons small towns shrink and sometimes disappear. This years celebration honored the local mayor that has made it her legacy to see Usseaux bulidings restored and not left to completely decay. The windows are filled with overflowing flower boxes, that compliments the prolific murals scattered through out the village walls.

We also made sure to have a snack on the sunny patio of the traditional trattoria "La Placette" that has been serving up polenta with wild game stews in addition to an excelent selection of the hearty local cheeses and tempting creamy desserts, just to name a few of their offerings, for the past 30 years. Mountain air brings on a hunger and thirst that will be readily satisfied by this family's friendly care.


And of course we had to have a nosey into the local cheese shop that if you aren't persistent, you might just miss if you don't ring their doorbell. This lovely old cantina, which was a barn in previous lifetimes, stores and doubles as a selling point for the family's hand crafted cheeses, in which Toma and Plaisintif are the main stars.
Hmm,  choices, choices.

Then on to the music and dancing. The music was provided by two musicians who with 4 other musicians make up the group, Airondassa, but for this day they brought their fisharmonica, ghironda and oboe and kept us breathless for a few hours. I love this kind of dancing because all can join in even if you don't know all the steps and there is always some willing to help you twirl around the dance floor. It was such fun. I captured a small bit of their traditional Occitan music and will leave you with a small taste of the fun. But don't just take my word for it. Come and join in the fun sometime. We'll help you find your way.

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