A TASTE OF LOCAL CULTURAL EVENTS: COST OF LIVING IN FRANCE #4


In the USofA, we lived in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metropolitan area. The State Theater in Easton brought in class acts like Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Beach Boys and Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. The century-old, award-winning Bach Choir of Bethlehem is known worldwide. Allentown Symphony Hall supports an orchestra of reasonable repute. Local universities provide an impressive array of concert opportunities. And tiny Godfrey Daniels Coffee House in Bethlehem has hosted artists from Tom Paxton and Townes Van Zandt to John Sebastian and Peter Tork to James Cotton and Odetta in a venue barely seating 100 folkies, 

But we were going to live in the rural, politically very conservative south of France. We knew that big cities were not that far away. And sure enough. ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen have all recently toured within a drive of two or three hours. to Barcelona and Marseilles or Toulouse. The ticket prices are as you would expect, a couple of hundred USD and up. Same for the opera in Paris - 200USD for a world-class performance of Tosca. Would we have to travel that far just to hear less expensive sounds of music? We quickly learned otherwise. 

Cases in point:

Built about 900 years ago, nestled in woods and fields well off any main road, Chapelle Saint-Germain hosts an annual summer concert series. This year, beginning in July and spaced two or three weeks apart through early September, five concerts are on tap in the small Roman chapel with a dirt floor and about 100 mismatched lawn chairs. Programs range from Bach sonatas presented by the Baroque Ensemble of Toulouse, 15 artists when at full strength, to the Ensemble L'Archerona string trio plus soprano presenting sonatas from the less well-known 17th Century German composer Johann Michael Nicolai. Tickets run about 17.50USD per performance and there's a free tasting of wines from the domain on which the chapel sits.

At the other end of the scale, Catalan conductor/composer/instrumentalist Jordi Savall helms a concert series in the magnificent Cistercian Abbey Fontfroid not far from us. A Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor, a UNESCO Artist for Peace, and a Grammy winner, Savall specializes in Early Music but has presented snippets of world music and blues as components of his annual five-night series. Tickets for one evening of this one-of-a-kind series are running between 50 and 60USD this year.

But I don't want to leave you with the impression that the only music available to us locally in our little corner of France was composed hundreds of years ago. Down the road, in a concert series scheduled for the courtyard of the abbey in Saint Chinian, French sisters will present modern and traditional Celtic music. (Celtic influence in Europe ranges from southern Spain to Scandinavia.) Pianist Marc Olivier Poingt, who has collaborated with the likes of Lee Ritenour (American jazz), Omar Sosa (Cuban jazz) and Gilberto Gil (Brazilian jazz), will play solo. And the Duo Yakaira will lend their piano and accordion to Argentinian tango. Tickets for the series run from 20USD to a suggested minimum contribution of 8USD.

But I don't want to leave you with the impression that the only places to hear music locally are churches. While it's true that churches that are centuries old are particularly satisfactory venues for all sorts of music due to having been designed before the age of electronic amplification, they are not the only concert venues. We've heard New Orleans jazz performed by local French musicians on a boat moored in a canal down the road (free with a food order), Latin jazz played by a skilled combo from Toulouse while nestled among tanks of fermenting juice in a local winery (11USD donation suggested), a bad jazz trio performing on a stage next to a burger joint in a campground on the beautiful Gorge d'Heric (free with food order), and have heard various members of The Gypsy Kings perform twice, once on the lawn of a local chateau (free) and once during a fundraiser in the next town's community room (27.50USD). If you didn't know, The Gypsy Kings are French and the extended family comes from the area of Montpelier, about an hour away.

But I don’t want to leave you with the impression that the only cultural outings are music concerts. The cultural arm of regional government also supports children’s shows, magicians, comedians, acrobats, plays and readings. Of course, most is in French, so you will miss nuance if you are not fully fluent. But like reading the newspaper, listening to radio or watching television, exposing yourself to the language in multiple contexts enhances one’s ability to speak and understand your new language.

And I haven’t even mentioned the winery that hosted Nina Simone’s daughter Lisa or the little seaside music festival about an hour away that often has Sting on the bill.

So...

There are cultural opportunities aplenty. All genres. All prices. Locally and in the cities. Never fear. Even in the relative sticks where we live, the French, like Grace Slick, urge you to feed your head.

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