Return of the stress-free blogger

July 24, 2007

I returned last night from France, where I spent a week in the west of the country enjoying sunshine, great food, a relaxed way of life and some great music all in the company of some wonderful people. The experience was fantastic, and one I would not have been able to do if I hadn’t chosen to take this break from work. I took in a good part of the NPAI Festival in Parthenay whilst there which included several really good performances including a stunning set from Keith Rowe and Toshimaru Nakamura. Thirty three minutes that made the trip well worth while alone.

More about the music in later posts, but I was very much taken with the slow pace of life and sense of local identity to be found in the area. Everything moved so much slower, and if people felt stressed in any way they certainly didn’t show it. Shops opened and closed as and when they felt like it, seemingly immune to the need to maximise profits that the rest of the world is driven by. Every morning around between around eight and ten the inhabitants of every small town seem to make their way to the local boulangerie to buy a stick of bread, before walking back home again (usually very slowly). This practice seemed to be repeated identically at midday as people wandered out to find bread for lunch. Sitting having a coffee one lunchtime (and oh the coffee is good) in the ancient town of Clisson we watched people make their way around in this most inefficient yet somehow very admirable manner.

Clisson is a beautiful town ten miles of so from Nantes built around the ruins of an old chateau situated atop a hill. I took the photos in this post in Clisson whilst slowly burning in the sun in a none too healthy manner. Oddly Clisson also appears to be the venue for a heavy metal festival subtley titled Hellfest once a year.I really can’t think of a less suitable venue for such an event, but it does amuse me to think that once back from the baker with their bread the locals sneak on a copy of Napalm Death’s first album as they add cheese and whatever the correct wine may be for lunch.

Food is really important in France, and on the whole really good food too. Besides the exceptional meals cooked by my host Keith Rowe whilst I stayed with him a few days (if you think he makes good music you should try his quiche…!) I ate really well whilst over in France, and very cheaply too. One wander around the local hypermarket failed to produce any sign of Marmite however… Despite this one obvious error, food, wine and the correct use of both played a big part of life there. When I think of my eating lifestyle here, with at least three meals a week consisting of hastily thrown together unhealthy half-dinners or take-aways I feel a little embarrassed in comparison. Even the mobile kitchen meals served up at the festival were better than anything similar I’ve had before, serving up food I would personally have been proud to have made (although thats not actually saying much), and it must be said that improv festivals in the UK rarely get held in disused old farms in the middle of the countryside so the need for outdoor catering is quite small.

There is a real sense of placing location before anything in else in France. By this I mean that local traditions and ways of living are all very particular to the region you are in. Wine is considered by where the vineyard is situated rather than the type of grape for instance. Local cultures are deeply respected and preserved, people rarely move about between the small towns in the country. Building styles, and the colour of paint used for doors and window shutters tend to follow localised patterns, giving towns a real character, something we are rapidly losing over here. One of the big arguments in France right now centres around how the country could be left behind in Europe if it does not develop a cutting edge. Personally having spent just a few days there I think I know which way of life I would prefer, give me good food and a stress-free lifestyle any day. Not sure I’ll ever work out the appeal of the Tour de France however…

Anyway enough of the geography lesson and apologies for the lack of musical content in this post. I certainly took in my fair share of music over there, both at the festival and also being educated by Keith, as we spent some time listening to everything from Brahms to country and western to some (pretty great) Argentinian tango music… fantastic times.

Big thanks are due to Keith for everything, and to Stephanie, Barney, Clem, Mati and Marmalade for making me feel very welcome.

Comments (8)

  • lukaZ

    July 25, 2007 at 2:48 am

    ”but I was very much taken with the slow pace of life and sense of local identity to be found in the area”

    i guess you’ve been on another great festival Richard. Yr remark above is in my opinion the strongest component of such festivals (like Nickelsdorf and many more that i have visited over the years)and gives them a unique charm and warmness which is lacking in the festivals in big urban envirements. I tend to go to one in late october in France called – again small village in countryside near Metz. The line up looks good. You can check:

  • Richard Pinnell

    July 25, 2007 at 3:37 am

    Hi Luka

    Yeah I picked up a flyer for that festival and did wonder about the possibility of going, though I doubt I wil. Just depends if I can resist the temptation of a Henritzi / Junko / Mattin trio or not really!! 😉

  • Brian Olewnick

    July 25, 2007 at 6:43 am

    It is a tempting lifestyle, isn’t it? Sometimes the food concerns seem…obsessive but it’s hard to complain when the stuff is so damn good.

    But we’re seriously considering a move to Northern Spain one of these years….

  • joseghast

    July 25, 2007 at 4:50 pm

    Come on, we need more improvised music enthusiasts around in northern spain!

  • Richard Pinnell

    July 26, 2007 at 2:40 am

    I’m telling you, if it doesn’t stop raining around here soon I’m on the first plane out of here…

  • joseghast

    July 26, 2007 at 7:12 am

    It was raniny here too until a week or so. Now weather is getting more summer-like, but let’s see how it goes.

    Anyway, rain doesn’t hurt very much comparing to last year’s fires when almost all of the forests of the coast area in Galicia (where I live, NE of Spain) got burned.

  • Brian Olewnick

    July 26, 2007 at 11:36 am

    Jose, we were supposed to go check out the area this fall, probably in Asturias, but had to cancel (elderly dog that supposedly can’t be left alone…grrrr). Hope to do it next year. A close friend is also considering moving to northern Portugal or Galicias so this might actually happen in 7-8 years….

  • joseghast

    July 29, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Asturias is great! I’ve been there just once and It’s a wonderful place: good people, beautiful nature, good food and very good cider!

    Northern Portugal is a great place too, I’ve been there almost 12 times in the last 3 years (most of the time to work, though). I think that, musically speaking, Portugal is very interesting. Maybe It’s because of its proximity to my homeland or, most likely, because of my ignorance; but it seems that Portuguese are more active organizing concerts, running labels or producing music. Also, they are very welcoming people, the food is great (specially bacalao, alghough I haven’t tried this one already) and they have the best coffee I have tasted.

    Both are good places, also Galicia, but I’ve known a little more because I haven’t travelled as much as I wanted to.

    Finally, two little mistakes I’ve made: first, as you know Galicia is on NW of Spain and not on the NE as I wrote; second, contrary to what my odd nickname might imply my actual name is Roberto, I came attached to the nick ‘joseghast’ initially as a joke and kept it for commodity and fondness.

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