After half a lifetime of coming to France from the UK, I am still surprised how two countries 21 miles away at their closest point can be so profoundly different. As time has gone by I still find as many examples of differences as I do of homogenization. Jazzelerault 2011 is a classic case in point.
We have had a house located in the approximate centre of France for 15 years or so now. The area is not touristy and not particularly notable, just rural and quiet. As my waiter said of it at dinner the other night ; ‘c’est tres calme’… ‘we..’, I said ‘tres jolie…..et’, and then paused, stuck as usual for the mot juste, or indeed any approximately meaningful mot. ‘Agreable’, he helpfully offered, ‘tres agreable’, and that indeed sums it up very well.
Chatellerault, our nearest large town is also agreable. It’s an elegant, but faded spot, attractively set on the river Clan, and with no visible industry to explain its creation or continued shabby prosperity. It has a couple of nice restaurants, and the nearest branch of GoSport, my favorite French chain for products sporting, plus a branch of the Leclerc supermarket with flat out the best fish section I have seen anywhere. Not much else distinguished Chatellerault in my view for the last 15 years or so.
Then, a year or so ago, having decided to partake of local cultural activities somewhat more, I noticed a small jazz festival in Chatellerault called, usefully, Jazzelerault. I made a note to check it out, and forgot about it. Early this year the reminder came up so I looked out the artist roster, and discovered to my surprise that they had enticed some of my favourite jazz musicians to assemble a perfect little lineup. In 4 days they had Kyle Eastwood with his bass-led quartet (fresh from a well regarded stint at Ronnie Scott’s), Wynton Marsalis, (arguably the best horn player alive and I’m not arguing) and his quintet, my favorite living pianist Chucho Valdez and his Cuban band, and Lucky Peterson – a terrific blues player.
OK I thought, I’ll score some tickets off the web site, and go. Hah – not so vite monsieur! On inspection, the web site, which required Flash, consisted solely of link to a brochure, which being almost completely black, required the best part of a printer cartridge to run off. Flash was used solely to play some moody music while you stared, uncomprehending, at the link. On inspection I was unable to find any reference on the web site for ticket sales. The brochure contained a reference to billets – and a phone number in Chatellerault. Hmm. My French is execrable, and barely up to a two way conversation. However, there was no choice, so I called up. It’s clearly an internationally-oriented festival given the roster, I thought, so they would be bound to have a team of polylingual sales people.
Parlez-vouz anglais? I enquired. Non, pas le anglais parlé ici. No quarter was given. OK then: In French: are there any tickets available? Bien sûr! OK, how do I get them? Tres simple – you send us a letter. A letter? In French? Bien sûr! Um…. OK, and can I pay by credit card? Non! Pas des cartes blue ici. Oh! So how do I pay? Par cheque naturellement! In euros? Bien sûr! And how do I know you have made the booking? Do you confirm? Non, you must come to Chatellerault and collect the tickets yourself!
I left the conversation reeling somewhat. What kind of festival was this? It pretty much excluded all Americans and British, at least those without a euro bank account and a passable ability to write in French. That is to say almost all of them. And it required a high level of trust, assuming you were only going to the concert, to travel all that way and hope that the booking had successfully been made. That pretty much excluded every one else. I am a trusting soul, with all the other prerequisites, but I wasn’t going to take the plunge either.
So I left it. Fortunately, we ended up at our place in France during the festival, so I popped over to Chatellerault to see if I could still score some tickets. Armed with my euro chequebok I was, after a bit of a struggle, able to find the well-hidden ticket office, and score some seats for 2 nights.
So I went. And it was great! Of course it was a jazz festival purely for the French, in fact purely for the Chatellerois. I didn’t hear a word of any language other than French the whole time I was there. I’ll cover the actual music in a couple of other posts, but suffice to say that if you can surmount the barriers the French put in your way it’s a hugely enjoyable and well run festival, attended by knowledgeable, respectful and good humoured French jazz lovers.
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