19 December 2001

Our usual French Christmas wine tasting was replaced this year with a party, with musical entertainment and songs provided by Maryse Edon (accordion) and Peter Finch (guitar), in a welcome return after their excellent concert in the Courtyard Garden in May.

As a seasonal interlude we had an abridged rendering in English of a Provençal Nativity Play, "la Pastorale de Maurel", written in Marseille in 1844 by Antoine Maurel, inspired by the ancient Provençal "Santon" cribs or "Crèches". The prose dialogue translation from Provençal verse and song, the reading, and the "staging," were by Martin Sturge.

"Dramatis personae" were a cast of some fifteen 9cm clay Santons, plus some fifteen "non-speaking" villagers and animals, all made and beautifully painted in the workshop of Mireille Fouque in Aix en Provence, our long-standing twin town.

Our musicians are keen to inspire a "Stéphane Grapelli-Django Reinhardt" festival with Aix whose twinning arrangements with Bath our guest of honour, Councillor Marian McNeir, current Mayor of Bath, is paricularly keen to develop.

Indeed, the purpose of this Provençal interlude was to encourage members, Bathonians and others to visit the Aix region where the "Pastorale de Maurel" and similar plays are widely performed and well attended in late December and early January. For all the rich Provençal rhyming of its verse and song, the "Pastorale" retains a naïvety of style which clearly recalls the Santon figurines who were its inspiration. Characters are clear-cut, the goodies and the baddies, the simple and the crafty. The inebriations of the knife-grinder, the vanities of the miller, the kleptomaniac tendencies of the gypsy, the simple practicality of the shepherds, the cantankerous impatience and frustration of the squire and his ageing cronies, and the endearing innocence of the orphans, all combine to weave a colourful tale where cunning, rivalry and impatience all nicely resolve to security and harmony as all reach the Stable. Its abridged recitation was just a taster of its deeper interest.

Our evening was agreeably concluded with refreshments accompanied by more toe-tapping French music from Maryse and Peter.

Martin Sturge