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Fontenay-le-Comte Biennale fete  by Tate

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Lately Trevor has been overworking, he is trying single handed to get his Gites complex ready for the season and as a consequence he is looking and doubtless feeling very tired. So today being a Sunday and so that he can have a bit of a break from the work he came over to my place. The plan was to have lunch, a cottage pie which I had previously cooked and frozen, and having eaten to go into Fontenay-le-Comte to watch the Biennale (Biennial Twinning Parade). Fontenay-le-Comte is twinned with five other towns in Spain, Poland, Romania, Burkina-Faso and The United States, and when it becomes possible I believe that Fontenay-le-Comte will be in the vanguard to twin with Moon Base Alpha and Mars Project 1.

We arrived figuratively at the “Gates” of Fontenay-le-Comte only to find them locked, in fact the whole town was locked down so tight, it was as if they were expecting a visit from Ali Baba. Having found no one manning the barriers that we could ask about disabled parking we tried to sneak in through a maze of side streets, but no matter which way we turned we came across a road block. We finally gave up and decided to make our way towards the Place de Verdun where the coach station is situated and lo and behold there it was, a large disabled parking area. We parked up and wandered through the square which was surprisingly empty. It was ringed with marquees and Gazebos housing places to eat and drink each representing one of the local villages. Centrally was a large covered stage where we assumed the evening’s musical entertainment would take place. I was shocked that there were not more people about, and I thought it didn’t bode well for a festival that it should attract so few people. We made our way onto the Rue de la Republique and turned left towards the river, we found a table outside of a bar right on the side of the road and sat down ready for what was supposed to be a 2 ‘o’ clock start. 2 ‘o’ clock came and went, there were people parading but they were just members of the crowd, there was no sign of any cavalcade. We made our drinks last and with no other option we satisfied ourselves with people watching. Trevor then met the owner of the bar in his commune St. Martin des Fontaines, they chatted for a while and then the subject of the parade came up he said that it would get really busy by about 7 ‘o’ clock. We thought he was joking, but he wasn’t. When the first of the bands eventually reached us it was about 4.30, they played something unrecognisable followed by several Spanish trumpet calls. The crowd responded with cheers and they marched on another fifteen metres and did it all over again, no wonder it was all taking so long. The band was followed by a float garlanded with paper flowers and sporting three girls who were obviously queens of something, though I couldn’t tell what. Then another marching band was followed by another float, this was certainly no Rio Carnival, Bridgewater Carnival or even Teignmouth Carnival, for that matter. It was long winded and everything was very much the same, and by the time 6 ‘o’ clock came Trevor and I had had enough. It was ironic that as we made our way back up the Rue de la Republique in one of the many lulls between bands and floats we saw the first of the foreign bands and floats arriving, they looked better all round and I couldn’t help thinking that we were leaving just as the fun was starting.

Some other friends told me that they had visited Fontenay le Comte on the following evening and there was music and dancing and plenty of people in the Place de Verdun, and though they didn’t stay long they did say that it had all the hallmarks of a happening evening. The moral of this particular carnival story seems to be that in the Vendée never get there early, I’m sure that this particular three day event would have had many highlights, and judging by the crowds that had accumulated by the time we left, the end of the parade and the evening’s entertainment that would follow would have been great fun. The problem would have been that finding a vantage point to watch the parade from, if you got there at a sensible time, would have been very difficult if not impossible. Maybe it would be enough just to be there and soak up the atmosphere, which was building as we left, better still find someone with an apartment on the Rue de la Republique who was having a Biennale Party. Perhaps a more feasible recommendation would be go early have lunch walk it off while looking around the town, then find a vantage point to watch the latter stages of the parade and stay for the evening’s festivities. Tate - 2010

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