20 June 2008

Un véritable Woodstock

The citizens of Beynes love music, but they do not often demonstrate that love. The village stores up its affection, then unleashes it in isolated bursts. Of course it’s dangerous to bottle up one’s passion, but we scoff at the risk. This afternoon, the annual summer music festival, Les Fêtes Beynoises, began. For the rest of the weekend, we will prove how very, very much we love music. No matter who gets hurt.

Each June, the town erects two soundstages in the moat around our celebrated Pile of Rocks (which, local historians insist, is the ruin of a fifteenth-century château formerly owned by Diane de Poitiers). A third, smaller soundstage is erected nearby, behind the Barbacane, the town’s library and theater. Once all three soundstages are up, the amps plugged in and the lights turned on, the music begins.


Like most public events in Beynes, the Fêtes take place in the Bourg, the old part of town, where I live, on the green floodplain that borders the little River Mauldre. Only the garden wall separates my home from the Fêtes, and since the weather is warmish, I’ve got the windows open. It’s tempting therefore to give you a running account of the musical performances, which can be heard as loud and clearly as if I had turned on the radio in this very room.

Or, more precisely, three radios. To different stations: jazz fusion, hard rock, harder rock, punk rock, reggae, rappers, from any of the many bands playing this weekend. There’s also a smartly uniformed choir running around the Barbacane; they may be performing indoors tonight, though I’d personally welcome them to any of the three outdoor stages, or to my living room, if only they’d promise to sing on pitch.

Indeed, whatever criteria are used to select the bands, a good ear and a pleasing voice don’t seem to be high on the list, though intelligible English is an absolute requirement. Why my neighbors would care about diction in a language few of them speak, I don’t know. But this is what has become of the world’s cultures: now, anybody who can pronounce the word “baby” is a potential rock star.

The rappers are permitted to speak French, though I can’t make out much of it. Something about “Death to America.” I don’t know. The crowd seems to like it.

This will go on late into the evening, to the accompaniment of firecrackers, and it will begin again tomorrow afternoon. I shouldn’t complain. The music could be louder, I suppose, and it’s only for a couple of days. As Feldstein reminds me, this is a picnic compared with the Festa del Giglio I had to endure for two weeks every July in Williamsburg. Even the worst band is preferable to the racket the Parisians are making, tearing up every sidewalk around my apartment this week: I fled to the countryside on Wednesday for the peace and quiet.

But I confess I’ll be glad when my neighbors bottle up their musical passion once more.