All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Stopping the Music

All over France the summer air is full of the clash of steel as towns and villages relive their past glories.....whether it's the dashing rapier thrusts of the duelling musketeers at Richelieu or the plate armour and broadswords at Chinon.

These are usually efforts put together by local people....but the big effects at the major festivals can be 'bought in'....jugglers, clowns, fire eaters and the inevitable people on stilts who excite the dogs.

These people...together with singers, dancers, actors, cameramen, soundmen and all the raff and scaff of the arts world usually work under the employment regime of 'intermittents de spectacle'...a special provision for people whose professions are notoriously unstable.

But a cold wind has been blowing in their direction.....the Cour des Comptes - a sort of national audit office - has noted that there is a whopping deficit in the scheme...and a great amount of fraud by both employers and employed.

Perhaps the police should take the threat to the wellbeing of the cultural classes into account when making their enquiries into the robbery at the medieval fair at Bitche in the Moselle.
A large scale event, all had gone well and on the last night the organisers were counting the proceeds.
Unfortunately they had not entered sufficiently into the spirit of things to surround their tent with men with chain mail and halbards so were taken aback by the arrival of several men in medieval costume armed with axes who demanded - and got - the takings of some 20,000 Euros.
Call for Brother Cadfael and track down the mountebanks!

We already have robber barons on the international scale, imposing tolls on every aspect of daily life, just like the medieval barons in their castles controlling the mountain passes....not surprising, then, that we have the descendants of the roving bands of mercenaries left high and dry by the dearth of employment in their speciality as the systems which supported them crumble.

But should the system which protects those who work in what might generally be described as the culture industry be also thrown on the scrapheap?
France is renowned for its support of cultural activities....classifies them, in fact, as cultural, not industrial - l'exception francaise - and subsidises them to a massive degree.

The Cour des Comptes has never attacked the notion of subsidising cultural activities, but it has frequently criticised the special regime for the 'intermittents'.

It claims that employers - including major television chains - deliberately exploit the system.
Rather than take on permanent staff officially, with a contract for a determined period (CDD) or a contract for an indeterminate period (that rare bird the CDI), they will take them on as 'intermittents'.
They pay them for twenty days, lay them off for ten, and then take them on again. The worker in the 'intermittent' system is then paid the ten days at full rate by the state.

But what of actors, dancers, for example, whose chances of regular employment of this sort are very poor?
They don't have to worry too much.
As long as they work for 507 hours in a ten month period  - some 14.5 weeksout  of 40  at 35 hours to the week  - they will qualify for full benefits to be paid for 8 months.
A much better deal than that offered to interim office and construction workers.
No wonder they don't mind not being paid for rehearsals by the theatre company....the state picks up the tab.

As it does at one remove in the festivals, events and programmes put on by local government during the year...everything from the Cannes Film Festival to the twice a year Market under the Stars in your local town, via music and art festivals and the theatre.

Local authorities employ people specifically to arrange these has all become a widespread industry.
A culture industry.

Now, while I know that the term 'men in tights' has been used to describe the staff of the Serjeant at Arms of the House of Commons,

I feel that I have a distinct preference for those men in tights as opposed to this sort of thing....

On display at a festival recently held in a village near where I used to live.
As Rolande remarked gloomily,

You can't go to anything now without half naked men swinging through the air and spoiling the fun.

She went through the various local festivals, noting that where once entertainment was provided by  the local musicians, towed round the commune  in a trailer behind a tractor, becoming more and more tuneless as they tucked in to the tables of wine and food set out by each hamlet, now some group or other has to be paid to provide entertainment....if, as she said you can call it that.

She strongly objects to some stranger clad in tawdry tinsel springing out out at her at an amateur painting festival and trying to get her to participate in some story telling exploit.
She says she is the one who feels exploited by the smirking smartypants artist.....the poor benighted soul who has to be helped to 'open up', to 'develop her potential'.

It's a good job they don't try it on Papy. 
He may be now well over his biblical years but any tinsel clad female performance artist lighting on him stands a fair chance of discovering a more literal sense of opening  up and development of potential, while the male variety is pretty well guaranteed a swift  swipe at his tawdries with Papy's stick.

Rolande, Papy their friends, me....we're all unreconstructed.
We like, and liked, things being done by friends and neighbours.....the dance being the folklore group set up in the area...the music being the local band and choir...the entertainment provided by the local maires and councillors after a well oiled communal lunch attempting the sack race...the local children parading with their chinese lanterns......people we knew, enjoying themselves with us.

What we don't like is some pretentious rubbish being foisted on us in the name of culture...and having to pay for it!

We deeply resent having theatre performances which are allegories of politically correct thinking about immigration.
We know about immigration.
Some of us are immigrants, some of our grandfathers were immigrants.
 Italian and now British names litter the telephone book along with Vietnamese and African.

We do not need a feminist statement of flamenco.

And if we need three men wearing papier mache donkeys' heads serenading us with guitars then we can train the councillors ourselves.

We have thriving cultural without subsidy.
We have top class speakers in their field willing to come to us for minimal expenses.
We can organise a coach to the big town for a concert or the theatre.
We can even find our way to Paris.

So any attempt at reform of a structure which inflicts an industry of the second rate upon us at public expense will be welcome.

Except it won't happen.

Like the barons of banking, the mountebank industry is seen as too big to dismantle....and the lovvies vote Hollande.

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  1. "a great amount of fraud by both employers and employed" - but isn't this the fraternité upon which modern France is built?

    1. Indeed it is...I see this blog has not been in vain.....

  2. Hello:
    What a fascinating post and one which deals with a topic about which previously we had very little knowledge. What of course this does is to confirm that if one takes the time and trouble to scratch beneath the surface, at both local and government level, then one will, almost invariably, uncover the proverbial can of worms.

    As for the heist by men in costume - well, little changes!

    1. I often think that the social structure balances uneasily upon a platform of cans of worms...rather like the springs in a mattress.
      Spill one can and the equilibrium is lost.
      Thus the necessity to keep all upright and untouched by those benefiting from the nature of the social structure.

      I would love to have seen the heist, I must admit...

  3. I missed my village's fête, I was on holiday in Austria. Shame that. :)

    The small town next door is still fairly traditional. There's a small fairground but the main attraction is the bulls who are put through their paces with abrivado and so on. It hasn't changed for years as far as I can make out.

    The semi-naked men on ropes thing goes on more in Montpellier. Every Friday evening, the Estivales attracts people to taste the wine, eat the food and enjoy the entertainment. Behaviour gets worse as the evening goes on...

    1. What was the star attraction...a pit of vipers?

      I was surprised that the men in tights had reached la France Profonde...part of the tourist budget apparently.
      Better spent in putting up a tourist office website in English in my view, English speakers providing the majority of tourists.
      Instead they are paying a Belgian family 1000 Euros a month to visit attractions and write a blog in Flemish....

  4. Arghhh! Politically correct allegories send me screaming from the room.

    Fortunately, my neighbours are also too unreconstructed to tolerate that particular hell. What we get for the village fiestas are professional "orchestras" of up to 15 people, which always include 5 go-go dancers, and which play that year's favourite hits while OAPs stand around and look bemused.

    I've also come to hate "mediaeval fairs".

    1. Echo medieval fairs....especially the ones where they an the gates and make you pay to enter.

      The last village celebration of the Fete de la Musique before I left France featured a rap artist and no bar.
      Not an outstanding success.

  5. Once saw a "specatacle" by a troupe [not locals] at Azay le Rideau many years ago. It was so dire that we laughed til we cried. There wasn't any other response possible. We have been severely 'allergic' to this type of thing ever since.
    Happily Charnizay is small enough to still have children processing with chinese laterns on quatorze juillet, along with parping by the local tromp de chasse and a proper village hoe down on the dance floor until the wee small hrs. We won't mention the budget busting €1500 spent by the mairie on fireworks--though they were lovely.

    1. Mother said that during the war the troops were entertained by an organisation entitled ENSA...known to all as Every Night Something Awful, which just about sums up these 'spectacles' for me.

      Who wants them? Certainly not the locals from what I hear.

  6. Thankfully our wet summer has wiped out many such events. Every cloud has a silver lining!

    1. Very true...and your garden has obviously benefited!

  7. 507 hours? Wow, that's great. I think the amount of hours here is 900 in order to be able to qualify for employment insurance benefits. Great post, thanks so much for sharing.

  8. Yet again I'm glad we bought in deeply rural Normandy, Fly. The nearest we come to a spectacle is the intercommunale games after the meal at last Sunday's fete, with tug-of-war, (fresh) egg target-throwing and sundry other amusements. Even the bal populaire was animated by the amateur disco from down the road.

    Thank goodness we're too small to be afflicted with the theatrical 'perfomances' I read about in the bigger towns near us. Now I know how they are funded...

    1. Ours never tried a tug of war...more's the pity!
      I think the worst thing is the overweening cheek of the people pushing these 'entertainments'...they think ordinary people - those out of their circles - have no idea of culture and can be fed any rubbish in its name.

  9. I am just stopping by to say hi tonight, not much time for more because I am on my way to see the Olympics
    back soon
    keep well

    1. Have a wonderful time...and take plenty of photographs!

  10. A lot of the entertainment at the fairs around us is provided for free by local associations, dance, medieval sword fighting, singers, African dancers... quality varies of course but what do you expect?

    1. Yes, it's the local element that I appreciated...better a few glitches to be laughed away because we knew the performers than a slicker performance with no local roots.