Bonne Fête Nationale! Happy Bastille Day!

July 14th is an important national holiday in France, as Bastille Day commemorates the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille on that day in 1789.

“The Storming of the Bastille” a watercolor painting by Jean-Pierre Houël

Copyright © French Moments Ltd unless otherwise stated. Read more at https://frenchmoments.eu/bastille-day/ .

This first act of the French Revolution quickly became a major date in French history, and every year since 1880, the French Republic has celebrated its national day with a traditional military parade on the Avenue des Champs Elysées in front of enthusiastic crowds and the French President. An aerial show also takes place in the skies above Paris with hundreds of aircraft and helicopters participating, including the “Patrouille de France”.

 

This was the scene in Paris this morning. You can watch the whole parade on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-zBunzEuuUE

In the evening the festivities continue with a grand concert, and at around 11.00 p.m. there is a magnificent firework display over Paris; this takes a different theme each year.

Photo: Yann Caradec,Paris, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons.

In Salon de Provence there is a parade through the streets, and they also celebrate with a public firework display, although if the Mistral is blowing, the fireworks don’t take place!

Wishing all our friends in Salon de Provence a happy and enjoyable celebration.

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Fêtes Renaissance – Salon de Provence

Salon de Provence would normally be celebrating their famous ‘Fêtes Renaissance’ this week-end.  Although, sadly, this year has to be different, our friend Mauricette in Salon de Provence has sent us this message, together with some history and photos of the event. We hope to be able to visit again in the not too distant future!

Dear friends,

You will be able to join in – from a distance – with the historical reconstruction of Catherine de Medici’s visit to Salon de Provence. It is a great open-air show, and a chance to travel through time and through an important part of the history of France.  The social and cultural success of the event is due to the great atmosphere which it generates, and the friendship and conviviality of everyone who takes part.

The President and Members of the Association of Twinning and International Relations in Salon hope that you enjoy immersing yourself in this moment of our city’s history.

The President

Mauricette Roussel

Historical reconstruction in Salon de Provence

It was in 1986 that Christian Kert, Deputy Mayor of the city of Salon de Provence, had the idea of ​​organizing a historical reconstruction in our city, and selected a group of around ten people – each with their own area of expertise and responsibility – to help him. We took our inspiration from contemporary written records of the Queen’s visit to Salon de Provence, and from historical costumes.  As I was handy with a sewing machine, I was the first seamstress and made the first Catherine de Medici dress for a friend who was to model it. (Below are some recently made costumes, photographed for the Office de Tourisme Facebook page about the Fêtes Renaissance)

      

Ever since then the city has celebrated the arrival in 1564 of Catherine de Medici, her son Charles IX, and of the royal retinue for a meeting with Nostradamus (Michel de Nostredame), Salon’s most famous citizen.

 

This is a two-day community festival which offers the jubilant crowds a whole host of opportunities to dive into a real page of living history, brought to life thanks to the help of the many volunteers. All the costumes worn by the ‘actors’ are made by local seamstresses. This party is a real feast of skills and creativity!

   

There are huge parades through the old and new city centres, with street performances by musicians, dancers, artisans, tavern keepers, actors, acrobats, fire eaters, aristocrats, beggars, witches etc.

 

Spectators – not just from Salon but also tourists from far and wide – flock here to watch this glorious procession.

The Twinning Association has invited all of our twin towns to take part: Wertheim and Huntingdon/Godmanchester have both had stalls at the event, and the Sbandieratori from Gubbio, the Folk Ensemble from Szentendre, and the Municipal Folklore school from Aranda De Duero have all been here at one time or another.

In summary: Salon de Provence with its historical heritage is really the ideal setting for a Renaissance Festival. An event that is both popular and of great cultural and artistic character. Two days of authentic immersion in the heart of the sixteenth century.

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The Ceri Festival, Gubbio

The beginnings of this celebration are unclear but some say it was to commemorate a victory of the town and others that it is to honour the goddess Ceres. Either of these would date the start of the event to the 1100s, making it one of the oldest festivals held in Italy.

Here is a message about the situation this year from our friend in Gubbio, Mariella Baldinelli.

‘Unfortunately, the Ceri festival will not take place this year. Only the religious celebrations and the bell ringing in honour of Sant’ Ubaldo will take place but not the “corsa dei Ceri”. you can imagine how sad and hard it is for all the “ceraioli” and Gubbio. Sunday was “the descent of the Ceri”. With my children we looked at some pictures of the past “discesi dei Ceri” and the nostalgia for those emotions shared by a whole people was deep. Nevertheless, we have put the “stendardi” at the windows and Gubbio is, once more, covered with the colours of the three Ceri, but last Sunday the silence was deafening.’

 

In normal times, the Ceris – St Ubaldo (Paton saint and Protector of the town), St Georgio (protector of merchants) and St Antonio (protector of farmers) remain in the Palazzo for two weeks following the descent, until the 15th May.

This day is the anniversary of the death of Saint Ubaldo and is celebrated with a parade, and a race between teams representing the three saints. This highly colourful spectacle sees the onlookers and competitors dressed in the colours of the Saints, yellow for St. Ubaldo, blue for St. Georgio and black for St. Antonio.

     

Relay teams of men carry the Ceris aloft, charging up the hillside in a 2.5-mile race along the streets and into the hillside as the teams race up Mount Ingino towards the Basilica of St. Ubaldo. Quite a feat as each Ceri is a piece of carved wood weighing over 800 lbs and covered in wax to represent a candle, topped with a statue of one of the saints. The teams of men are changed every 75 yards because of the physical nature of the task in confronting the incline and the weight of the wooden candle. This also means more people can take part and it also protects the wooden candle from potential damage.

 

This exciting event sees the whole town, surrounding area and many tourists flock to Gubbio to take part and witness it, as you can see from the photographs and YouTube link! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVKn8Tocwsc

 

Thanks to Mariella Baldinelli, Lorena Scalamonti and Tenhunen photos for text and images.

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Happy Easter from everyone at HGTA!

Easter Customs and Traditions in our Twin Towns

The Easter break in our twin towns is celebrated over a 4 day week-end, as it is here.  This year, they are mostly unable to celebrate with the events that would normally happen, as public life is still largely locked down.  However, our friends have been keeping in touch and sending us information about their national and local traditions.  Here’s a little more about some of their traditions and their Easter story.

Gubbio  – Buona Pasqua!

As a traditionally Catholic nation, Italy follows the tradition of Lent, or in Italian – Quaresima. In many regions, Italians cut ‘Old Ladies’ in half by way of a tradition! Exactly half way through the 40 days of Lent they “Segar la Vecchia” , “cut in half the Old Lady”. A cake, made in the shape of an old woman to represent the Quaresima, is cut through the middle.  The tradition has pagan origins, and to ‘cut the old’ means to knock down the oak (in the past), or to interrupt the aging process of nature. In the Christian tradition it represents the attainment of half of the lenten penitential path to Easter, with its associated sacrifices (giving up meat, chocolate, alcohol etc).

           Gubbio, and the whole region of Umbria, is rich in ancient religious traditions linked to Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, intertwined with habits celebrating spring and the rebirth of nature.

Holy Week starts on Palm Sunday, and in Italian churches, twigs of olive-tree  are blessed and the faithful take one home at the end of the Mass.

The rite of the Washing of Feet is also part of the Catholic tradition and is celebrated in  many churches on Holy Thursday.  In Gubbio there is an event in the evening, called “Sepolcri’.   In some churches of the town the altars are decorated with pots containing germinated wheat, a symbol of rebirth of nature.

  The wheat seeds are kept in a dark place to germinate, representing the passage from darkness to light,  from death to life. People normally go on a tour, including at least 7 of the town’s churches.

The highlight of the Holy Week celebrations in Gubbio is the Good Friday Procession or the Procession of the Dead Christ,  dating back to the Middle Ages. The procession goes through the main streets of the town and big bonfires are lit in various places along the route. The light of the torches carried by the people in the procession, the noise of the “Battistrangole” (ancient instruments), the chants, the medieval streets of Gubbio all lit with torch-lights for the occasion: all these elements create a strongly evocative, moving atmosphere, which captures believers and non-believers alike. The procession has also become an important tourist attraction, but, like last year, has had to be cancelled in 2021 because of the pandemic.

On Easter Saturday afternoon, the food that is to be on the table at Easter breakfast is brought to the church to be blessed: salami, sweet & savoury cake with cheese, wine, bread, salt and eggs.

That night at 10 o-clock a special Mass called the “Easter Wake” is celebrated in the Cathedral. The ceremony, with readings, chants, sermon, and prayers goes on until midnight, with the announcement of the Resurrection by the toll of the Cathedral bells.

On Easter morning, a typical Easter breakfast would be eggs, bread, wine, salt and salty ‘crescia’. The photo shows the table set ready in Matilde’s house.

Wertheim – Frohe Ostern!

In Wertheim on Palm Sunday (Palmsonntag) branches are fastened to a wooden pole and decorated according to local traditions. The finished palm trees are usually carried in processions (especially in Catholic areas) to commemorate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. In more recent years, this has often been a simplified ceremony held immediately in front of church doors.

Although there are no Wertheim-specific Easter traditions, they join in with the festivities and customs taking place throughout Germany over the Easter period. One such ancient tradition, typical of the Franconia region, is the decorating of fountains or wells. This has been taken up by Wertheim in recent years.

There are food-related traditions for Holy Week which are still observed by some people. On Maundy Thursday, a tyical meal would be spinach with a fried egg on top and Bratkartoffeln (fried potatoes), and on Good Friday – which is often spent with the family – it is customary to serve fish for the mid-day meal. Many people also attend church on this day.

Easter markets are often held on Easter Saturday, these are similar to Christmas Markets, where hand crafted ornaments and fun decorations are sold. In some regions Saturday is also the day for Easter Bonfires. Easter fire is a symbol of light in the darkness and the change from winter to spring they would normally become an occasion for a festival with food and drink.

In the Ecumenical church centre in Wertheim, Easter Night Singing takes place from Saturday night to Sunday. During this midnight Church Service the Easter candle is lit.

Easter Sunday sees children searching for decorated Easter eggs (hard boiled or chocolate ones), Easter bunnies or small presents in green paper nests,  or papier maché eggs hidden in the garden or the home. Many families serve a lamb roast that day. The Easter Bunny actually originates from a German tradition.  Trees and bushes are often decorated with nicely painted coloured eggs or ornaments tied on with ribbons.

In some families, a little contest called ‘titschen’ takes place at the Easter breakfast table. The tops of 2 hardboiled eggs are knocked together, and the one whose egg doesn’t break is the winner – and gets the opponent’s egg. A special Easter cake is also served, called “Der Hefezopf” . It is a yeast-based dough folded into the shape of a plait. It often comes plain and is just eaten with butter and jam – but it  can also be filled with almonds.

Easter Monday in Germany is when people go for a walk, have a picnic and enjoy nature. Some communities arrange Easter egg-and-spoon races for children.

Salon de Provence – Joyeuses Pâques!

In Salon, as in the rest of France, tradition has it that church bells ring every day of the year to invite the faithful to attend Mass. But from Thursday to Saturday in Holy Week, the bells fall silent, as a sign of mourning.  Children are told that the bells have gone to Rome to be blessed by the Pope.  On Easter Sunday, at the end of Easter Mass, they start to ring again.  This tells the children that the bells have flown back to the churches, dropping chocolate eggs into gardens, fields and parks as they fly over. So it is the bells that bring chocolates to children in France! People exchange chocolate Easter eggs,  often ornately decorated with coloured icing. There are egg huts for the children, and these include chocolate chickens, bunnies and fish as well as the traditional eggs.

Of course, there are food-related Easter traditions all over France! In Provence a special kind of dessert called ‘oreillettes’ are often served.  It’s a type of flat sweet pastry, a bit like a waffle. People also enjoy cream desserts of different flavours – caramel vanilla, coffee, chocolate – as well as sweet omelettes. In nearby Marseille, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the creation of soft meringue in a cognac-flavoured custard known as ‘île flottante’ (literally ‘floating island’) was a popular Easter dessert. Some pastry cooks still bake special cakes in the shape of nests.

On Easter Sunday a typical Provençal meal would start with an aperitif with appetisers including, amongst other things, anchovies and tapenade on small pieces of toast rubbed with garlic, black and green olives, small stuffed peppers, and peppers roasted in olive oil and garlic. This would be followed by a leg or shoulder of lamb with provençal herbs, served with hash browns and spring vegetables: beans with fresh spring onions, garden peas and carrots, mangetout, provençal tomatoes, braised fennel, etc. An endive salad with garlic rubbed croutons would often accompany this. For dessert there would be îles flottantes, sweet omelettes etc. The important thing is that egg is one of the main ingredients. The meal would be accompanied by French wines – Côtes du Rhône, Côtes de Provence, Bandol, Cassis and so on. In the afternoon, after coffee and homemade liqueurs, oreillettes or similar sweet fried dough-based morsels are served.

On Easter Monday families often go on a country picnic to celebrate the Spring weather.

Szentendre – Kellemes Húsvéti Ünnepeket!

In Szentendre Easter is seen as a time to welcome in the spring and celebrates the renewal of fertility.

Skanzen, Hungary’s National Living Museum, situated just one kilometre from Szentendre, holds a big celebration of Hungarian traditions over the Easter Weekend.

One of these is the Easter Monday tradition of ‘Sprinkling’  This is more common in the smaller traditional villages and National Dress is often worn. The men chase the women and throw buckets of water over them! Nowadays it is more likely the men will get some perfume and rub it in the women’s hair. This traditional meaning of sprinkling women is to let them bloom all year long!

An Easter tree is often displayed in people’s homes.  The tree will be decorated with Easter eggs and biscuits and there is usually a basket of chocolate eggs for guests.  Easter egg hunts are held on either the Sunday or Monday for the children.

Easter Sunday is the day for the main family meal and this is traditionally made up of smoked ham, ‘coloured’ boiled eggs and horseradish. Originally the ham used to be home-cured and smoked. Sometimes lamb is the chosen meat, and a special sweetbread plait is also served.

Easter Monday is a day for family and friends to visit and exchange chocolate eggs. The main meal is a selection of traditionally cured meats and salads. Here’s a fine picture of a cooked meats market stall.

Another important element of the feast is the Palinka, a traditional fruit brandy most frequently made from plums, apricots, apples, pears, and cherries. Cheers, everybody!

Happy Easter!

 

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E-friends project launched! It’s Gubbio first…

March sees the introduction of our e-friends project being piloted with Gubbio, in Italy.

Like the pen pals of old, e-friends aims to connect like minded individuals to exchange news, views and information about each other’s countries via the medium of the internet.

There has been an enthusiastic response from members with 15 couples and 2 single individuals keen to take part. Everyone has provided profiles, and these will now be matched, via our Gubbio twin town association, with interested people there.

We hope this is the first step towards an exchange of details and the start of new friendships that will help enrich our Association’s connections with our twin towns.

This pilot is for over 18’s only but while it is developing we are also working on facilitating a similar scheme between our secondary schools here and Lycees in Salon de Provence. We hope that this will enable young people to take part under the umbrella of our schools and help with their language practice as well!

We intend to extend e-friends to our other twin towns in due course so keep checking in to see how the scheme is developing.

If you’re reading this and are not a member of HGTA why not click to our Join Us page and find out how you, too, could be a part of our Association.

 

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News from our Twin Towns

As you can imagine, our friends in Salon, Wertheim, Gubbio and Szentendre are going through many of the same difficult experiences that we are dealing with here in the UK. All governments are wrestling with decisions about when to relax lockdown rules so they can re-open schools and leisure facilities, how to encourage citizens to take the vaccine, how to protect their vulnerable people.

To help us keep in touch with our twin town friends and to find out more about their particular experiences, we have been organising a series of Zoom attendances for them at our member meetings.  It has been a real pleasure to ‘meet’, albeit only virtually. Here is a brief summary of what they have been telling us recently:

In Wertheim, as in the rest of Germany, coronavirus cases are falling and there is a cautious plan for the reopening of schools and businesses – very similar, in fact, to Boris Johnson’s ‘roadmap to freedom’ in the UK. There have been 71,000 deaths in Germany, and nearly 2.5 million confirmed cases. There are national elections coming up in Germany in September as well as some local elections later in March. Doubtless The Pandemic will feature prominently in party manifestoes and hustings!

The news from Salon is less positive. They have had almost 4 million cases in France, and 90,000 deaths. The government has imposed a 6pm curfew as well as restrictions about who can meet and where, but not a full lockdown – even though many politicians believe that this would be a wiser course of action. Shops are open, but major outdoor gatherings are not allowed. The good news is that the AstraZeneca vaccine has now been approved for use as well as Pfizer, so hopefully the situation will improve rapidly.

Our friends in Gubbio are also having a tough time. There have been 3 million cases in Italy, with 99,000 deaths. Umbria (the region where Gubbio is located) has been designated a ‘high-risk’ area; schools and day nurseries are closed, as are all but essential shops, and restaurants are only able to offer a take-away service – and only until 6pm. More or less everyone is working from home and there is a lot of anxiety about the local economy – Umbria is not a highly industrialized region and is heavily dependent on tourism.

The news from Szentendre paints a picture which is very similar to how things are here in the UK. They are firmly in the third wave of the pandemic; their population is a lot smaller, of course, but the figures are broadly comparable with the UK. Primary schools are open, but classes – or whole schools- are closed at a moment’s notice if there is any infection. Secondary schools are closed and pupils are home-schooling. Shops are open – everyone must wear a mask – but restaurants are closed except for takeaway service and there is a nationwide curfew from 8pm to 5am.

 

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Exchange Christmas greetings online with Gubbio! December 20th at 6pm.

Laura Zampagli from the Gubbio twinning association has invited us to participate in a special meeting on ‘ Google Meet’ on Sunday, December 20th at 7pm Italian time (6pm in UK), to exchange Christmas greetings and wishes for a Happy New Year.

Here is the link to join the meeting:

meet.google.com/exk-kami-stg

 

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All lit up for Christmas!

Chrismas lights are up all over our twin towns. Huntingdon has a lovely tree and a fine array of lights in the Market Square and around the pedestrian shopping areas.

Godmanchester has gone for an animated light show on the walls of the Town Hall near the Christmas tree on School Hill.

Our twin towns are also beautifully decorated:

Salon de Provence

Wertheim

Szentendre

Gubbio

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AGM, November 18th 2020

The postponed AGM for the year 2019-20 was held via Zoom on Wednesday November 18th 2020. There were 28 members present.

The main business of the meeting was to adopt the new Constitution, and to elect the committee – convened under the terms of the new Constitution – for 2020-21. The Constitution was adopted and a new committee elected. A fuller report of the AGM will appear here in due course.

The new constitution can be found here.

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Covid-19 impact

As everyone is surely aware, many events which were planned for 2020 have had to be cancelled; not only the regular town events in which Twinning always participates, such as the summer gala days and the Christmas Lights switch-on evenings, but also some special events for twinning members : the Quirky Quiz, Chairman’s summer lunch party, Paint Out in the Park, the Murder Mystery evening, and perhaps most regrettably of all, the Youth Sports Festival in Wertheim.

However, there is some good news in that the new committee, which was elected at the AGM on November 18th, is determined that these lovely ideas shall not simply be forgotten in the general gloom created by the Coronavirus pandemic. Just as soon as we are able to arrange a proper in-person event you can be sure that we will do so. And in the meantime we are trying to come up with ‘virtual’ ways in which Twinners can connect to our friends in Salon, Wertheim, Szentendre and Gubbio.

Watch this space.

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