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Trip Report May 25, 2013: Being tourists and finding festivals

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The day looked to be a lot nicer than expected, so we decided to take Metro Line 13 to see the Basilique St Denis, far to the north of us. It is arguably the first Gothic church in Europe, and it is more or less the burial place of the royalty of France. I say "more or less" because the vicissitudes of history mean that at best bits and pieces of the Royals are buried there. They got moved around a lot and soaked in quicklime during the revolution.

The Metro was a lot busier than it had been during the week, fine on the way out, but I had to stand all the way back. The station is in a very modern complex, sort of around the corner from the Mairie and the cathedral. We arrived to be greeted by the first of our festivals for the day. A bride and her family were going into the Mairie for her wedding, and groups of mostly children's clubs were lined up behind a brass and for a parade of the "Avant Garde St Denis ". It was the karate club and the hip hop club and the Pilates club, all having a great time. Joy to see so many diverse people having such a good time.

Inside the Basilica were tourists like us, but all French, as well as a group of parishioners rehearsing some sort of presentation ceremony for Sunday. They were mostly Africans but sprinkled with Europeans and all led by a Vietnamese. After a prayer of thanksgiving for family who survived in the Moore tornado, we paid our entry and looked at the tombs and wandered through the crypts. The basilica is 12th century at each end and 13th century in the middle. The crypts are much, much older and quite interesting. Nothing much was labeled in English, so it helps to be able to parse French or read Wilkipedia before you get there. After lunch in a cafe across the plaza, we took the Metro back to Gaite, then walked home for a nap.

Post nap, we decided to explore the neighborhood to the south of where we are staying. Then the fun began. First we ran into the end of some event involving lots of young women dressed in silver-gray tulle 1950's prom dresses, but we still don't have any idea what it was about, even after one of them tripped and fell over an amplifier.

Then as we walked toward the Mairie of the 14th, we heard the distant skirl of bagpipes. Was Scotland in town for Rugby? Were Andy Murray's supporters in town for Roland Garros? No, it was a huge celebration of Breton life, with food, music, games, and dancing. The main event was whatever you call a Breton ceilidh, with great Celtic music on accordion and guitar and wonderful Celtic dancing, all ages doing complex rounds and figures, but not folk dance groups, just men, women and children in street clothes doing dances they learn from childhood. The pipers and drummers were in the square by the playground, and they were properly fierce, not like the wimpy little pipes played in some nameless southern parts of Celtic Europe. So far, this was the highlight of the trip for me, and how lucky we were to find it! There is, by the way, a Breizh channel on French television, and I learned today that "Breizh" is "Breton" in Breton! Travel is educational!

But we were whacked. So we went to the bakery and the green grocer and the supermarket and bought some stuff for dinner and went home. Too much excitement for the Country Mouse, and I tossed and turned all night!

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