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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Saintes and Seas

For more than fifteen years I carried a small black and white photocopy among my belongings as I moved from one part of the US to another. It was the image of a dark faced saint surrounded by tall, glimmering tapers within a barrel vaulted crypt. For me it held a certain undeniable pull---romantic and mystical, more the stuff of dreams than reality. So was I then surprised in May, 2007 to find myself experiencing the magic of the festival of Sainte Sarah, patron saint of the Rom people, for myself? Yes and no. Maybe it was in the back of my mind all along, something inevitable, as dreams sometimes really do become reality.

I have experienced the phenomena twice now and it hasn't lost any of its fascination for me. Although this year and last I wasn't able to attend the fete, I have felt the attraction pulling at my mind and heart and so wanted to share some photos from 2007.

On her feast day of May 24 after receiving throngs of visitors who kiss her feet and face, petition her for miracles and leave tokens of gratitude for answered requests, Sarah leaves the low ceilinged crypt of the Romanesque church in Saintes Maries de la Mer to travel the brief distance to the sea. Accompanying her are the horseback mounted Camargue guardians and a stream of visitors from across the globe. Small girls in the ruffled red polka dot dresses worn by Flamenco dancers play in the gentle surf as the adults jostle and try to anticipate Sarah's exact path into the water. She is carried out to the horses' chest height in the sea, through a narrow pathway that opens through the human crush and then as quickly closes behind. Nearby my daughter and I stand in warm, ankle deep water among the crowd. I feel surprisingly safe (despite being packed in like sardines), at peace, and part of something larger than myself. The beach and stone breakwaters are lined with spectators and the cries go up as the figure of Sarah, held high, advances. Then it is just as quickly over---she is paraded back to the crypt and around the church a long night of music and dance commences.

Sadly for those of us of a romantic bent, the traditional caravans of travelers have been all but replaced by the bland white of Ford transit vans. A few of the craftspeople bring traditional style wagons but a bit of the magic is lost in the likely possibility that the vardos exist chiefly to enhance commerce. But sometimes even the dog gets to have a special day...

And the organ grinder's cart still yields a moment of baroque pleasure...

So I think I will have to create my own magic if magic is to be made...

(My fairy travelers' wagon of all natural materials from field and forest.)

If you would like to learn more about the legend of Sainte Sarah, a quick internet search yields numerous references, with Wikipedia a good starting point...

1 comment:

  1. Oh so splendid a post - thank you for it - and your fairy travelers' wagon is wondrous, indeed!