This is part one of three posts about how to annoy the locals merely by giving them your custom.
My friend Elodie celebrated her birthday this week, and she wanted to start with an apero (a pre-dinner drink). She called a bar in Croix Fry (up the road from La Clusaz) to check they could provide a very specific drink for everyone (grapefruit and lychee juice mixed with rosé) before she invited us all. Being French, Elodie was late to her own party, but only by 15 minutes, which really is nothing in French time. We drove up together, and a friend called her from the bar, saying the manager didn’t have her apero booking recorded. Elodie presumes she called a different bar with the same name in La Clusaz centre. Sure, it’s nice to pre-book, but surely a bar can sort out 19 people with a drink. Is that not what they do? Pour drinks? A detailed discussion with the manager followed, with prices negotiated, timings confirmed and one very apologetic Elodie (I’m still not sure why she was apologising for bringing him business). They agreed we’d be there for no more than half an hour, as we had a dinner reservation.
Although the place was otherwise empty when we arrived, a busload of tourists poured in soon after, and then Christophe Pessey arrived. Do you know who that is? He’s a local celebrity in Croix Fry and La Clusaz: he’s the famous, award-winning, child-prodigy accordion player. Here he is, playing keyboards, with a child dressed as a chimney sweep (bottom left corner), and some other guy playing the piano accordion.
Our group of 19 were chatting while the band played. What you don’t see in the photo is the little old lady who started singing extremely softly and not all that much in tune, dressed to match the era of the chimney sweep boy, and glaring at us at every opportunity. In fact, all the performers glared at us during the three or four songs they played. And fair enough I guess. But why didn’t the manager tell the birthday girl about the performance on the phone earlier instead of wasting time discussing whether or not the initial booking had been made? If he had mentioned that we’d have to be quiet while Christophe Pessey played music, she could have redirected our group to the other bar in Croix Fry.
We left after our apero and took a very long walk to a refuge, which I’ll talk about next time. What I want to talk about now is what you do see in the photo. First of all, that fox. That’s one massive fox! I wonder what he would think if he knew his death had led to a life of fame with Christophe. Why is the fox there in the first place? The chimney sweep kids makes more sense: the Aravis valley used to be a very poor area, and the kids often had to find work to survive. Their shortness and agility made them perfect for the work of a chimney sweep, and they became renowned in cities throughout France, usually wearing red scarves to cover their heads.
Since Christophe sang some traditional songs, it makes sense to incorporate the traditions of the region into the act – a chimney sweep, and of course, a hunted animal. Nobody else in our group seemed to notice the performance, nor care for it when the dirty looks came our way. Some friends found it cheesy. Even though I’ve lived here for a number of years, I find the traditions as charming as they are cheesy. The locals have a real sense of belonging that’s harder to gain in big cities. Although I’m not sure they passed that sense of belonging onto us the other night, it’s unique to this region and if I’d had the chance to learn one of the dances, I would have jumped at it. How about you?