Here at last are the photos from our French cultural exchange of Arlington with Ponches Estruval in Picardy at the end of May. Anne Howard and I represented the Arlington Arts Group at the Festival De Musique et D’Art 2013 and took work with us to set up an exhibition in the church at Dompierre for the weekend. Jim and his band, the Cajun Dawgs, had been invited to play at the festival Feast after the visiting french contingent saw them play at the Arlington Arts Festival in 2011.
We were treated like royalty, being introduced to the mayors of both Dompierre and Ponches at champagne receptions, fed free food at every opportunity, given free accommodation, given free entrance to all concerts and even given a guided tour of Dompierre by a lovely local couple, M. and Mme. Wissocq.
My involvement in this cultural exchange came about by chance in 2010 when I was contacted by email by the chair of Les Amis du patrimoine Ponchois et vallée d’Authie, Michele Vienne. She had been trying to contact someone in Arlington to revive a ‘twinning’ that had started a few years before as a result of Interreg funding being given to churches in both parishes. She no longer had the contact details for those she had visited on their first exchange, but looking Arlington up on the internet, my name had come up connected with the Arlington Arts Group. I asked around the village, but no-one I spoke to could remember anything about the twinning so I got involved. It turned out that my late Dad had been one of those who had shown them around years before and had arranged some of their meals and accommodation on their last visit to Arlington. Well, he had been dubbed Mr Arlington because he was so involved in village life, so it’s not really surprising.
Over 200 classical musicians, English, French and Dutch took part in the festival this year and the main concerts in the churches were very well attended. The concert on the Sunday had a surprisingly small audience and we felt very guilty that we had to leave half way through to catch our ferry home, especially as the music was superb. The delight to me of classical concerts in parish churches is that in the pauses in the music, you hear birds singing.
We packed a lot into our weekend – it really did feel like we had been away for a whole week, not 3 days. Jim did all of the driving, which was a relief as I do not like driving with a trailer and we definitely needed a trailer for all of the band gear as all of the paintings filled up the car. Jim, Anne and I travelled together with all of the gear on Friday as we had to set up the exhibition before the pre-concert meal in the evening. The rest of the band, Bob, Andy and dep. bass player, Colin, came over together on the Saturday with Satu who does Cajun dance workshops.
So our first job was to quickly set up the exhibition – not knowing exactly what kind of screens and what layout to expect, we had to prepare for all eventualities. S-hooks, paperclips, sticky tape, a hole punch and fishing line all came in handy as we did that silent tiptoey not-quite-running around the church, trying not to step on piles of bubble wrap, while a rehearsal was taking place for the big concert. Jim was brilliant and moved the first 6 screens that we had already hung when it was realised that there wouldn’t be room for the orchestra if they stayed where they were. I was actually very pleased with the final appearance of the exhibition – the natural light in the church was great, and it was good to see the latest work of Benoit Beuvain who had come over to exhibit his work in our church in 2011. I sold one small painting, to Michele, of St Pancras Church, but other than that I think there were no other sales this year. In 2010 we had taken the work of many more of the Arlington Arts Group which we had exhibited in the smaller church in Ponches, and we made 3 sales and other artists also sold work.
Our hosts, Christelle Pouilly and her family, were lovely friendly people – in fact all of the locals we met were lovely and friendly and so incredibly laid back. Christelle said to me on the Sunday morning, as we were drying up all of the cutlery from the meal for 200 the night before, that she was relieved to be serving food to only about 50 people for lunch that day. There didn’t seem to be any undue stress, no one wash dashing around looking harassed and everyone was enjoying the events. The house we stayed in was fantastic – Christelle does scrapbooking amongst other crafts and her decor reflects this. Our bedroom had cutouts of larger than life daisies growing from the floor up the walls, fairy lights were intertwined with silk ivy on the headboard and everything was hand painted and embellished. Downstairs in the old cow shed, a communal dining area was surrounded by the old troughs topped with a display of Christelle’s crafts and with numerous stuffed animals hanging from the hay racks. Vines covered the front of the house, the back garden had an immaculately kept vegetable patch, all of the curtains were hand made and of course the family used their own produce from the farm. The house was full of visiting teenagers but stayed clean and tidy. On the morning after the festival feast in their barn (in their courtyard), the family and a neighbour and his son set about doing all of the tidying up while Jim and I were clearing away the band equipment. My admiration for this family increased by the second – they were hard-working, productive, talented, community minded and above all happy.
More later – you deserve a break. Look at the photos now.