Villelongue d’Aude is a fairly typical village in southern France. It is made up of families who have lived here for generations, idealists who fled Paris in 1968, Dutch and Belgians who moved here in the ‘80s, some Brits who arrived about ten years ago, and a family fleeing a war torn homeland. Maybe one of the main aims of the first Fête des Lumières was to celebrate this concoction.
And so on December 8th this year the plan was for the mayor, Monsieur Pesteil, to ceremoniously turn off the village street lighting. A gasp would be expected from the villagers and the visitors who would be gathered in front of the Salle des Fêtes. Fortified by a glass of vin chaud, courtesy of the Mayor, the people carrying home-made lanterns would follow Patrick Terris and his fellow musicians in the dark, up the winding narrow streets, past home made light installations both simple and sophisticated to arrive finally at the village bar and some hot soup kindly provided by a number of villagers for the occasion. This was the plan and this, by and large, was what took place.
To prepare for the event there had been two children’s workshops. Children from both Villelongue and the neighbouring villages worked with artist, Jacques le Gallou, to make lanterns and life-size silhouettes. They painted jam jars, cut out spirals from plastic bottles and discussed and illustrated the meaning of light! On three other evenings parents and children gathered in the Salle des Jeunes to continue this good work. They inspired many others to work at home on curious and often beautiful projects which they proudly installed on the morning of the 8th of December.
Two other well established light artists, Gill Eatherley and Charlotte Beaufort agreed to take part. Gill’s work was situated near the beginning of the procession. Working behind a simple white sheet stretched over an old gateway, she and a helper moved branches across a circle of light projected onto the sheet. On the other side, in the narrow street, the procession moved close by in wonder. Charlotte’s work meanwhile was shown in the doorway of the church at the top of the village. Coincidentally, it too was round-shaped and mesmerising: a series of circles dimming and mutating, changing colours and definition. Meanwhile, Camille Solarue, leaning out from a window high in the nearby chateau sung Mascagni’s Ave Maria, her voice ringing out across the valley in the clear evening air.
The streets were lined here with flickering candles in jam jars, there with curious lanterns strung from wall to wall. In doorways, on street corners, on window ledges, by the fountain, strange make-believe winter scenes were positioned. The huge water tower, always a rival to the church tower, blazed with the message ‘ Que la lumière soit’. Three hot air balloons sailed up into the sky above Caroline who danced and juggled with fire torches in one of the squares of the village. And whilst people sipped their soup a man exploded the fireworks he had bought from Spain for the occasion.
The evening was incredible because it showed, albeit in a short few hours, that people from different imagined walks of life, different beliefs, different races can easily share the human ability to wonder and tolaugh and to imagine the possibility of another way. Long live imagination and long live the desire to use it, as John Lennon might have said!
Annabel Eatherley was Born in Dar-es Salaam (Tanzania) and she has Graphic Communication BA from Reading University. She is a graphic designer, mother of three, grandmother of six and a half, community artist in Reading, MA at City University. She was a exhibition curator for U.S. company supporting Royal Academy, London.