Connect to share and comment

Are culture and democracy inseparable?

The French support a myriad of summer festivals, from open-air cinema to pig squealing.

PARIS — French summer festivals can run the gamut from the quirky to the hokey to the plain bizarre. But more than just an excuse for making merry, the widely supported events can also be an exercise in cultural democracy.

In southwestern France, there’s the annual pig festival in Trie-sur-Baise in the Hautes-Pyrenees region whose motto, “we hear it, we see it, we eat it,” sums up the event, which includes both a pig squealing contest and feasting on intestine specialties like black pudding.

A six-day country-western hoedown that attracts more than 150,000 people annually to the town of Mirande features Harley Davidson enthusiasts, cowboy hat fashion and line dancing.

A liar’s festival in the Gascon region celebrates fanciful story telling and a contestant’s ability to pull one over on listeners. An 18th-century Liar’s Academy crowns and inducts the winner into its boasting ranks.

To the east, in the commune of Digoin, there’s the escargot fete, where more than 100,000 snails are cooked and served over the course of three days. In the north, the largest flea market in Europe, held in Lille, attracts about 2 million visitors and more than 100,000 vendors. A main attraction of this two-day street festival is a contest among restaurants to see which can collect the most empty mussel shells. Customers eat the fleshy insides and the black-shelled discards are hoisted onto piles at the entrances of the restaurants.

Even simpler, more subdued summer fare, like the nearly 20-year-old open-air cinema festival in Paris, has something in common with these and a host of other events around Paris and beyond: generous support, whether at the local, regional or national level.

An estimated 80 percent of the 300,000 euro budget required for putting on Cinema en Plein Air comes from the Ministry of Culture and Communication, said Bertrand Nogent, a spokesman for Parc de la Villette, the venue, which provides the remaining 20 percent. The ministry, whose mandate includes promoting French heritage through the country’s museums and monuments as well as the arts, whether visual, or theatrical, musical, or cinematic, has an annual budget of 2.8 billion euros. The cost to the public of attending the month-long festival: zero

“We very much want this to be free,” said Nogent, referring to the festival. “It’s a guarantee for cultural democracy.”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/france/090831/are-culture-and-democracy-inseparable