La Boussac is a small village (1200 inhabitants) about 15 km south of the Bay of St Michel, not far from the Bretagne/Normandie boarder. On January 12 we went there at the urging of Manu, the producer/seller of organic vegetables whom we frequent at the Dinan open market on Thursdays. He and his co-worker, Laetitia are members of the association Sans Doute (literally “no doubt,” but actually means “probably”) which organizes an annual fest noz (in Breton, literally “night feast”), whose purpose is to support, and I quote: “… an agriculture which is in solidarity with and which respects the environment, and which supports the Without OMG 35 Collective./… une agriculture solidaire et respectueuse de l’environnement, en soutient au collectif sans OGM 35.” More info (in French) at: http://www.tamm-kreiz.com/evenement/30801/concert-et-fest-noz-le-12-01-2013-a-la-boussac.html
To me La Boussac is typical of what makes Brittany at once so rooted and solid and yet, so dynamic and innovative. A small village heavily invested in community activities through an extensive network of voluntary associations, which are supported formally through subventions (financial aid) and informally through the making available of village resources for various events. Almost every village has its salle de fêtes (town hall) in which there are indeed all sorts of festivities: marriages, association meetings, senior citizen functions, annual dinners and awards ceremonies, local theater performances, as well as local political and governance meetings. The La Boussac salle de fêtes, like most salles in Brittany even has a dance floor built into it.
For the fest noz is by far the most emblematic manifestation of Breton culture and traditions. Every week, from the depth of winter to the height of summer there are scores of fests noz across the land. These are not just tourist activities organized by the local visitors’ center. They are centuries old events which serve to bond the community together through collective dancing and an immediately recognizable rhythmic music. See the Wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fest_Noz We have been at fests noz with up to 500 people, most of them dancing at once. At La Boussac there were at any one time probably 200 people in the salle, half of them dancing. What is particularly striking is the mixture of people; rural & urban, farmers, teachers, retired folk, business and commercial people, students. And all ages from infants dancing in their parents’ arms to old timers in their 80s and 90s.
The music was varied as well. There was traditional Breton dance music played by Les évadés du violon from Dinan, a dozen roaming and dancing fiddlers, and the trio, Loup d’Irden, and Le Hawaiian Pistoleros (Peter Fryin’ Pan; voice & guitar, Vassili Caillosse; steel guitar, Adrien Dutertre; guitar, Bertrand Thepaut; ukulele, Eric Leguichard; bass & Mathieu Lesiard; drums), from Rennes provided the best 60s rock and standards which I have heard in France.
We had a wonderful time, as I hope the photos show. Enjoy…
We returned 3 years later on January 23, 2016. Nothing seemed to have changed; the same inter-generational, family ambiance, good food and, of course excellent music and Breton dancing. Manu said that there were 300 people and it felt that way, more noise and less space!