Sunday afternoon was sunny, beautiful and hot, and I was at home in Daglan for the weekend. It was a brief respite from the life I had led since April 30 in a clinic in Montfaucon, undergoing physiotherapy after back surgery. As it happened, it was also a day when the traditional “planting” of l’arbre de mai, or the May tree, was scheduled for the village’s main square.
And this particular May tree, or May pole, was not going up to honour any old person, but Daglan’s newly elected Mayor, Pascal Dussol. If you’d prefer that in French, it would be Pascal DUSSOL, or DUSSOL Pascal.
(To add a touch of personal perspective, and to show how tight the margins in village voting can be, M. Pascal garnered 212 votes in the March election, which was just 47 more votes than my wife Jan, who was a candidate for municipal council on the opposing team. Only three members of Jan’s 15-member team were elected to the council, so M. Dussol’s victory was pretty darn solid.)
Evidently the May tree tradition is not universal in France; it seems to be confined to just a few areas, including our department of the Dordogne. In fact, in the Greater Daglan Area we see these “May poles” just about everywhere. Typically they come with ribbons and a sign that says “Honneur aux élus” (“Honour to our elected officials”) or “Honneur à notre élu(e)” (the singular version) but they are sometimes used to honour the respected owner of a butcher shop or bakery (“Honneur au patron“), or new parents, or newlyweds, or, for all I know, winners of Eurovision.
On Sunday, Jan and I arrived at the ceremony at just about 4:30 p.m., as the Honneur sign was being screwed into the pole, which had already been securely fixed to the side of a building on the corner of the square. Here’s the scene:
Perhaps typical of Daglan’s new, efficiency-oriented administration, things were organized and well in hand. That was quite unlike the scene six years ago (in May 2008, following the last municipal elections) when Jan and I waited for what seemed like hours, watching guys run around like confused chickens, trying to get things organized and then scrambling to push up the various poles being erected around the village. This was the scene in the square as we saw it six years ago, as the pole in the main square finally was pulled into place:
This past Sunday, we also saw a new aspect of the tradition (new to us, anyway), which involved breaking a bottle of bubbly over the pole, as if launching a new ship. The person given this honour was, not surprisingly, His Honour, Pascal Dussol.
Here he is, swinging the bottle onto the pole, and hoping it would break. As it happened, it took several attempts, but eventually the bottle broke, scattering glass (and sparkling wine!) all over the pavement. Senseless waste of beverage, but what the heck.
With that chore done, it was time for Monsieur le Maire to relax with friends and supporters, and thirsty citizens, and enjoy a variety of drinks and snacks.
As for me, I opted for a plastic cup of Coke, knowing full well that an ice cold dry martini was inside our house, calling out my name before I headed back to the clinic in Montfaucon.