Every ten years the port of St Vaast La Hougue celebrates a Sea Festival. The purpose of LA FETE DE LA MER is to give thanks for the safe passage that all the port’s fishermen, mariners, yachties have enjoyed over the preceding years and just as importantly, to remember those who perished going about their marine activities, be they fishing, life-saving or sailing for pleasure.
The town is decorated in paper flowers and work started on this in September 2009. Committees were formed to organise overall proceedings and to set in motion the process of making thousands and thousands of flowers in crepe paper.
These days, certainly on this side of the Channel, there is something delightfully retro about crepe paper. Certainly in the realm of flowers, other than fresh ones, materials to make flowers for decorative purposes might include tissue paper, wax, silk and other fabrics, dried everlasting species and even the dreaded plastic might be used. But crepe paper is fun to work with because it stretches in all directions so you can shape petals, leaves and other plant structures with your fingers and thumbs.
All the roads which form the core of the town and port are designated areas for decoration and each road has its own colour scheme. Our house forms part of a group outside the designated area but abutting on to the principal road into the port and as a group of neighbours we decided to decorate our houses with garlands, and to go for a riot of a dozen colours.
At one time it looked as if our house move in the UK would take place over the same weekend as the Festival but, in true silver lining fashion, things worked out differently. Liz and Sue who helped me by making many of our allocation of flowers were able to come over for the festival. So it was that we boarded the ferry together on Saturday bound for Cherbourg
We arrived to find that our garlands had been kindly strung by our lovely neighbours but that we would be required to present ourselves for hanging at 4 a.m! As it turned out Nick got the time wrong, all the same we were out on the street at 6 draping garlands over frontages, around and on the memorial over the crossroads and wiring paper single large flowers to hedges. This was a particularly symbolic exercise as we were remembering Daniel’s father Renee, a pillar of the fishing community in St Vaast all his life, who died three years ago. His old Peche a Pied basket was decorated as a centrepiece to place at the foot of the memorial. Then we would have to decorate Nick’s boat too.
Nick had already delivered boxes of garlands to Aroona so Liz, Sue and I walked through the town to the marina. The long straight road into town was decorated as far as the eye could see with orange and lime green flowers strung across the houses at first floor window level.
With the sun shining brightly it was a joyful experience strolling along amidst all that colour. At a cross road point there was a net hung with racemes of flowers, fluttering in the wind. Quite breathtaking. As we turned down various roads the different colour schemes became evident, and landmarks like the telephone kiosks and notice boards had not escaped ornament.
When we arrived at the quayside it was a lump in the throat moment for me as I looked at all the various vessels which had been lovingly decorated by owners. No two boats enjoyed the same palette. All the boats bearing their floral tributes would be forming part of a flotilla that would leave the port at 2.30 for a ceremony of blessing outside the harbour.
Arriving at Aroona we found that Nick, Daniel and Alain had finished the job, so we joined Francois and Anne who were stringing garlands along the rigging and up the mast of their yacht. Ten of us sat in the tiny cockpit and enjoyed a cup of Yorkshire tea!
By 11 o’clock Nick, Liz, Sue and I were back at the house ready for our brunch. Nick had bought us some kippers (they label them Keepers in the Intermarche supermarket) which I cooked using my jug of boiling water method. Then, whilst Sue gathered flowers from the garden to make a bouquet to take to sea, Liz and I prepared some canapes to take onto Aroona, where, at 1.30, we would be joined by our French guests Alain, Martine, Mikhael and Anne.