One of the highlights of Christmas in Europe is the parade of the participants through the town or at least a district of the town. Marseilles was no exception to the rule, with the organisers proposing a parade through Old Marseilles, in particular the ‘Panier’ quarter.
So it was that the 150 or so participants in this parade, their flags waving in the breeze and proudly wearing their traditional costumes, met up on the city hall square just beside the Old Port; first there was the traditional family photo, then they set off amid a joyful racket through the narrow streets of the Panier district, where there are no end of flights of steps. Despite adverts in the local press we have to admit that there were very few onlookers in these narrow streets so full of history and the subject of so many tales. The organisers were most disappointed at this, and blamed the weather for the lack of the spectators they had hoped for.
The visitors were preceded by a group of ‘tambourinaïres’ (Provençal pipe and tabor players) from the Allergo Association, flanked by eight men of Marseilles wearing red waistcoats, members of the city’s army of 3,000 volunteers; they made their way through this ancient district, with a short detour to enter the ‘Vieille Charité’ (Old Charity) museum, an imposing building which was originally, as its name suggests, a refuge for the poor and the sick.
Before returning to the City Hall for the reception, a short halt was necessary before the parade could cross a very busy street. They did however have to wait almost an hour before the City Hall doors were opened.
The participants could not all find a seat in the allocated room to take part in the reception which you might call ‘minimal’, considering the prestige of Marseilles and the international nature of the group.
After the Provençal anthem ‘Coupo santo’ which was sung and played by the Allergo group, there were some words of welcome from the fifth deputy mayor Jacques Rocca-Serra to congratulate the Hotel School Director, the presentation of a souvenir gift from the AEHT by its Vice-President Remco Koerts, and for some of the participants – not all of them – a cup of fruit juice and some dry biscuits. The reception lasted all of fifteen minutes. Since the buses to take us back had been planned for 18.30, everyone still had more than enough time to stroll around the Old Port, to visit the superb Museum of the History of Marseilles which was just nearby, or to go for a drink in one of the nearby bars.