by David Peerless
I am coming off a storytelling high and wanted to share the experience with you the best that I can. For the last ten years there has been an organization of professional storytellers(*1) called “The March of the Storytellers”. This group plans a 10 day stint of walking between villages and telling stories every evening. They are all volunteers and have to audition and can’t do it more than two years. They come from all over the country. They are hosted and fed by volunteers in the various places they visit. (Of course they don’t walk all the way but they have four or five hours each day when they explore the area.) A van takes their luggage from place to place. This year they were in our area. Jeannine and I volunteered to host. On Tuesday we went to the nearby village that was the central location and collected our guest and took him home for tea and a shower before an evening of storytelling in the old fort which is the site where our amateur group tells. There are quite a number of professional storytellers in our area and many of them came to storytelling through our group. (The fort is an old building that was put up to defend the mouth of the Loire River from the British.)
There were four visiting tellers in St. Nazaire but there were 19 tellers in all spread out between four or five villages. The evening of telling (free) we had sixty people turn up and we had to turn a couple away as the room was full. The stories were great with several items where all four tellers participated. After the stories we adjourned to the “maison de quartier”(*2) for a meal together – starting at 10:30p.m. and finishing around midnight! We had to be up by 8:00 the next morning to prepare a picnic for our guest and drive him back to the village where we collected him so that the whole group could leave by bus for the next part of their trek.
Then, on Saturday last, a few of us drove to the final event with all 19 telling. This was on the grounds of a chateau in a town an hour or so away from us. The chateau was built before the war (which war I’m not sure as the date cut in the lintel of the door was 1543!) The day was perfect; sunny but not too warm. The tellers told in groups – the first group was on the bank of the Erdre river with boats and canoes passing behind them. The second group was under a huge oak tree. The third group told after we’d had a pause for a convivial picnic supper. That group told from dusk into the night with spotlights. The event finished at11:45p.m. The night was cloudless and it was the first time in decades that I was able to see so many stars, including the Milky Way.
At the heaviest there were 300 people in the audience with a mixture of ages from babies up to elderly (but I was probably the oldest.) Apart from being able to enjoy the ideal setting I had the pleasure of hearing a heap of stories of which only one I knew. None of the stories were personal stories and the range was wide. I found that the French are able to tell suggestive, and even slightly erotic, stories with a subtlety that I think we could never manage in English. They had no hesitation in telling them even with young children in the audience but it all went very successfully After ten days traveling together there was a complicity that was great to see as they told jointly. They also sang together. I came away with a renewed faith in the power and appeal of sharing the old stories that people have enjoyed over the centuries. At least one of them I will be bringing home with me.
*1 – Professional storytellers are classed as performers like actors and musicians. This enables them to collect unemployment between gigs.
*2 – In all towns and villages there are places set aside for public, and private, gatherings. Our storytelling group is sponsored by the Maison de Quartier de Kerlede – which is one of five neighborhood centers in St. Nazaire funded by the town. There’s afterschool care, a choir, card groups, yoga, local history and so forth. In early September we have an open house to tell all the offerings and I help person the storytelling table – but then I leave and come back to Indy before the season gets underway.