Saturday, May 31, 2008

Festival des guitares du monde

...also known as the International Guitar Festival. It's held annually in Rouyn-Noranda, northern Quebec.

We arrived here Friday morning at around 10:30AM, after driving two hours from the cottage in Cobalt. The drive from Toronto to Rouyn-Noranda takes seven hours, so we broke our journey at the cottage on the way up, and plan to spend Sunday night there on our way home.

This is the furthest north I've ever been (the cottage was my former record), and it's an exciting experience. Rouyn is fairly remote, and the people who live here speak only French - unlike Montreal, where most of the folks I encountered tended to be amicably bilingual. It's also interesting to see such a high ratio of Quebecois artists on the performance roster. There are a number of Big Names (Johnny Winter, America, Bruce Cockburn) but the majority of the performers present are best known within the province.

The festival has booked us rooms at the Hotel Noranda, a surprisingly boutique-y little place connected to the convention centre where the majority of the programming is held. The menu is intriguing, particularly the room service:

It's late May, so still cool up here (plus, it's blackfly season), so the Festival is held largely indoors. We're assigned a space in the convention centre, in a room across the hall from two performance spaces, with a third upstairs, so we are in prime position to attract the attention of audiences as they arrive and depart. We have two laptops with us, and the whole building is wireless, so we use one for registration, and put the other on a little table outside our door, playing a slideshow from our Flickr page. This intrigues people - and they poke their heads into our room curiously, wondering what the fuss is about.

Having the Francophone is in his element here - we truly couldn't manage without him, as my Man and I realize how sadly inadequate our long-ago high school French is. We keep at it, though, and by the end of the weekend my Man is able to describe many of the guitar's elements in language that people are at least pretending to understand.

Being in Quebec with the guitar is different than being in any other province so far. The only one I can compare it to is Newfoundland - there is a similar sense of pride of place here, a fierce possessiveness - of ownership - that you certainly don't see back home. It's more than a little moving.

There are certain obvious elements of the guitar that resonate here: the seat from the Montreal forum, the Richard ring. Also the northern mining elements - silver from Cobalt and nickel from Sudbury. But the children are interested in all the stories; they crowd around the Francophone, reaching out with shy hands to stroke the guitar gently, asking questions in rapid French, and eyeing Doug with interest, as he attempts to place them against the backdrop in his own broken French.

The festival director is Alain Vezina, and he runs the show seeming to subsist on nothing but on coffee and granola bars - but with the help of dozens of volunteers, many of whom are members of his family. His sisters, his son, his parents - all of them are present at the festival, dashing about in their FGMAT t-shirts helping artists, patrons, volunteers - Louise even manages to find time to source some freshly caught lake fish for us (we are on the shores of Lac Dufaut here) as well a basket of assorted local cheeses.

This is a photo of the board of the festival, with Alain in the centre holding the guitar, and Louise to the right of him.

Our assigned volunteer was formerly the principal of the town's sole English school. She knows everyone who walks in the door, and tells them all about the guitar with great enthusiasm. In spite of her claims to be computer illiterate, she soon masters our database, and helps people with the registration.

The Photographer takes advantage of a lull in portrait sessions to connect with the family back home. How did we manage before the internet??

Aside from the cheese and my ever-increasing cretons addiction, there is not much of note on the menu in Rouyn - though we did have one spectacular breakfast at the St Honoré Boulangerie, whicih had the most gorgeous selection of breads and pastries, and where the Photographer and I each bought a very exciting-looking Tarte d'Alsace to take home with us.

On our way out of town on Sunday, we stopped at the mine (the economic centre of town) to take a few photos.

Life in a northern town.

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