“The lusty month of May”

I’m writing this on May Day, a holiday in France and elsewhere. The US seems to ignore May Day, maybe it’s been tainted by too many Soviet May Day parades—too many communists and socialists and workers having too much fun.

Here in the Corbieres a different kind of celebration takes place. Actually, it begins the night before and is dedicated to mischief-making, as unnamed persons sneak about in the dark stealing flower-pots, benches, gates, buckets, signs, and anything else not tied down. Then they put those items where they don’t belong. Sometimes it’s a simple trade: my flowers might end up on my neighbor’s step. Sometimes it’s more complicated.

The smarter among us move things from outside to in, but these pranksters are determined and resolute; they always find things to move. This year they piled all the trash dumpsters, a large trailer, several wheelbarrows, benches, street signs and more into the village Place.

This would be called vandalism in America, and the police would no doubt patrol all night to put a stop to it. But here such “vandalism” is sanctioned—even blessed by custom. It’s an excuse for local teenagers to let off a little Spring steam, and no one seems to mind much. Instead, it’s an occasion for good humor and another excuse for the village to come together and sort things out. After all, lugging an iron bench back down the street where it belongs, or searching for your flower pots in a pile of many, is a small price to pay for having a little fun, and honoring an old tradition.

Happy May Day!