The town of Granville sits on a promontory in the Baie de Mont St Michel, north of Avranches. Built largely in the 12th century, and enlarged later by the English, the town never amounted to a great deal, and even escaped any significant damage in the last war. During the Hundred Years War, the town was on the side of the English against the French. Today, its business is mostly tourism, with yachting of some significance. There is an annual sailing competition, and a large marina. It is still a working fishing port: there is a sailing vessel, called a bisquine, developed for fishing in local waters around Granville and St Malo, with a few examples left in use for entertainment and display, rather than working.
The old town is surrounded by a medieval city wall, but there are very few really interesting buildings. Plenty of narrow streets, and old domestic buildings, but nothing outstanding. There are two museums in the old town: a Granville history, and a new museum of modern art: Musée d’Art Moderne Richard Anacréon. This summer, there was an exhibition of photographs by Jacques Henri Lartigue, which I wanted to see. Lartigue was an early 20thC photographer who achieved some extraordinary images for the time, starting from when he was just a boy.
Never having previously visited the museum, we were following signs as we walked through the old town. We came to a building with an imposing portico with columns, and various posters on the railings, so we assumed this was it and walked in. In fact, it was a small theatre, and there was a musical rehearsal in progress. We went back out, but were followed by two ladies, who told us that this was a rehearsal for a free concert that evening. The theatre was being used for training singers – a short course, or stage – and this was the just ending. The concert was to allow the trainees to perform in public and demonstrate their newly developed skills. And not only was the concert free, there was a little reception at the end with rose wine, also free. They were very keen that we come, 'if you have nothing to do, it should be interesting, we will be very pleased. Free concert, free wine, and imploring ladies: how could anyone resist, so we pitched up later.
As ever with events like this in Normandy, it was late starting. Same with firework displays, entertainment performances at fetes, large scale public dinners, concerts and everything else. For some reason, there appear to be no effective producers for any public event, so nothing is ready on time. No matter. The teachers did a couple of songs, accompanied by a pianist, to relax the audience: the theatre seats about 60, and was full to overflowing, which I am sure was encouraging to them. Then the trainees each did a song or two, or even three. They were all very competent, good voices, mostly interesting songs, Very little of what one might call stagecraft for the main part: they came on, sang, and went off.
The exception was a bloke in his 40s, who did two comic songs, very well. He knew how to relate to the audience, his timing was excellent, and he had everyone in his hand. The second song, which has stayed in my head, was about everything going wrong and the frustrations from that. Each problem finished with him singing 'J'ai dit Merde!, doucement/simplement. Ca fait du bien' (I said shit, softly/simply. That will do), varying the volume and the timing. By the fourth verse, the audience were joining in, but he fooled them by changing the pauses, and the volume. Never found out his name, or that of any of the other performers. At the end of the show he did a serious song, very professionally.
So there we are, an unexpected entertainment, followed by a glass of wine, with friendly people. What better way to finish a late summer's day. And the Lartigue exhibition was terrific.