Pierre the Pumpkin | Halloween 2017 in Montpellier, France | Day of the Dead

Montpellier, and France in general, doesn’t celebrate Halloween, but I do.

I spoke to soon.

Pleasant surprise, last night on Halloween, October 31st, Montpellier’s historic section was full (as usual), yet with a significant number of people in costumes on the mostly pedestrian narrow streets.

And unlike one random secular holiday, France celebrates the ‘Day of the Dead’ which is for them November 1st, for a full week. A week off from school! What?

the joint team grinder, Marlboro tobacco, lighter and OCB papers

grinder, Marlboro tobacco, lighter and OCB papers

As people do often in Montpellier, and in a lot of French towns, they walk around, hence the word promenade – both describing a verb to walk, and a noun, a central commons. Last night after pulling a costume together, I headed into town. Since I had covered a lot of distance bicycling during the day, I raced to catch the tram passing me as I was heading into town, to get on it with my bike. I was surprised and happy to see a group of three girls in costume getting on the train at the same time as I. They proceeded to take one after another selfie. There was another guy sitting alone with a black lace veil and scary looking eyes, when I could see them. He would reveal fangs every once in a while. His head remained straight ahead, perhaps slightly bent down. Duh, he was probably looking at his cell phone. The phone was the only thing out of place as he walked from the train in his black clad macabre nun costume. The train arrived at the central plaza in town by the historical center, la Comedie. Once I maneuvered my bike off at this stop I saw all sorts of costumes.

It was clear that this is one of those rare French towns that clearly does celebrate Halloween. It helps when 25% of the population are students. Sure, it was a small percentage, but this meant an ever flowing bunch of costumes. As I’ve mentioned, people in the town of Montpellier love to stroll, promenade, and certainly tourists as well. They gather in cafes and bars that spill into the streets.

I saw some really pretty scary, realistic looking wounds. wow! Yet only took a few pictures of costumes. There were a bunch of excellent, graphically real looking facial wounds and some very clever home-made costumes. One woman was a walking laundry basket. The group shot I took was because I walked up to a guy with a large metallic looking thing, asking “what is that?”. “I’m a grinder; explaining that they were the joint roller brigade; consisting of the grinder, OCB rolling paper, a pack of Marlboro and a lighter.

Pierre the Pumpkin Halloween in Montpellier, France 2017, where Halloween isn’t celebrated

Today, November 1st isn’t a holiday for me, but it is for France. I was wondering why the copy shop I went to was closed, looking at the sign and knowing it wasn’t that late, perplexed. As I paused on a tree-lined street with my bicycle closer to the center of town, I randomly asked a strolling couple with their two toddlers, “is today a holiday or something?” gesturing at the barricaded shops. They answered, we don’t speak french, we speak English. “It’s the Day of the Dead.” I mean, I knew the kids have a week off from school, but I wasn’t really sure what specific day this holiday landed on. I said, it would be crazy to think of people getting a week off from school for Halloween. I laughed. He’s a diplomat, originally from Flemish Belgium and she’s Turkish. They lingered. We talked for a while. I said I hadn’t remembered Day of the Dead being celebrated in Germany, mentioning I lived in Berlin, knowing they have a large Turkish population. She quickly retorted that Berlin has the largest Turkish population outside of Istanbul. He said “sure, it wouldn’t be celebrated in Germany, they’re Protestant”. Its roots are in the Catholic origins of celebrating ancestors. Their kids speak Flemish (Dutch), Turkish, English and are learning French. The woman’s Turkish name means ‘tree with no roots’. I said, but all trees have roots, and she said exactly. I said, oh, it’s a metaphor. She added that she has always embraced rootlessness, which is why when they met and he was still studying, he decided to become a diplomat so that they could live a lifestyle of travel. They’d lived in Belgrade, Serbia.

The plaza was full of street performers and crowds around them. In this case several groups of break dancing guys with their loud sound system. Each capitalizing on the November 1st holiday, Day of the Dead. I searched the internet and saw November 2nd as the official Day of the Dead, hey, that’s my mother’s birthday; November 2nd. As I continued searching, it turns out that Day of the Dead actually starts on the 31st of October and goes through November 2nd, depending on what culture you participate in and how it’s celebrated. It’s officially on November 1st in France, called La Toussaint, All Saints Day. I found this CBS link showing photographs of this celebration throughout the world, in one form or another. It for the most part is about honoring ancestors. In fact, I hadn’t realized it was such a prominent holiday in Europe. I knew it was a thing in Mexico, but I never knew to what extent. Here’s a good article about its Mexican roots.

paper cut out graffiti

paper cut out graffiti

carol in her halloween costume 2017 to promenade along the montpellier streets

carol in her halloween costume 2017 to promenade along the montpellier streets

decided to grab a pumpkin from the grocery store today

roasted pumpkin seeds

I sure am fond of Pierre

His shape made me spontaneously draw him out.

hIs hat is very shiftable!

Pierre with an Asian cut

This was the spontaneous costume this past saturday

back in March in Santa Fe

Bicycles Rule | Healthier and Happier Riding Bikes | CycLAvia | Critical Mass

On a hopeful note, on Sunday, October 7th, 2012 100,000 people took to the streets of Los Angeles. Instead of whizzing by the city in a blur in their automobiles, or for that matter sitting in traffic jams with their annoyance levels rising, they were out in the streets on bicycles, en masse.

People claimed that they were seeing things they never saw before; checking things out for the first time that they never realized were there, just by slowing down and cruising around on bicycles. It was like a big street party, as the writer of this article Ari Bloomekatz describes in the Los Angeles Times. The CicLAvia bicycle festival, during which time bicycles rule downtown LA for a day, was inspired by a weekly
ciclovía festival that has been taking place once a week for the last three decades in Bogotá, Columbia.

Other cities in Latin American and the United States have had similar festivals. The ‘critical mass’ bike riding event was first initiated in San Francisco. The idea is that if enough people join in, the bicycle is no longer a dangerous extraneous potential victim in a ‘car-driven culture’, but that when many bicycles come together, they tip the scale to the critical mass, and ‘become traffic’. The San Francisco critical mass has been taking place the last Friday of every month from downtown San Francisco by the Embarcadero, for decades, since it started in 1992. Something similar to this was going on in Stoclkholm, Sweden in the early 1970‘s. The critical mass bike ride has basically swept across the country and sprung up in metropolitan areas all over the United States, for sure in various European cities as well. New York city has had a long established ‘critical mass’ of its own and plenty of other bicycle related activities, sponsored by a very heavily active organization for the cause Time’s Up. As they say on their home page: “TIME’S UP! is a New York City-based not-for-profit direct-action environmental group that uses events and educational programs to promote a more sustainable, less toxic city.”

I’ve personally ridden in dozen’s of the San Francisco critical mass as well as several when I lived in New York city. The Halloween Critical Mass has always been a great one. Well, Halloween itself and the Day of the Dead/ Dios de los Muertos for sure have been dampened by the recent storm, and my heart goes out to all of those families who have had their lives and homes robbed from them. I’ve heard that in light of the fact that the public transportation has been deluged with water, that there are plenty of people resorting to riding bicycles, which should be prioritized in many metropolitan areas anyway. People would be healthier and happier, if they resorted to riding bikes more often! One of the stunning sensations I had when riding bicycle among thousands of other people during a critical mass bike ride, was to see the streets clogged with people, and yet to predominantly have silence; the hushed sound of only a breeze of people going by – no noise pollution or loud motors whatsoever – fantastic!