an autumnal procession

It was a week ago, -- when all the French (the sensible or lucky ones) were spending their last three-day weekend holiday before Christmas season dipping themselves in the Mediterranean, sipping pastis 51 by the Vieux Port of Marseille in oblivious content, and while I donned on earmuffs, gloves, two scarves and a winter coat for the icy journey to Frankfurt-- at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, that exactly 93 years had passed since the cease fire on the Western Front.

Before leaving the house, I glanced at a news photo of Julian Assange in front of the London courthouse with the red poppy of Remembrance on his lapel.

In the sundry lands where I have lived, the eleventh of November is remembered in different ways. I think of the scene in the whimsical Czech film Postřižiny where the wife of the brewery manager cuts her golden hair at news of the armistice, in an exuberant gesture towards Czechoslovak independence. Just days before, I had received an email from the American Embassy in Warsaw cautioning its addressees to avoid the plac Konstytucji, where both right and leftwing demonstrators could potentially clash on the anniversary of Polish independence-- although I could only recall the peaceful celebratory events from last year. And finally winding back to the days in the Midi, when earth, sea, sky were blue even as the calendar raced towards mid-November.

In these parts (Val de Moulin etc), what seems like a more charming, quainter version of Halloween takes place on the evening of 11.11. On Martinstag, or Martinmas and the feast of Martin le Miséricordieux, groups of children carry paper lanterns and candles in an autumnal procession through their towns and villages, singing songs about Saint Martin. And, since the nights here are cold, the children are buried under caps and mittens and woolen sweathers, rounding even more their little forms.

St Martin de Tours cutting a piece of his cloak for a shivering beggar

What exactly this has to do with St Martin, I am not sure. The Catholic Church of St. Elisabeth north of Herrngarten did arrange a horse, on which the saint is often depicted astride, to greet the children after their round about the neighborhood. And there was a jolly bonfire on St Martin's eve on Riegerplatz in Darmstadt's Martinsviertel.

Here is one of the songs the children sing:

Laterne, Laterne,
St Martin's Day owl lantern, watercolor
Sonne, Mond und Sterne,
brenne auf mein Licht,
brenne auf mein Licht,
aber nur meine liebe Laterne nicht.

Lantern, lantern,
Sun, Moon and stars,
Burn my light,
Burn my light,
but please not my lantern bright.

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