I was there with the chorale from Darney, singing Gounod's Messe Brève. A wonderful experience for someone who gave up singing when she was 15. But even more riveting were the uniformed celebrants in the church.
Did you know?
* The Gendarmerie nationale works with the civilian force, the Police nationale, but it is a branch of the French armed forces, charged with maintaining public safety, and has served in Afghanistan.
* It derived from the Maréchaussée de France, which policed runaway soldiers and looters during the Ancien Régime. At the time of the Renaissance, its powers were extended to include policing the general populace.
* Today's Gendarmerie nationale was created in 1791, during the years of the Revolution.
* The guy to your left was also represented at the mass in Mirecourt. He is a member of the Chasseurs Alpins (what a dashing name and beret!). These elite mountain battalions were formed in response to the perceived threat of Italian invasion in 1888, during the years of the struggle for Italian unity. They also fought in North Africa and Afghanistan.
* Best of all - the huge beret that the Chasseurs Alpins wear is referred to as a 'tarte'!
And then there was the gendarme with the yard-long shiny boots - whispered by my alto friend to be a 'chevalier, the worst of all!' It later transpired that he was simply in the Gendarmerie's motorcycle corps. But I'd rather have imagined myself in a church full of chevaliers ...
Later, there was the 'pot' (reception with drinks), where we mingled freely with these dashing heroes, all still wearing our coats so that they knew we knew we were not that welcome. The pot is a mystical thing, whose name has always been whispered with reverence at any musical event I've attended. People get hot under the collar when there isn't a pot offered. Its abundance is the measure of its quality, to be sought out over many miles. A little in the way that the yardstick for a good Irish mass is its brevity. (Is Gounod's mass popular in Ireland?)
Final mystery: It was only later that I realised that Sainte Geneviève's Feast Day is actually 3 January. I presume the gendarmes are fully committed to more pressing business just after the New Year. Or do you know better?
Here we all are below, singing our hearts out.