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Living history in Quebec: New France Festival.

King Louis XIV needs a break. Dressed in lace and topcoat, he's been strutting and posing for over an hour in Quebec City's crowded Place Royale. He's hot under his shoulder-length curls. "Do you mind?" asks the King. As he strikes a match against his silver-buckled shoe and lights up a very 21st-century cigarette, he smiles. "Our festival may not be 100 percent authentic," he explains. "For instance, Louis XIV never visited here," he adds with a puff and a wave toward the bust of his namesake in the square. "But everyone, including the king," he reassures us, "keeps within the spirit of the time. And that, I adore."

For five days each August, Quebec City residents descend on the cobblestone streets and along their historic ramparts, dressed as peasants and priests, bourgeois and royalty. With street theater, music, costumes, parades, and a Mardi Gras-style joie de vivre, they celebrate the days when France ruled the colony: from 1608 when Samuel de Champlain planted his French flag on the rocky promontory overlooking the scenic St. Lawrence River to 1760 when British rule took over after a battle on the Plains of Abraham.

The ambiance today forgets that decisive victory in return for joyous celebration of a soulful, lively French colony. Turn a corner to come upon the coifed-and-laced, love-struck couple reciting poetry to each other, teenagers doing reels to fiddles, Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys with her secret to a healthy life (vegetable soup and eight hugs a day) and yes, King Louis XIV himself.

"It's fun to dress up and celebrate our history within the old walls at the very place where everything began almost 400 years ago," says Andre Parent, general manager of the New France Festival. "It's also very special. There is no other festival like it on the entire continent."

Indeed, most living history celebrations in North America take place in fields, not the main streets of a major city, and usually for just one or two days. Here, the unique backdrop of Quebec City makes an ideal five-day stage for hundreds of costumed actors, volunteers, representatives of the colony's first families, vendors at the daily outdoor market, and, at last count, some 300,000 visitors.

Although artistic director Andre Perusse starts rehearsing his street actors in winter, anyone can take on a costume and a personage. Half the citizenry dresses up and they invite guests from around the world to do likewise.

Though the characters may change from year to year--for instance, the duc d'Orleans will be representing French Royalty this summer--there is always a constant theme through the more than 1,000 events. This year it's Jouez le Jeu (Play the Game), so visitors can anticipate dancing to violins at an outdoor ball, playing with traveling circus-like jesters, and partaking in card games. Apparently, Jean Talon, the colony's first intendant appointed by Louis XIV, paid the colony's debts one winter with IOUs on the backs of playing cards.

Plans are already gearing up for next year's 400th birthday bash in Quebec City. During the New France Festival, giant puppets, each a symbol of the soul of the Festival, will be coming from Europe. But so the crowds.

As Josee Laurence, senior executive director of Quebec's 400th anniversary bash and former general manager of the New France Festival says, "Here we play with history and make it fun. People come not only for the historical re-enactment but also for the joyful spirit. And we are the guardians of that spirit." No doubt, King Louis XIV would agree.

The New France Festival takes place August 1-5, 2007. For more information, visit
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Title Annotation:!Ojo!
Author:Pocock, Kate
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jul 1, 2007
Previous Article:Pedals for Progress.
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