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Menton Lemon Festival, and a Folklore Group Safeguarding Mentonnais Culture

On Wednesday, February 21st, the fifth day of the 90th Menton Lemon Festival, the folklore group La Capeline de Menton performed traditional music, singing, and dancing to retrace the steps of their 19th-century Mentonnais ancestors. Imagine a light flute following the steady rhythm of a beating drum while girls and women dressed in long striped skirts and white blouses march around the stage in intricate group choreography. Every element of the performance is about storytelling.

“The chanting talks about how life was in Menton in the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century,” said Mireille Mireux, secretary of the folklore group, folk dancer, and Menton native. “The dancing helps us relive this tradition.”

The performance evokes several distinct elements of Menton heritage: the Mediterranean Sea, which gave locals not just a magnificent coastline but the ability to fish; the four valleys of Menton, which brought grape harvests and olive picking; the “bouquetsières,” or flower girls distinguishable by their Grimaldi-colored skirts and small bouquets; and peasant agriculture, which brought lemons to the forefront of Mentonais agricultural production and still lends all the traditional scents to Menton’s covered market.

“Life in Menton was modest and was mostly centred around the old town – which, of course, is still inhabited today – where everyone knew each other and where most of the trading took place.”

Menton Lemon Festival La Capeline de Menton

©La Capeline de Menton

As one might imagine, lemons played an important role in the local culture and economy. While the smaller lemons were traded locally, while the larger lemons were exported as far as the Nordic countries in exchange for fabrics and codfish, the latter of which was salted and dried and became a Mentonais specialty. It was also on these trade ships that the sailors realized that eating lemons kept away scurvy. Thus, lemon was an important export and a life-saving medicine because of its vitamin C properties.

The people of Menton are fiercely proud of their culture. Despite being conquered by various countries over the centuries – France, Monaco, Italy, and Germany, to name a few – their heritage remains unique, though threatened by new residents with no attachment to the local history and culture.

“We’re trying to safeguard what I call the special ‘taste’ of this land. But unfortunately, we have trouble recruiting new members to the group, because newcomers naturally aren’t invested in the dialect, and in Mentonais traditions,” Mireille explained.

Menton Lemon Festival 20

©Margherita Bassi

Newcomers to Menton aren’t a novelty, however. Nicknamed the “pearl of France,” the French Riviera town attracted many rich foreigners during the winter, especially from England, starting at the end of the 1700s. This meant that many locals were employed in the hotel and catering industry. Luxurious villas and palaces began to pop up all over the place. They are now deemed historic buildings and were internally converted into apartments.

In 1875, hoteliers asked the municipality to create a parade to entertain the foreign aristocrats, royalty, artists who flocked to Menton during the winter months, and the locals. By 1982, the parade was an international hit, with Queen Victoria in attendance. However, it wasn’t until several decades later that the parade became a truly citrus-themed festival. In 1929, another hotelier organized a flower and citrus exposition in the gardens of the Riviera Hotel. The exposition was such a hit that the following year, the streets were filled with lemon- and orange-covered parade floats, and the Citron Festival as we know it was officially born in 1934.

Menton Lemon Festival 2024

©Margherita Bassi

This year, La Capeline de Menton participated in the parade with a boxing-themed citrus float given to them by the city hall, and the folklore troupe also opened a stand to sell souvenirs like postcards and magnets. They perform all throughout the year, however, and sometimes they even travel to share their culture across France and abroad.

“We have a very particular history, and like any region, we care about safeguarding our roots,” Mireille concluded.

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Author Profile:

Margherita Bassi writerMargherita Bassi is a trilingual freelance journalist with a particular interest in history and culture. You can find more of her work on her website.


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