Cheval Blanc, located at the western tip of the Petit Luberon, is one of the youngest communes in France. Indeed, it is only after the Revolution that it became independent from the nearby Cavaillon.
A member of the Luberon Regional Natural Park, it is the starting point for many hikes.
A few years ago, the tradition of the Belles and the Ermites took place at Cheval Blanc on Mardi Gras day. Today it is a Friday during the school holidays in February that Cheval-Blanc knows this funny animation.
Appointment is given early in the morning in front of the town hall.
About twenty young boys - the "Belles" are boys aged between 14 and 18 - arrive in red and white costumes, decorated with ribbons and sequins.
Next to the "Belles" come the "Ermites", also known as "Laides". This group is made up of five or six young people dressed in burlesque women's clothing and excessive make-up.
Each group has bicycles. Those of the Belles are nicely decorated, those of the Ermites are "old nails" with veiled wheels on which they perform various clownish figures.
A tractor, a horse until 1962 which pulls a cart decorated by the participants with boxwood, pine branches and paper flowers, awaits the departure. Perched on it, a few musicians play traditional farandoles all day long.
Belles and Ermites begin their visit in the village, welcomed first in the town hall by the mayor, then in the shops and in the houses wishing to receive them, according to an immutable ritual: the "leader" arrives alone by bicycle to announce the imminent arrival of the troop. A snack is offered to the young people and the farandole leads all these young people and villagers.
Traditionally, the young people would visit the houses where several single girls lived to invite them to the evening ball. Nowadays some inhabitants welcome these merry revellers even if there is no young girl.
The Hermits then take over from the Belles. They throw firecrackers, drink..., kiss everyone in their path, leaving big lipstick marks on their faces. The Hermits collect money, eggs or cold meats to make the "crespèu", a large omelette that they will eat all together and sing the traditional song:
"Vaqui, vaqui reads ermito
Aqueli bravos child
Come and visit us
In memory of other years
Amé la newlo criso
Lis coulet sells more
Lis carroto soun passido
Coupten sus vautre per pas creba! »
Le Bal des Belles
At night, everyone meets at the Bal des Belles. The next day, the Belles turn into Caramentran.
This nickname comes from the Provençal "caramentran" which means entering Lent, incoming Lent. In their turn, the Caramentrans beat the countryside, from house to house, announcing their arrival by singing bawdy songs. They are accompanied by a trailer adorned with a stuffed dummy that will be burned in the evening in the middle of a big farandole. In front of each house, dressed according to their role, they play the same scene of a family affected by misfortune. First comes the mayor who introduces the sad family composed of the widow of the pregnant Caramentran, the drunken son, the wise daughter and the prostitute daughter. The family is accompanied by the parish priest and solicits the generosity of the Chevalblanais.
This feast only takes place in Cheval-Blanc. We do not know the exact origin of this custom which seems to have appeared in the commune at the end of the 19th century. It brings together a mixture of local and Cornish traditions. This double origin in the commune is readily attributed to the presence of English people in the last century in Cheval-Blanc.
The native Chevalblanais are proud of this tradition which they perpetuate thanks to an association in charge of recruiting new Belles every year, the old ones becoming Hermits).
For a Chevalblanais, it was and still is an honour, a pride and above all a joy to "make the Belles". Because at Cheval-Blanc, we are Belles from father to son, even if the new young Chevalblanais are now welcome.
Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator