Carnival parades on the French Riviera celebrate pop culture and the Olympics coming to Paris


MENTON, France — As most of Europe moves into the solemn weeks before Easter, the party is just getting started on the French Rivera.

The Mediterranean town of Menton showcased its lush citrus and celebrated the upcoming Olympics in Paris during its Carnival parade on Sunday. Sculptures of athletes assembled from lemons and oranges decorated the streets and rode on giant floats.

Nice, the Rivera’s capital, kicked off its annual Carnival season on Saturday night with a pop culture-themed parade of lights and extravagant floats that featured “Star Wars” character Luke Skywalker as king and Marilyn Monroe, clad in a Superwoman costume, as his queen.

Both festivals on the French Mediterranean coast are derived from a medieval Mardi Gras tradition of staging public spectacles for visiting European nobles. Modern versions of Carnival over the past century have mocked politicians and ridiculed public figures.

But the weekend parades in Nice and Menton avoided divisive politics and grim events, focusing instead on recognizing achievements in film, music, art and sports.

“We wanted to honor the Olympics because Paris is hosting the Games,” Christophe Ghiena, the technical director of Menton’s Lemon Festival, or “Fête du Citron,” said.

The theme of the 90th edition of the Lemon Festival was “From Olympia to Menton.” Ten floats carried giant figures of tennis, rugby and badminton players, a boxer, a swimmer, an equestrian athlete and a surfer called John Lemon down a seaside boardwalk as visitors doubled the town’s population of 33,000.

For each float and the historical scenes lining Menton’s Les Jardins Bioves park, up to 3 tons of fruit were rubber-banded to a mounted wire framework and shaped to reflect the Olympics theme. The Greek goddess of victory, and discus and javelin throwers from the ancient Olympics joined the representations of contemporary athletes.

Nestled between the French southern Alps and the Mediterranean Sea, Menton was once a leading lemon-growing region in Europe but now has only 15 producers. The more than 140 tons of citrus used to build the floats and park displays came from Spain.

“All the lemons we produce locally are not enough to stage the Lemon Festival,” Marine Krenc, an events manager for Menton’s tourism office, said. “Honestly, we prefer that people taste our lemons rather that look at them on display.”

French King Louis XIV enjoyed the juice of Menton’s lemons, drinking its juice and bathing in its essential oils, according to a local legend. In Nice, the mechanical puppets of Luke Skywalker and Marilyn Monroe were crowned with bright lights, cheers and confetti as they took a throne in a central square, accompanied by the “Star Wars” theme song.

In line with this year’s parade theme, the king and queen will oversee their subjects and other pop culture icons in a series of parades until the end of the month, when they will be burned and buried. Barbie, Wednesday of “The Addams Family” and Indiana Jones are some of the other characters to ride on floats.

One politician appeared to have joined the Nice parade crowd on Saturday. It was Donald Trump or so it seemed, until Phillipe Uzan, a visitor from Paris, removed his mask of the former U.S. president.

“He is a character,” Uzan said as confetti fell on his Stars-and-Stripes suit.


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