By Veronica

Where's the bear?

We went to Arles sur Tech today for the Fête de l'Ours. This is the equivalent of Groundhog Day, as it's the day the bear officially comes out of hibernation. In fact the original date was February 2, the same as Groundhog Day, but the three villages in the Pyrénées Orientales that maintain this tradition all arrange it for different weekends in February, preferably coinciding with school holidays, so that people can go to all three. 

We were at the festival in Prats de Mollo four years ago and the two things I remember most vividly were a) the freezing cold and b) the violence. You can read about it here . This time we set out prepared, clad in four layers of clothing that we didn't mind being smeared with a mixture of soot and oil. However, not only was it a warm day, the Arles version turns out to be a lot more family-friendly. No soot and oil, and only one bear, who restricts himself to attacking the hunters and the trapper's girlfriend Roseta. The hunters and bear process around the town to music in a relatively decorous fashion, stopping in each square for a bit of rough and tumble and a speech (in Catalan) from the trapper. At the end the bear is captured and shaved with an axe before joining in the dance to celebrate the spring.

Because the streets are narrow, it was very crowded and difficult to see, so halfway round, fed up of looking at the back of people's heads, I took a short cut to the Place de l'Eglise and staked out what I thought was a prime position in the front row while I waited for S. Unfortunately after half an hour the barbers arrived, told everyone to move back to make room for the barber's chair, and I was trampled by bigger people and ended up at the back. Sigh. So my view of the ritual shaving was this. There's a small Flickr album -- odd angles and blur are due to shooting between people's heads.

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