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This in not a bear… unless you happen to be in Prats de Mollo on the Sunday before Carnaval. We were there a few days ago for the 2012 event. And, just in case you decide to go there in 2013, here are some clues to what it is all about.
- What’s that man dressed in sheepskin, with a black face and arms? That’s the bear, of course.
- The black pudding? A shaving brush.
- The axe? A razor.
- Those men dressed in white with faces dusted with flour? Barbers.
I’ll let you guess what the long stick carried by the bear represents. A clue: the festival is a fertility rite.
We are welcomed by children throwing bangers at our feet. This, it appears, is normal behaviour, warming-up, part of the game. We climb up to fort Lagarde above the village. There, the three “bears” are being rubbed with oil and dusted with soot.
A few practice fights with the “hunters” and the bears head off for the town. Sometimes they attack young men, but they concentrate on the girls, whether the girls like it or not. Naturally. The girls pretend to be afraid, pretend to run away, but they don’t go too far… and end up tussling on the ground, being “marked” with the soot – usually transferred by rubbing noses.
It is at this point that the hunters intervene. Bim, bam, boom, the guns make the bear loosen his grip. He gets up, stares at the crowd menacingly, and picks out a new victim. And so on, through the streets (and bars) of the village. A running fight which continues for two hours.
Finally the barbers arrive and capture the bears, shaving them with the aid of black puddings and axes, revealing the man hidden under the wool.
The bear has come out of his hide, announcing the end of winter. The sap is beginning to rise. At last spring can begin.