Sunday, 16 March 2014

A Basque-Country Carnival

Let me start by boasting about an improvement in the weather... LOOK!
After! Not actually the same beach, but you get the idea.
So, I have now been working in France for two whole weeks! *gasp* I thought I would be seriously flagging by now after being softened up to the 12-hour week of a language assistant, but I have actually got into the flow of work and am really enjoying the placement. So yay!

But I'm not going to write about work. This post is about my interesting (and slightly bizarre) experience yesterday at the Biarritz Carnaval! I was a little miffed to be leaving Germany just before the Karneval in Cologne, so I'm glad to say this experience served to compensate a little.

Now, Biarritz is in the Basque country, so one might expect plenty of traditional folk dancing and Basque costumes going on. And you would be right. There were costumes and folk dancing galore. There was, however, a whole lot more to it than that!

My first inkling that something was going on in the city was hearing a weird rhythmic bell/drum beat whilst quietly minding my own business in a café. It turned out to be coming from a group of men dressed in sheepskins and pointy hats, with giant bells strapped to their backs, who marched rhythmically up and down outside the café window. Next came a whole procession of people in costumes (mostly involving paper streamers stuck indiscriminately onto hats, coats and skirts), followed by a road train. Obviously.
Sheep-men with bells
Also among the crowd were plenty of people wearing giant papier maché heads, some of them with slightly disturbing grimacing faces. Almost all of them seemed to be carrying sticks with small beanbag-style sacks hanging from them. The purpose of these was, as far as I could observe, to swing at passing children, who would then attack the bag with their toy swords. (Come to think of it, why did so many children have swords? Must be tradition...) The fancy dress ideas of the other procession members varied from overweight batman to entirely-wrapped-in-scarves, with a whole range of enthusiastic and not-so-enthusiastic participants in between. At the end of the whole parade came a slightly out-of-place-looking almost-rock band with electric guitars, bass, snare drum and accordion, all of them looking very French in their black berets.
One of the less-freaky specimens. Observe stick in hand...
In the meantime, I had received a text from my boss inviting me to one of the town's parks, where there would be more events and her god-daughter would be taking part in a hip-hop dance performance. On the way up there I spotted this wonderful gem:
It's a Battle Crêpes!!! (Or a crêpe battle, in case you hadn't worked that out!) The flyer instructed participants to bring half a dozen crêpes to the Parc Mazon for an epic battle... Only in France!

A crowd seemed to be gathering on the park's fronton court (apparently fronton is a sort of violent form of squash (the sport, not the vegetable) which people in this region are very keen on), so I headed that way and observed the aforementioned procession (minus train) gradually arrive and form a substantial crowd. After a few minutes milling around, we were all shunted to the sides, leaving space for the performances to start. As mentioned, hip-hop dancing ensued, with impressive results (my boss tells me they have a pretty successful club going). After this came some more traditional Basque folk dancing, accompanied by a group of rather shrill whistles/recorders/pipes. Part of the dancing involved some intricate footwork around a glass on the floor, which seemed to be a bit much for the performers, most of whom managed to break theirs. This left the coordinators to rush on and hurriedly sweep up the broken glass and replace it with a new one for the next dancer to break.
Hastily replacing the glass
Glass-breaking aside, however, most of the dancing was great, with some very impressive costumes.
Glass-breaking dancers before the glass-breaking occurred
Dancers in baggy shirts, veils and streamer wigs.
Then everyone descended on the court again (slightly worrying with all the broken glass lying around) and enjoyed the many delights on offer such as the bouncy castle, coffee and crêpes (crêpe-battle leftovers perhaps?), and kiddies' tug-of-war. I'm not sure there's anything cuter than seeing a tiny child in a unicorn onesie trying to take on her entire friendship group in a tug-of-war. Another cuteness-overload moment occurred when two tiny children who could barely walk, one in traditional Colombian costume (complete with hat) and one in a tiny tiger onesie, started holding hands and dancing around giggling. The cutest!
Unicorn-onesie had called for reinforcements by this time
After some more general milling around, people seemed to congregate around a small fenced-in area at the far end of the court, where a dummy-man made of clothes stuffed with newspapers was sitting in a chair. I forget what the point of this was, but I gathered from my boss's interpretation of the commentator that the man the dummy represented was supposed to have jumped into some water and made such a big splash that it flooded some important places... Plus he didn't pay for his drinks at a strip club. I'm slightly vague on the details.

But of course, he had to be punished. So they set him on fire, much to the trauma of all the observing children.
Commentator recites the numerous misdeeds. Newspaper man still unsure of his fate...
Three against one! Seems a little unfair...
Things aren't looking great for poor newspaper man
After all this came, of course, some middle aged ladies line-dancing to 'God bless Texas'.

And that, following a lovely meal at my boss's flat (she is the best), was my experience of Carnaval! Beats Cologne any day! I'm just sorry I never found the crêpe battle...

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! I LOVE the sheep men! And...crepe battles?? Why am I not doing this RIGHT NOW??? But this whole thing looks like of scary! I would probably have run away. XD

    I'm glad you're settling in to the work load! :)