Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Les Pastoralis

I may have mentioned before that I belong to an Internet based club which is a place where single people can suggest outings, decide how many people can come on the outings etc. Well I recently went on such a day trip. The rendezvous time was 8.30am in a small town 40 minutes south. From there we took a very long, winding road up the side of a mountain until we eventually reached the Plateau de Beille. In the winter this is a place for skiing, show shoe walking, cross country skiing etc, but now the sun was shining and stewards were directing the cars into the large car parks. If you ever wondered where the big camping cars go on their holidays, this is the place to see them. There must have been at least 100 of them parked up there, so that’s 100 x £37,000 = £3,700,000 or enough money to keep me in Cadbury’s cream eggs for many lifetimes.
This annual event is a bit like a farming show in the UK, but it’s aim is to celebrate the life and work of those like the shepherds, the way that the transhumance (moving flocks of sheep, herds of cattle etc up to the mountain pastures in early summer and back down in Autumn) helps to manage the vegetation on the slopes. It is also a chance to see the merens horses, which are the descendents of the horses featured in the cave drawings found in this part of France. Short in height, black as night. There were also farmers stalls selling cheeses. Local specialities, hand carved walking sticks, etc. There were stands and tents promoting other sections of the rural community. The hunters with their stuffed trophies on display, the trappers, the people who want the wild wolves and bears which are starting to damage flocks to be killed, the association that does not want wolves trapped and killed (he was not getting much foot traffic, despite having a toy wolf swinging from a gibbet as part of his display).

There were about 20 cows and bulls on display in pens, each with the name of the animal, pedigree, farmer, cost per kg displayed on a board above their pen.
Yes this was a competition. Eventually a prize was presented for the best animal raised by an adult, and also a prize for the best animal looked after by a child.

The show champions

The latter gave an opportunity for more speeches about how brilliant that children were carrying on the traditional ways etc.
There were about 9 of us in our group and we wandered round the stalls, watched the sheep being herded into pens, listened to music from various groups, watched the traditional dancing etc.
We were also here to do some hill walking, so we had an hour and a half walk before lunch time.

Some mountain porn.
more mountain porn

Ahh. No it is not me. I have better legs.

The men had bought meal tickets for 17.50 euros each, the ladies decided that they would buy food from one of the many stands selling freshly spit roasted pork etc.
Our organiser had assured us that the meal would be copious, but it was very disappointing, both in quality and quantity, but it did get us out of the sun for an hour and a half.
During the meal, as I tried to cut into my bits of smoked sausage, it was pointed out to me once again that the done thing is to travel with your own pocket knife to use to cut up your meat etc whenever it might be required.
So we had sheep, horses and a herd of cows on the adjacent pastures. There were also various walks available. The most different to the normal walk was a chance to help train husky dog sled dogs. You were roped to a dog and the constantly straining animal pulled the walker along behind them. Some of the dragged were finding it a bit of a strain as they leaned backwards to stop being pulled over.

After we found the ladies again (under a tree nowhere near where they had last been seen) we set off on another walk in the opposite direction. Once again the scenery was spectacular.

Once back on the site again, we watched displays by people from the Forges des Pyrenees (a museum which focuses on the lives and various metiers which once thrived in the Ariege, but which have mostly now disappeared), so we had a knife sharpener, a blacksmith, a man making millas etc.

The daily grind

Man on fire

Just the job for a hot day. This paste
is poured into a tray, When it hardens
it looks like fudge. I don't know what
it tastes like, or whether it gets cooked
in an oven.

There were speeches denouncing government policies and also the presence of wolves and bears in the mountains. (you will often see “STOP OURS” written on roads, beside roads etc in this area). (OURS = bears)
There was also a motley crew of gentlemen assembled, wearing hats, big cloaks (in the blistering sun) and each with a little, a huge medal on a ribbon and a white sheepskin bag slung round their neck. I think that they were probably something like a worshipful company of shepherds. They filed onto a stage and two women were invested into their number, with two of the existing members taking one each under their wing, draping their own cloaks over the ladies shoulders, and giving them their own sheepskin pouch.

The yeti?
Next up were the dancers that we had watched earlier who now turned into a choir and sang on the stage and then danced on stage (wearing their big wooden sabots (cogs) which madetheir moves even more entertaining.

8 pipers piping
So much more happened during the day, but I have rambled on long enough.
For example there was the purchase of a black beret, which I had embroidered with the initials of the choir that I belong to,. but ......
One of the last events was for the remaining crowd to part, so that the herd of meren horses could gallop through the middle of us. (not a Health and Safety officer in sight)

Anyway when I got home my little cap had not done a good job of protecting me from the sun and I looked like a true rosbif.
p.s. No one was harmed in the taking of these photos.

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