The Pantalonada: Carnaval Biarnés Commences

Saturday marked the start of one of my favorite times of the year in Pau:  Carnival.

We moved to Pau in a February two years ago, and I wasn’t entirely sure how much I would like living here; it seemed very charming but also very subdued. But one day about two weeks after our arrival, we were doing some exploring when we stumbled upon the “Pantalonada,” a procession that marks the first day of the Carnival celebration in Pau.   I fell in love with the spirit and exuberance that I saw that day, and I realized that there was more to Pau and the Palois than meets the eye.  For an outsider at times the Palois may seem a bit close-minded, a bit exclusive and hard to connect to, but they also know how to PLAY and be joyful.

Pau is the most important city in the Béarn region

Carnaval Biarnés (Carnival of the Béarn region) has roots in Italian Carnevale and Comedia dell’Arte, however it is also delightfully regional and very unique.

I will be putting up posts throughout the following week, giving you a taste of all the different colorful and sometimes bizarre festivities that will be occurring. The photos I will be posting are a mix of images and videos that I have captured from 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Let me take you on a bit of trip through the magic of Carnaval Biarnés, starting with the Pantalonada!


I missed the first 30 minutes of the Pantalonada this year, so the first 11 images are NOT mine, but are taken from the Carnaval Biarnés website.  They are photos from last year, and you’ll notice it was an overcast day and they are all a bit too grey. But you’ll still get the gist of how carnival commences.

The Pantalonada, the first day of Carnival, celebrates the arrival of Sent Pançard (which in the Oc languages kind of translates to Saint big belly). Sent Pançard, a delightfully fat and grotesque character with a pig’s nose, is the patron saint of the festival.  He represents all sorts of sinful human qualities – lust, greed, gluttony, etc.  Every February he storms into town and encourages all the people of Pau to be as debauched as possible in the 11 days leading up to Lent.

Sent Pançard prepares to charge into Pau

Sent Pançard and his entourage making their way through Pau

Every year the “bourgeois” of Pau place a barricade in the street to keep St. Pançard out of town.

Bourgeois Palois hiding behind the barrier they hope will keep Sent Pançard out of Pau

Sent Pançard’s entourage reach the city “gates.”  Pançard’s gendarmes confront the guards,

and then his army of “bouffons” tries to break through the barrier

 but they fail.

The Palois however are persuaded to let Sent Pançard into town when he offers them a few barrels of wine.

   The bouffons proceed to break down the wall

and St. Pançard is free to enter the city.
(Photos from now on are mine)
After having bullied and bribed his way into the city, Sent Pançard and his colorful entourage victoriously wend their way through the cobbled streets of Pau.
Sent Pançard’s court is composed of myriad colorful characters – each guild of performers costumes have a particular symbolism and history.  These include gypsies and flag bearers, bell-ringers and sheep-herders, wine merchants and chefs, musicians and chimney sweeps…
The costumes for those who take part in Pantolonada itself are highly traditional and specific, however other Palois who are not officially part of the parade will often spice things up with somewhat more non-traditional costume choices.
 Palois of every age come out on the streets to enjoy the festivities:
And children seem enthralled:
Regional music fills the streets:
Sent Pançard, in full glory, is taken by chariot to the City Hall (Hotel de Ville), accompanied by his loyal subjects,
who march and sing and dance as he enters the building.
Sent Pançard, rogue that he is, strolls into the Mayor’s office and demands the key of the city.  She gives it to him in front of all the people of Pau, with the plee that he not act dishonorably or in a vile manner.  He guarantees that he will make a royal mess of the place (and he does so, by the way, using a lot of colorful language, as is his wont) He encourages the crowd to sing and party.
For the next hour characters perform traditional songs and dances
and a character who represents Lent gives Sent Pançard a very clear warning.
St. Pançard is not the type to be worried for long.  He leads his procession back through town to a special tent set up for Carnival in Place Verdun.
Everyone is encouraged to eat lots of meat, drink lots of booze and be as immoral and unsavory as possible, and have a generally good time. Fire-eating is encouraged.
People eat and drink, make merry and then at 11 PM gather for a free concert.
In 2010 we saw Lou Dalfinan Occitan-Italian group.  Fantastic (but sadly I don’t have more than a few seconds of video):
In 2011 Pau invited a Ska-Oc group called Goulamas’k– which blended ska with traditional southern French music.
So awesome – watch the bagpiper rocking out:
And finally this year we saw a Northern Italian Oc group Lou Tapage that call their style Nu-Folk Rock d’Oc. They were a bit more clean-cut than Goulamas’k, but still totally rocked.  We danced the whole time although we had no idea what the steps were.  Drinking a bit before-hand helped.
 And thus ends the FIRST day of Carnival, Pau-style.  The next event, the Hunt of the Bears on the 15th, is one of the most bizarre and hilarious nights of the festival in my humble opinion.  Happy Valentine’s Day and please come back next time to enjoy more armchair Carnival.

~ by zoetropic on February 15, 2012.

6 Responses to “The Pantalonada: Carnaval Biarnés Commences”

  1. Love local traditions! Great photos, lovely to hear you are enjoying living in France – I have always wanted to live there at least for a while – but I think my French had better impprove first!

    • Why wait? The best way to learn better French is to come on over 😉 When I first got to Venezuela for example I didn’t speak a word of Spanish beyond “Hola” – but you learn SO much faster when you are surrounded by native speakers!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful and unique images… so colorful, so fun!!!! Over here, getting ready for the largest street carnival in the world, Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil… and loving it! See more from Brazil´s street party here

  3. […] de l’ours” or Bear Hunt takes place several days after the first day of carnival, The Pantolonada (which I described in my previous post).   As described by the official Carnaval website, “The Bear Hunt is a brief moment of […]

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