Ypres Cat Festival
The Cat Festival is held every three years and I think this makes it a little more special in the town's (and tourists) eyes. It seems the whole township gets involved with costume making and float decorations. I managed to get a stand ticket – anyone thinking of attending should definitely get a ticket as the alternative is standing in a crowd on cold cobblestones for 3 hours. The stands were very comfortable (particularly so when you bring a cushion), not crowded, and with excellent views.
The first part of the parade is for the Sponsors. They drive past in their liveried vehicles throwing lollies or pens or other nik naks into the crowd. Some over-enthusiastic young lads have a good right arm and you certainly know it when a boiled lolly conks you in the forehead. I became rather good at catching them after that. The Japanese opposite were very vicious when it came to scoring the lollies – they were highly competitive to the point of "crowd surfing".
After the pens and lollies came the real parade and as you can tell by the photos, it was quite spectacular. The costumes were brilliant, the make-up was excellent and the smiles on the children’s faces was just pure delight. The parade lasted about 1.5 hours and then the whole square came alive with performers and watchers mingling, eating and drinking.
At 6pm they opened the Bell Tower and one of the Jesters began the Throwing of the Cats. He was very good at getting the crowd riled up and competing for the throwing direction. He had them jeering at the other sections and cheering for their own, until the din was overwhelming, echoing off the walls of the Cloth Hall and church. When he eventually threw a few cats, the crowd went mental – body slamming people out of the way – all for the sake of a small stuffed toy. A few very brave souls ventured into the catching area with a child on their shoulders but with the added weight, they lacked the dexterity to land a prize and it looked awfully dangerous and disappointing for the children.
The Jester managed to string it out for about an hour – throwing about two dozen cats.
Afterwards the Trial of the Witch pageant took place. It looked well acted and I got most of the story from the charades but as it was all in Dutch, it didn’t really hold the audience – especially the Japanese. After the witch had been suitably “framed” and found guilty, The Burning of the Witch began. Unfortunately after the initial impressive explosion, the bonfire failed to light and the firemen (dressed as Executioners) had to help it along with some kero.
And a wonderful day was had by all.
PS. It’s Mother’s Day (in Australia) – the first one without my mum. The BOSS found a suitable stand-in so it seems I have become totally redundant and can stay away indefinitely.