Saturday, 16 February 2019

La Cantéra

The Outcasts is set in the French Pyrenees at a time when life followed an age-old pattern, dictated by the changing seasons. Livestock was taken up into the high valleys from the end of May to the beginning of October. Shepherds and their dogs were vital for keeping the flocks safe during this time. Bears, wolves, eagles were all a threat, in addition to wild weather.   

Before leaving the shepherd to his lonely life in the mountains, groups of local people accompanied him for a part of the journey while taking large flocks of sheep, goats, cows and horses up to their usual pastures. In the villages en route, there would be a gathering of the people, consumption of food and alcohol, and music. This was generally called a cantéra - a spontaneous concert of traditional ballads, some of them dating from ancient times. Everybody joined in, no matter how well or badly they could sing.
 The Pipe Player is still a popular song, performed at many cantéras across the Pyrenees. You can see a version in this video, uploaded by Ellen Chapoulié

'Il habite la-haut, perdu dans la montagne,
Le soir quand il fait beau un grand chien l’accompagne...’

The pipe player lives up in the mountain,
On fine evenings a large dog accompanies him.

The song goes on to tell how the piper lives so high up he can touch the stars. On his pipe he plays the song of the wind and the music of the birds.

The Pyreneen sheepdog, large, strong and intelligent, is a working dog. Used to the harsh climate of the high mountains, he spends his life protecting his flock from predators.

Not all the animals in the high Pyrenees are dangerous 

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The Pyrenean chamois [called  an "isard"] lives above 2,000 metres. It's shy but curious.

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The marmot also lives at high altitudes. They live in large groups in burrows.

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