The weather on Sunday was perfect for Belgian festivals, both modern and historic. We briefly popped into Brussels
to see the World's Largest Tintin Comic Page at the Grand Place, which was indeed large but didn't actually appear to feature Tintin. We then moved on to Ypres
, a town most famous for having been obliterated during three major battles in World War I where a million people were killed, but once every three years famous for the Kattenbelletje.
Lydia was very approving of the pro-cat orientation of the city, which is beautifully built from old stone (all restored with money from Germany's WWI reparations). We had grandstand tickets at the start of the parade and waved our cat flags as the first wave of children dressed up as cats in suits and bowler hats welcomed us to the 42nd Kattenstoet.
"Cat Veneration in History" came next, the Egyptian Cats and Celtic Cats were ho-hum, but the Mediaeval Tomcat was fantastic - a giant daemonic cat head with cats hanging down and eating the eyeballs as drums, accompanied by fire-breathers (the fire-breather very noticeably wiped his chest dry each time before breathing fire, and just as noticeably had no chest hair - once bitten twice shy?).
The historic section of the parade followed. Soldiers escorted a float with a rich priest blessing the crowd, until a bunch of poor peasants rushed the podium, grabbed spears from the soldiers and stabbed the priest. They were in turn over-powered and beaten back into subjugation, a re-enactment of the Iconoclastic Fury of 1566. The Walls of Ypres were then bulit according to the 1678 orders of Louis XIV and Ypres became a city of peace following WWI.
Next were the floats of the Cat in Language and Legend. Puss in Boots was familiar to us, but the floats re-enacting Flemish cat sayings went way over our heads. Proverbs don't seem to translate well in mime - "the fur will fly" and "when the cat's away the mice will play" makes sense, but others don't seem to be cat-orientated in English ("being at loggerheads", "being dead meat", "showing your true colours", "many kiss the hand they wish to cut off" and "doing something forbidden secretly") and some we just didn't understand - "belling the cat", "the funeral of a large cat".
Cats Around the World followed, including Kangaroo cats from Australia, Monkey cats from Africa, the musical "Cats" from England and Garfield from America. Finally Mr Cieper and Mrs Minneke Poes brought up the end of the parade.
Crowds gathered at the base of the Cloth Hall as the City Jester appeared and started to throw kittens from the tower to their death below. No longer a practical solution to the excess of cats at the end of winter and the warding off of witches (with success - they threw cats off the belfry for 900 years without any supernatural occurrences in the city), since 1817 it is toy cats being thrown to the crowd roaring for velvet blood below. The traditional witch burning afterwards was a bit prolonged for us (listening to the thirty minute trial in Flemish got boring quickly), but the
religious hypocrisy of the jury and the emotional distress of witch were oddly powerful in a setting where once innocent women really were burnt to death by screaming crowds in a violent religious ferver. At least the estimated 250 women falsely burnt at the steak in Belgium are remembered today in a warning against giving religion power over the population.
Ypres Sights & Attractions review
Throwing cats from the belfry
Second Sunday in May every year in Ypres is the Kattenbelletje. Once every three years, the festival coincides with Kattenstoet, the Cat Parade.
T… read entire review