Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Curse of the WereBear

There are usually some leftovers after a party. These include the obligatory bottle of wine. You know, the one left over from the last party, the one that seems to go from party to party untouched. Having one bottle always left over is like having a piggy bank that you never smash. You know it will be ready for the next party, and that it will survive that one, and the next.

This time in addition to the obligatory wine bottle, several local beers survived the party. One is a delicious spiced red buckwheat beer called "Coup de Grisou." The label features a man standing on what looks like a mountain at night. Clutching his head in his hands, feet planted apart, knees bent and leaning back in terror, he seems as if his head is either about to explode, or as if he's just been hit by the enormous rock suspended in the air in front of him, from which a pink light emanates.

Asking French-speaking Canadians and Britons what a grisou was, let alone a coup de grisou generated a strange and disparate list of hypotheses. The French Canadian waitress at Pullman wine bar said it was a kind of bear (a grizzly, perhaps?). But since there was no bear on the label, one of my Canadian friends suggested that grisou was a rocky precipice or a flying rock, judging by the illustration (You know, gris-ou, because rocks are grey? At least in Quebec they are). Then my other Canadian companion said that someone told him that grisou meant werewolf, making the head clutching man a lycanthrope in the throes of transformation. Which is all well and good, but it doesn't explain the giant rock hurtling towards his head, unless the rock is actually hurtling away from his head, propelled by the sheer force of his metamorphosis. Finally, my Brit-friend (nearly fluent in French) shrugged and said, "Dunno. A Grizzly bear . . . Hmm, possibly . . ."

Which led me and my two Canadian companions to contemplate the myth of the WereBear (pronounced "Wear Bear," which rhymes with "Care Bear"). Perhaps a coup de grisou is a Canadian form of lycanthropia, or rather ursuthropia: a condition that turns people into bears whenever the temperature drops below zero, which is often concurrent with the start of hockey season. The WereBear might even resemble a Care Bear gone to seed. It's lost its original pink or blue color and turned a kind of puce or grey. A stubby cigarette hangs out of the corner of its mouth. Or maybe it looks more like the scary guy in a bear suit that ornaments a package of motel soap that appeared on Nice Belt a few weeks ago, compliments of a Days Inn in Corning, California. Either way, it's pretty scary.

Ok, so I just looked up coup de grisou on Wikipedia, and it's actually a highly dangerous and inevitably fatal gas explosion in a mine: . It looks as if the image on the beer bottle is based on a nineteenth- century engraving by Gauchard Brunier, pictured here. What a horrible name for a beer, even more violent than a Grizzly bear attack, an avalanche, or a sudden onset of lycanthropia.

At this point, I think I prefer the myth of the WereBear. It's less terrifying than a deadly mine shaft explosion because it's a fairy tale. Which doesn't mean it isn't out there, people.

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