Village Finds Bridal Party Too Expensive


This village in the Pyrenees needs eight brides for eight bachelors, but has decided that it can't afford to pay $50,000 for them.

Five years ago, in an attempt to keep the village from dying, the bachelors of Plan advertised a three-day party to which young, single women were invited.

The event attracted international attention, became a yearly affair and led to more than 30 marriages, nearly all the couples moved away. Plan still has eight bachelors looking for wives.

It also became very expensive and the village has decided to skip a year, said Miguel Angel Fumanal, president of the Plan Bachelor's Assn. He said it does not have the $50,000 needed to bring in women from across Spain by bus, pay their expenses and throw the party.

"We'll take a sabbatical . . . and use the time to think about what to do next year," he said.

Plan is a picture postcard town nestled among snowcapped peaks above a rushing river, 12 miles from the French border. Old stone houses line its narrow cobblestone streets.

There is not much for young people to do except look at the spectacular scenery or drink beer in the village bar. On a recent evening, there were eight men in the bar and no women.

The inspiration for the first party came to a similar crowd in the bar in January, 1985. While watching the American movie "Westward the Women" on television, the bachelors decided to do just what the frontiersmen did: import women.

In the movie, the goal was to create a new town. The plan in Plan, whose population had declined from 300 to fewer than 200, was to save an old one.

"The parties boosted morale," said the Rev. Jacinto Brallans, Plan's Roman Catholic priest, who presided at the marriages of several couples who met at the annual fiestas. "Young men who have to live alone in a little town like Plan get discouraged."

Brallans said similar problems could be found in many European villages, where farm families had to decide whether to break up their small holdings or pass all the land on to the eldest son.

If the eldest gets it all, which is often the case, younger brothers and sisters move to the cities, he said.

"Many people have left this town," said Jose Prer, a 74-year-old farmer who has spent his life in Plan. "There's no work here."

"Something important was happening here" with the annual party, Brallans said. "The people were fighting to survive."

When they put the ad in a newspaper in Zaragoza, the nearest big town, Plan's bachelors thought few people would notice.

They were wrong. The event was publicized as far away as China. It attracted 100 eligible women, who were brought to Plan by bus from Barcelona, Madrid and Zaragoza, and more than 1,000 other people came to watch.

Outside interest slackened after the first year, however, and the donations needed to finance it began drying up.

Of the couples married as a result of the five annual parties, two have remained in Plan, eight live in four neighboring towns of the Gistau Valley and the rest moved farther away, Brallans said.

Benefits are visible. A new pharmacy, hotel-restaurant and beauty salon have opened in Plan, and Brallans said the population had stabilized at about 200.

Jose Maria Fantova, a 35-year-old bachelor, feels optimistic. He is building a market and intends to stay in the village.

The fiestas attracted enough tourists to fill the hotel in July and August, and a ski resort might show the way to a brighter future for Plan, Fantova said.

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