Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Carnival Continues - in Binche!

Did you think that was it? One Carnival parade and we were through? You know me better than that! On (Fat) Tuesday we traveled with Karen and Brady and Karen's parents (visiting from the States) to the old fortified hill town of Binche, Belgium. It is located near the eastern part of Belgium, nestled in the French section of the country. Complete opposite of Aalst which was the Dutch celebration. Gotta love a bilingual country!
The origins of Binche's Carnival have been traced back to the 14C and the celebration is recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. So after resting Monday we packed up and went.
We arrived in Binche midmorning and we were immediately enveloped with the Carnival spirit. The small town was packed with people. It was a bit intimidating for two Moms with strollers, but I was astounded by how kind and jovial the entire day stayed. The crowds engulfed us, but also gave us pockets of space for maneuvering and enjoying the atmosphere.

Traditions in Binche include wearing this bright and cheery yellow baby's breath type flower. And most prominent is the tradition of the "Gilles" dancing in the streets. In the morning they dance and clog around in wooden shoes in a mammoth tight-knit circle on the town square with their arms around each other. Karen and family watched Connor and encouraged me to squish closer for a picture. I wasn't getting anywhere and was just "moshing" with the crowd. But then I saw someone break under the Gilles and into the center of the circle. It seemed ok and a good answer to my crowding problem so I did the same. Inside the circle was a collection of drummers pounding out the beat to the "rhythm."

It was roomy and a great opportunity for photos and a better look at the mysterious Gille costume. I snapped my shots and then scooted back out to be with our group, yet exhilarated by the newness and boisterousness of it all.
I urged Karen and family to do the same while I watched the strollers. But when they returned from the circle they told me that made it under the Gilles, but then they were pushed back under and tssk-d out from the middle. Oops. So you aren't really supposed to be in the center without being an official drummer. Oh well. I plead ignorant American Expat.

We wandered around the town and let the kids play with the ever present confetti. They loved throwing it and shrieking at it floating atop one another. Confetti is a hit.
After lunch Karen and family left to return to Brussels, but Connor and I stayed for the afternoon parade. I just hadn't had my fill of the Gilles! It was a long, chilly wait for the parade to start, but my rock star baby slept in her Bob stroller and awoke just in time. Thank you sweet Connor! While I was waiting, I had so much fun people watching. More costumes! More confetti! And more darling children - everywhere. So I had to take pictures.
The parade was much different than the one in Aalst. It consisted of groups or "cliques" of Gilles. Starting with the youngest, wee little ones and gradually growing to the adult men Gilles. Each group had a unique costume identifying them. In between each group there was always a band entourage belonging to that group singing out a melody on their instruments. And then there were also accompanying parents and friends wearing regular street clothes and all carrying backpacks and duffel bags full of blood oranges interspersed with the Gille group. What is up with the oranges?
The tradition is that the Gilles throw the blood oranges to the crowd along the parade route. What is the point? That is the point. Fortunately we were on the front row so many were kind enough to gently hand over the fruit rather than pegging us with it. But in many cases they threw with a lot of force. All of the town windows were well defended with chicken wire against the oncoming oranges. Guess they learned their lesson in past years!

Kirk and August drove up to Binche and met us after work. Unfortunately they didn't get to see it all, but they didn't miss the most famous Gilles dressed in their 8 foot costumes with big feathery hats! And they caught a few blood oranges.Connor did seem to really get a kick out of the day. She experienced it and felt it. I pray that all of these opportunities are positively absorbed into her as her little brain takes it all in.

We ended the day back in our cozy apartment and made pancakes for dinner. That is the traditional "Shrove Tuesday" meal and it was a comfort-laden way to end an exhausting Mardi Gras!

Click here for Binche Carnival Celebration (full album)

1 comment:

Dallas said...

Great pictures. I didn't realize that you weren't supposed to break into the circle. I did that too, but no one seemed to mind. Whoops. :)