Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sun 14 Feb - Binche Carnival

Went to my first Belgian carnival in the town of Binche. It takes place here every year at the same time and has done so since the 14th century. Belgium is meant to rival Spain in terms of its festivals and large outdoor gatherings. I bet they have better weather during the ones in Spain. Wandered around the streets of Binche in the freezing cold, getting sporadically covered in the odd snow shower. This was day 1 of 3 of the carnival. It involved cheering on a procession of various groups of people all dressed in differing costumes. We had "Team Williams:" several men dressed as one of the Williams sisters, in full tennis outfits, despite the cold, with their faces painted black. Not sure the pc lobby would have approved.

There were also children wearing multi-coloured tutus, two brilliantly dressed as a bunch of grapes, four men looking like The Beatles from their Sgt Pepper heyday, and my personal favourite, the René Magritte impersonators, bringing to life his 'Le Fils de l'homme' piece; man in black suit and bowler hat with a green apple covering his face, for all you philistines. Genius.

The whole day mostly consists of these processions, lots of marching, lots of drumming and people waving flags and singing. The main day of the carnival takes place on the Tuesday (always before Ash Wednesday) where the "Gilles" are let loose on the streets of Binche. Men clad in enormous costumes and wearing wax masks, all done to ward off evil spirits, supposedly.

It was actually a lot of fun. And you have to admire the locals. I find it hard to be overly happy when it's close to freezing and I can hardly feel my feet, but they've been doing this for centuries and it clearly means a lot to them. It was good to be part of an important aspect of Belgian society.

Highlight of the day? My first real portion of pommes frites from a proper Friterie! And yes they are fantastic. Served in a large cone, they're much crispier than your British chips. Extremely tasty with a huge dollop of ketchup (or another sauce of your choice. Although how you can have something other than ketchup with chips beats me) on top.

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