Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Can't Get It In a Book

 I love how the schools here take each class on monthly excursions. After all, there is a lot more to experience in life then what’s found behind school walls, and some of the best things simply cannot be read in a book. Addie’s most recent class adventure was to the Neanderthal museum, because the class had been studying ’early history’. Ok, wait a minute. I lied. I do love the class excursions, the experiences, and the rambling stories that arise from them. But what I love more, is that the teachers always email photos home from the adventure. Those photos help create a foundation and offer some explanation to the stories, but they also offer us a glimpse of what the kids are experiencing each month, outside the class. It’s amazing.

So in the Neanderthal museum, Addie was honored, she told us, to “carry the fire”. This was her favorite part of the day.

For me, this one- throwing a spear? Addie? Like a hunter? Holy cow- I can’t imagine the kids getting to do that on a class trip in the US. Someone might sue for tripping on a stone when they ventured outside.
 This one was wonderful too- because now she has no excuse when I ask her to peel the carrots at dinner. If she can peel them in a cave, she can peel them in the comfort of our kitchen.

The class learned how cave drawings were made, what they are interpreted to mean now, how the Neanderthals lived and died, and how very changed the world has become.
 Each class at school also takes a week away from the school together for a class trip. Emory’s class will go to the circus for a few days. Stella will stay at a farm. And Addie is prepping for her “Class de Mer” trip this month; when they will go to the Belgian coast to spend time learning about everything from the tide and currents, to weather, and sea animals. I never thought I’d encourage that sort of time away, but I actually find myself helping them pack. Not because I’m looking forward to having one less kid around the house for a week. (Well a little, maybe.) But really, because I know what an incredible journey they’ll have and how much they’ll grow from their experience away.

Time to go grab Addie’s suitcase….

Down and Not Out

Whew- I admit, I’ve never been an advocate for the flu shot. Professionally, that might be shameful, but as a mom, no way have I ever wanted to drag 4 kids, kicking and screaming, into the clinic for vaccinations.

Having lived through the flu however, last week, I think I might have changed my mind.

It was “Carnaval Week” here, a week long break from school and time we’d planned to adventure together. Unfortunately though, I ended up down, with the flu, for days…with aches, chills, fevers, nausea, coughing, congestion, headache, fatigue, all took hold. Meanwhile, the 4 angels off of school took hold of something else, the house. When I emerged from my funk, there was chalk drawings on the walls, toilet paper unraveled all over the bath, trash all over the kitchen, a playroom that looked like it was a war zone, and the kids were movie marathon-ing through their days off school.  I was down, and we were not “out” as intended. Perhaps the most sorry break we’ve spent here. Well, we did get out a little, just before I landed in bed. To do this,

And this,

And collect this…

And just because dad didn’t want to sleep in the infected bed, just because mom had promised that we’d sleep downstairs in front of the fireplace, we did do that,…

But next year, we might actually go for a flu shot first, so we can hopefully be “out and not down”.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Carnaval 2012 Binche - dimanche gras

 On Sunday, we ventured out to Le Carnaval de Binche, home of numerous gilles, peasants, harlequins and pierrots, not to mention, a lot of tradition. Workshops near and far employ their tailoring skills all year to fashion costumes for this UNSECO heritage event. The Carnaval of Binche is a traditional and joyful celebration, held to mark the end of winter. After a 1 hour train ride from Brussels, we arrived to spend the afternoon in Binche, only to be engulfed by the populous crowd, surrounded in a sea of color.

Home of the Gilles...


This is not an event for the claustrophobic. The atmosphere was friendly, joyful, and fun, but the crowd was truly endless.

  We aren’t able to attend the festivities on Mardi Gras this year, so Dimanche Gras was as good as it was going to get for us. That’s OK, though because I’m not sure we could battle the infinite crowds again, or the overwhelming, constant, rattle of drums for another full day. Nor could we tolerate 3 year old Arleigh, who was collecting strewn confetti from the ground to recycle, by throwing over and over again at the rest of us. No, he is not stuck under a barrier here....
 Instead he is merely collecting bits of paper to toss, and hence, recollect from the ground. It might have been more prudent to purchase him a simple bag of confetti for 5 euro. Instead we're washing his winter coat.


The gilles, the high symbol of the carnaval event, must adhere to strict rules. Even their costumes are standardized. The gilles' costume, with sewn motifs, bells or “grelot”, clogs, the characteristic wax mask, as well as their opulent hats of ostrich feathers, are only permitted to be worn on Mardi Gras, so we knew we’d sadly miss this remarkable tradition.

However, we were able to spy “ramon” among the crowd (along with the necessary confetti). Love those shoes too! Very carnavalesque!)

The ramon, or broomstick, was once thrown at the head of anyone who went to Carnaval without a mask or false nose. (Thank goodness this is no longer the case or we might have left the town of Binche, missing teeth or bruised in black and blue.) Missing Mardi Gras also meant missing the opportunity to dodge the orange throwing, as Gilles will carry their wicker basket of oranges to toss to onlookers. The oranges are offered to the public “as gift from the sun” and remain a souvenir of ancient customs. We’re missing the gilles dance too, sadly. The dance, preformed in the rhythm with the drums, is preformed to hammer the earth, to wake up after falling asleep in winter.

Thank goodness the folks in Binche are getting on it. Afterall, someone needs to get to work on chasing away winter around here because it was a mere 2* C in Binche, and occasionally, lightly snowed through the day. The cold chill of winter, seemed to be something that was obvious to everyone but these guys….

We were able to attend Shrove Sunday festivities though, the most colorful day of the Carnival. The Gilles, Peasants, Pierrots and Alequins-to-be wore costumes, that were imagined months ago and prepared in secret.

On Shrove Sunday, from 7am the participants leave their homes, walking from door to door through the city in small groups, with the sound of the drums or the viola, while visitors admire the beauty and the originality of the “Sunday costumes”. And, they were, ah-hem, quite orignial.

After a meal with their family or their friends, the societies gather together for the Shrove Sunday procession.
The parade seemed to be a bit more stomping in place while the musicians played, rather than continuous marching as we'd anticipated. Nevertheless, it was a spectacle indeed.

A spectacle, during which this clown (below) threw a handful of confetti into my mouth- a significant low point for the afternoon, as I spent the following 15 minutes spitting and coughing up an array of colored bits of paper. Jerk.

I'm all for "go with the flow" but this guy was a little too agressive and frankly, in my humble, onlooker opinion, a complete schmuck.
After the procession, the societies continue to walk the streets with music playing until the end of the evening. But we were cold, tired, and quite done. So we returned home to warm up, and await Mardi Gras, where we’ll watch from the comfort of our home, online at this link.
And meanwhile, we'll not even have to worry about swallowing a handful of confetti.