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.

1 comment:

The Mommy said...

Happy Carnival in Binche! We made costumes here in Singapore at our French teacher's home.

Check out the two guys with afros and white glasses. They are dressing up like the guy from Party Rock Anthem. You can see it on youtube! We just sang it at karaoke that is how I know it!

Have fun and happy spring! Kim et famille xo