Carnaval de Binche (the long version)

Where to start? I guess a little bit of history would be good. The figures you see above (and in 2 of the pictures yesterday) are Gilles. Adeline said that to become a Gille you must 1) be male, 2) either live or be born in the city of Binche, and 3) it’s passed down from father to son. Adeline emailed me a couple of links that I looked at for more info, and she said this “It is actually declared “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity “by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). on the 2003/11/07”. That’s what I was trying to describe yesterday, but was having difficulty with it.

There are actually 3 days to the Carnaval; it goes from Sunday-Tuesday, with the most popular day being Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday). The Gilles start marching in the streets around 3-3:30, always accompanied by drums and musicians. They throw blood oranges at the crowds of people who gather to see them. Protective screens are put on all windows/doors/signs of houses and business to protect them from the oranges. If someone climbs on a ledge or something to get higher, the Gilles throw the oranges VERY hard at them because it makes them angry that people try to cheat at getting oranges. Those things can hurt when thrown hard. There was one point in our walk where some people in an apartment were giving the Gilles the finger, so the Gilles were launching oranges at them, trying to get them above the screen and at the people. This resulted in raining oranges (and subsequently orange juice). Luckily Bastien wasn’t hit on the head by falling oranges (Adeline and I were a few times, but it’s all part of the experience) and we both got juice in our hair. An orange did fall into the stroller I was pushing (with Bastien in it), but he was leaning forward so it just kind of hit the stroller instead of him. It was the closest thing I had to catching an orange. Well, not exactly. I almost caught one earlier, but at least the stroller orange we got to keep.

The outfits of the Gilles are very intense. The torso and ankles are stuffed with straw and there are little bells around the wast and on the feet. Thank goodness for pictures because I would not do them justice. One thing I don’t have a picture of is this certain yellow flower that was very prominent on people’s hats and things; it’s called the mimosa. We weren’t sure of the significance of them, but according to this website Adeline showed me the flowers are given by men to their wives, daughters, and friends. Many people were dressed up in costumes. It was really cool. It’s not like Halloween at home where just the kids usually dress up (unless it’s a special Halloween party), but a lot of people really get into it! Maybe I’m wrong, maybe more people than I think dress up, but I just don’t notice…*shrug*.

I apologize because this post is all over the place! I’m trying to make sure I get all the important information, I just hope in the end it makes some sort of sense!

Ok, so the Gilles throw the oranges into the crowds. Another thing they do is hand them to little children. We collected 11 and the majority of those were because of Bastien! At one point Adeline took Sylvain out of his stroller and put him

in this carrier on her chest. It was SO LOUD with all the music and the drumming and the people…but he was just smiling and looking around. Eventually he did start to cry, but I think that was just because he was hungry.

Another thing I tried was two different types of Binche beer. I know, I know, I mention beer a lot. It’s not that I actually drink that much, it’s just that there are OVER 400 TYPES OF BELGIAN BEER!!! Doesn’t seem so bad now, eh? Anyway, one of them was a raspberry flavoured beer. It was really good. Only about 3% or 4%. So not very strong. At this point the largest part of the crowd (with the Gilles) had passed us, so we had much more space to maneuver the strollers. Even so, it’s hard with a plastic cup in your hand! I couple times I put it between my teeth so both hands were on the stroller and one of those times the stroller hit an uneven patch. Of course this caused the cup to move and spill beer up my nose and on my hair….beer in the nose, SO not pleasant. Even if it was raspberry flavoured!

Oh! The hats. Those big feathered hats. They weigh about 5 kilos (11 pounds) and cost about 3,000 euros (takes about 80 hours

to make one hat….250-350 small feathers to make the 12 large feathers of the hat. Last night Greg was asking why some had colour and some didn’t. If I remember correctly, Adeline said that the white hats were new. Each year you died a bit of the feathers. So some have one colour, some have many. We were lucky because yesterday was absolutely gorgeous! Sunny and about 15. If it’s sunny they wear the hats, if it rains they don’t (for obvious reasons). You’ll see both men and boys, all sizes of Gilles, but remember…no women!

I do have a couple of videos I took. I’m going to try and edit them a bit (because sometimes it’s just the crowd you see). I was pushing a stroller, walking through a tight crowd, and trying to take a video all at the same time. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. I kind of just moved my camera around and hoped for the best!

It’s definitely hard trying to get through the press of people with two strollers, and there were a few times I almost lost Adeline, but it was definitely worth it, and maybe someday I’ll get to go back!

There was also confetti. A lot of it. Apparently Bastien doesn’t like confetti on him or his stroller. While Adeline was getting the beer he stood up and tried to brush all the confetti off the seat before he’d sit down again.  It was funny. Also, after the Gilles and crowds had passed, it looked like some sort of stampede had gone through. Which, I guess in a way, it was!

When we got home, Adeline made me juice with one of the oranges. Blood oranges are red inside. The one I picked look like it was half and half. The taste is bittersweet, like grapefruit, but different. I don’t really like grapefruit juice, but I didn’t mind this.

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