So yesterday I was so excited to post pics of the Gilles that I really didn’t do the city of Binche any justice. Let me rewind and retrace my steps now that I’m a little less sleep deprived.
Binche is about a 45-minutes drive outside of Brussels, and when you reach the city, it appears to be a quiet, unextraordinary town. Once I set out on foot, however, and join the masses, the city comes to life and it’s…well, pretty bitchin’ to be in Binche.
Before I reach the main square of the city, I walk down crowded cobble-stoned streets strewn with confetti. Store and apartment windows are displayed with symbols of the carnaval. If you recall from yesterday’s blog, some of the Gilles carry a similar wax mask.
Anyway, before I even encounter my first Gille, I come across their plumed hat behind a store window and my heart does a little cartwheel. I know this is going to be a special experience.
As I get a few more blocks closer to the main site of the parade, I begin to see wire screens on all of the windows. They are there to protect windows from oranges that are thrown during the parade. All around there are also little stands selling mimosa pins. In this photograph, I manage to capture both the screens and the pretty yellow flowers:
It’s not long before I see the first group of Gilles jingling down the street. They usually walk around in a group of 4 or more, accompanied by a drummer. They stop and say hello to anyone who wants a picture or has questions about their tradition. They can also stop anywhere they want for free food and drinks. I get a big smooch from one enthusiastic Gille who’s perhaps had too many free drinks!
Besides the overwhelming sounds of the large crowds and clomping feet of the Gilles, I’m drowning in the smell of the frites, gauffres, beignets, and mitraillettes. And you know what they say about being in Belgium…you gotta give in to the heart-failure-inducing frites and pastries…and I do!
So anyway, with 4 hours to kill before the actual parade, I take in some sightseeing in the historic center of the city. There is a beautiful museum about the masks and carnaval here with some photo ops for tourists in the courtyard:
The streets in the historic center date back to medieval times and there are reminders of the past everywhere. But today, on the biggest day of the festival season, it’s really about the children and carrying out the tradition for future generations. It’s much like Halloween in the US with kids all dressed up in costumes:
What I love best, though, is seeing kids from around the world here. I spot these two young Chinese children in front of a church picking up confetti as their parents are looking at a guide book:
In fact, I see lots of kids trying to pick up confetti everywhere, and kids just running around having a great time being kids.
Anyway, about an hour after touring the very small town center, I queue up to save a spot on the parade route at the main square. It is another 2.5 hours before the parade enters the square, but the wait is well worth it…the excitement is palpable once we can see the white plumes undulate their way toward us:
I know I’ve already posted so many pictures of them yesterday, but here are a few more to show how large (and heavy) and gorgeous these hats are.
In fact, during the parade you can see just as many hat carriers as there are Gilles. I love these next two pictures that capture how enormous the hats are!
And many of the Gilles are hunched over from the weight:
I’m truly impressed by their love of the tradition–it can’t be easy to clomp around in uncomfortable wooden shoes, dance nonstop, balance a heavy hat, and also manage to throw oranges at the screaming crowds.
Here’s a short clip of me dancing with the Gilles, and I haven’t even had any alcohol yet:
So can you imagine what the streets must look like after two hours of orange tossing?
It’s not pretty for the people who have to clean up after the festivities, but for a first time visitor like me, moments like this one captured below are forever ingrained in my mind. And my life is enriched for it. See you back stateside in a few days.