Carnaval in Binche, Belgium is a really different experience. I’ve wanted to go since seeing pictures of these guys—the Gilles. Imagine 1000 of them in those creepy masks…
The masks are wax and, according to the tourist office web site, worn on Shrove Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. Eight-thirty, a two-hour drive away, after a long weekend in Hamburg wasn’t happening so we went for the afternoon parade. I had hoped for the scary masks, but they are only worn in the morning. Big ostrich feather hats are in the afternoon. Still, no less cool. Look at this thing!
The history of carnaval in Binche is little unclear. It’s roots date to the 14th century, and it has been recognized by UNESCO as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.” The festivities run Sunday to Tuesday, culminating with a parade and party thru the night.
We arrived in Binche roughly as the parade was starting. There’s no real advantage to getting there early, as the groups are all dressed the same, and the procession lasts close to 3 hours. Except maybe for parking. People park crazy and everywhere, but we found plenty of space in a dirt lot by a roundabout on the outskirts.
Gilles of all ages march in the parade. I just love this little guy (and in case you missed it, this mustache guy):
The Gilles dance to drums and brass bands, then throw blood oranges to (or at) the crowd. It’s difficult to tell. The oranges fly fast and hard. (Don’t stand outside a bar; drunk people seem to be a popular target.) You really have to pay attention or keep your head down or, better yet, stand at the front with kids where they hand them to you.
We came home with a couple dozen blood oranges. The oranges are considered good luck. People who needed the most luck had nets.
At one point Jacob said, “Can we go home? It’s raining.” Nope, orange juice. We stopped in a restaurant and when someone opened the door an orange flew in, hit a table and hit a table and hit me on the back. Easy to see why they put chicken wire over all the windows. Note the screened in balcony in the last pic below.
I’m a bit disappointed that we won’t be able to go back. If we were moving to Belgium, we’d be very close to Binche, and I’d be there next year at 8:30 a.m. for the scary Gilles masks. Stupid Nato restructuring.