Last Tuesday I spent the day in Binche for their carnival. It was a long day of dancing, cheering, drinking, dogging oranges and crowding in the streets. The Binche festival has been going on for centuries and the tradition simply feels perfect when you are standing along the streets watching the precision of costumes. The day is centered on a parade of costumed men throwing blood oranges, but leading up to the parade bands of them march around in wooded clogs. Only men of noble bloodlines march and throw blood oranges into the awaiting crowd. Also carnival is a day of celebration before lent so the bands of marchers only drink champaign all day long. I peeked into a stone private meeting quarters at 10 in the morning to watch all of them toast to life.
My day was filled with waiting in the streets to catch flying oranges and celebrating with the hoards of people. All the shops and stores along the parade route put chicken wire screens over their windows to protect themselves against flying navels. Everyone is drinking and dancing. All the bars and discotecks along the parade route were packed. We danced like mad to American pop, odd Dutch traditional music (sounded like drinking songs), and techno. The festival brings tourists and locals together in an entire day of partying. I had such a good time being with my new friends and just feeling the atmosphere of this place. Everyone was so happy and some wore bazaar costumes. Some of it looked like New Orleans Mardi Gras, but this fat Tuesday was so far from American. The oranges cannot compare to those cheesy plastic beads. At one point I got hit in the head with one. Sometimes they fly really fast! My friend Matt got beamed right in the eye with one (you can’t help at laugh at the absurdity of getting slammed in the eye with an orange that dripped red juice all down his face).
So many things in Europe make me feel like American culture is surface and contrived. The people of Binche hold true to the dress and tradition of this day. Those wooden shoes must feel like daggers pricking your feet, but they march and march and march. It was beautiful to be included in this day of celebration; a carnival that is one of hundreds past and hundreds to come.