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Sunday, February 19, 2012


Today is Dimanche Gras! What did you do to celebrate? It's a major  holiday in the Wallonian town of Binche, almost as big as Mardi Gras. And of course, in between, they celebrate Lundi Gras. So we jumped on the train and went to watch the festivities -- our third Dimanche Gras in Binche.

The Gilles

For those of you
who watch
Treme or have lived it (you know who you are), the traditions are almost as over-the-top as those in New Orleans. There are all-day parades. People drink nonstop. There's music, much costumery. Confetti. Fireworks. Throwing of oranges. And on Fat Tuesday, the Gilles come out. To be a Gilles, you must be a male born in Binche and a member of a Gilles family. On the Big Day, you wake long before dawn and are dressed by your wife or mother in a costume involving a giant headdress of ostrich feathers, shirt and pants stuffed with hay, wooden shoes, and a mask with a mustache and large green eyeglasses. This has the effect of making you look like a very flamboyant version of John Hodgeman from The Daily Show. At four a.m. you breakfast with the other several hundred Gilles on oysters and champagne. Then you spend the next twenty hours dancing in the streets in your wooden shoes and throwing oranges. We've never seen the Gilles (Phil does have to teach sometimes), but we did visit the Museum of Carnivale to learn about them.

We had a very late lunch in an upstairs restaurant, the better to watch the street festivities. We were seated at a long table with two charming couples from nearby Mons, who were kind enough to assist us with the menu when I became befuddled by "saucisse geante, sauce lapin." I'd gotten it right: giant sausage with rabbit sauce. They assured us that no rabbits are harmed in the preparation, but we chose steak frites.

More photos of the celebration below! Note the Smurfs. Did you know that Carnivale in Binche was proclaimed one of UNESCO's  Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity? Did you know there even was such a designation?

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