06 July 2007

Ommegang

If you say it fast, it sort of sounds like a teenager's exclamation, but the Ommegang is actually a centuries-old Brussels tradition, which we attended yesterday. (If "attended" includes watching the free parts and craning our necks from the outside to avoid paying for 60-euro tickets.)

A long time ago, when King Charles was in charge of half of Europe (you didn't know that eighties sitcom, Charles in Charge, was really about a sixteenth-century king, did you!?), he deigned to visit Brussels. Everybody turned out in their Sunday best, and put on a show of all their favorite tricks: knightly hoseback parades, peasant jigs, synchronized flag-tossing, and so on and so forth. Meanwhile, the king and his upper-crust buddies munched on tasty snacks in the red velvet-lined pavilion overlooking the Grand Place.

Everybody had such a great time that they just never stopped doing it: every single year since then, they have repeated the spectacle, complete with people personifying the king and his court, munching on snacks in a red velvet pavilion, jesters running around in the crowds to make them laugh and/or uncomfortable, and a couple of guys in sixteenth-century janitor costumes who run out with a wheelbarrow and a straw broom to sweep up the horse doodoo (this we know because we were behind the bleachers and our main view was of these guys and their comings and goings).

Over a thousand people dress up in period costume, a huge array of styles and colors, and they make a procession on their way to the Grand Place in well-coordinated groups. Each group represents some sort of social class, profession, or political fiefdom, and most of them put on some sort of performance once they arrive. We caught the beginning of the parade--the mingling of old and new is quite amusing, as, say, the tram (plastered with fast-food advertisements) speeds past a calvacade of horseback knights and a bakers' guild.

After the parade passed, we took a different route down to the Grand Place in time to see some of the first groups arrive. The most amazing thing that we saw was the flag-throwing bunch: it doesn't sound like much, but huge flags twirled in the air and tossed from person to person in quick succession, all in swooshy color-coordinated motions, is pretty darn cool.

Once the first raindrops started pelting us, we felt luckier than the people huddling in blankets up in the bleachers, and headed to a cozy lambic pub, La B├ęcasse, to warm up over a beer.

1 comment:

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