06 February 2008

Superfat Tuesday

Yesterday was an adjective-enhanced Tuesday if there ever was one. Because the day fell on Fat Tuesday of carnival fame, and Super Tuesday of political fame, it was bound to be exciting. Super exciting, if you will.

The Mister and I tried to squeeze as much excitement out of it as possible here in Belgium, which is both geographically distant from the Mardi Gras ideal of tropical Brazilian parades, and temporally distant from American political reporting (most results didn't start to come in until 2 am, well after our bedtime).

For the "fat" portion of Superfat Tuesday, we went to Binche (pronounce Baansh, light on the "n"), a small town south of Brussels that is known for its centuries-old carnival celebrations. The Binche carnival itself is, in fact, a UNESCO "masterpiece of the oral and intangible patrimony of humanity." Despite the buffeting winds and rain, the parade we saw was indeed pretty darn cool. It features hundreds of men and boys (no women, harrumph) dressed up in the traditional "Gille" costume, which is... kind of hard to explain. The costume involves wooden shoes and towering feathered headdresses, belts of bells (they all clonk shoes and jingle the bells in a shuffling kind of dance to the drums and horns that follow them), elaborate lacy cuffs and collars, white skullcaps and ear-bandages and a sort of puffed-up back and front panel that makes them all look like their too-small heads are perching on hugely inflated shoulders. Earlier in the day, they wear those scary green-glasses masks, but not for the afternoon parade (trading them for the ostrich-feather headdresses). So I was happy and unfrightened.

Oh, and they all carry narrow straw baskets of blood oranges, which they hurl into the crowd one by one. We lugged home about three kilos of oranges, and fortunately managed to avoid being injured by flying citrus. I wondered aloud as to why the oranges, and the Mister replied: "You know how Belgium is known for its sunshine and its orange trees, right?" The streets after the parade were cobbled with muddy, crushed fruit. I fully expected the oranges to be rather tasteless, but on the contrary, when we finally ate some at around midnight, they were fantastically sweet and tart, and bright red inside. Yum!

How I do go on. Instead of trying to explain the bizarre spectacle, I should show you some pictures.

Before the parade, we caught some of the Gilles leaving their house. Each one has a sort of entourage, people to carry backpacks full of oranges (for refilling the baskets), people to help out with the feather hats (from the looks of it, they were heavy and tough to hang onto in the wind, and were thus only worn for short stretches at a time), and people to ratatat-tat on drums everywhere they went.

This little Gille didn't want to go with his dad and brother. He was crying, and I felt kind of bad for taking his picture, because that's probably why he didn't want to go in the first place: all those scary tourists snapping flashy pictures.

A group of Gilles heading to the parade.

And here's me, with one of the oranges we caught, just before the camera battery died.

After a crowded train ride back to Brussels, we went on to the "super" portion of our superfat Tuesday: a big primaries party thrown at one of the nice hotels in town. There, the signage insisted on calling it a "Mega-Tuesday party" which may be a French way of saying it, who knows? The Mister and I really just wanted to follow the primaries on CNN or something, and since we are TVless, we asked some friends where to go and they recommended this party. We paid five euros to get in, only to discover that: food and drinks were not included (to be paid for apart, at exorbitant rates), all of the rooms were intensely noisy and overcrowded, and there was no TV. Instead, there was an endless (and endlessly boring) parade of pseudo-debates, people trying to get you to sign up for Republicans or Democrats Abroad, and eurocrat "celebrities" talking about how the elections were important (duh), none of which you could hear over the crowds anyway. We just wanted some news!!! And the friends we'd thought we'd see there never showed up, so the whole shebang was one big superbust.

We went home, ate some blood oranges, and scoured the internet for some news. There was precious little, so we went to bed. I do have to say, though, HOW exciting this primaries race is. Regardless of your political affiliation, is it not AMAZINGLY awesome that a woman and a man of color are neck-and-neck as frontrunners? This, my friends, is history in the making. Who would've thunk?

I find myself feeling hopeful about American politics for the first time in a long time, and Obama has a lot to do with those hopes. If he is elected, and can deliver on his messages of hope and change, the nation will be in for a major turnaround, one that is badly needed.

Anyway, I've gone on for superlong, and you're probably supersick of me, and supertuesday is over, so I can stop using superlatives. Hee hee!

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