Thirty-Eight. Crushed: or, The Story of How I’m Completely Useless at Catching Oranges.

“Catching oranges” might not seem like a marketable skill to you, but after last Tuesday, I know it’s a good thing to be good at if you’re in Belgium.

…Also, I’m on a bus in Ireland.

Let’s start from before Tuesday though, because, chronology!

Since my last post I have come to the conclusion that my life is somewhat “back to normal,” however, it’s a new normal. I have my classes settled though, so at least that’s done. And the best thing about my schedule this semester is that I have no classes on Monday at all! This means I can go somewhere after class ends on Friday, so after 2pm (or 14h as they say here) and come back Tuesday morning because my class starts at 2pm 🙂 Hurray for more travelling!

So school has a way of surprising me. I’m taking three master’s level courses and two second year courses, but it seems like the second year courses are harder for me. Also, the class I thought I’d hate the most, is actually my favorite class right now.

So anyway, school is school… it’s going. And that’s enough about that.

Travelling is way more exciting than school right?!?!

I do have some exciting plans. I’m currently in Ireland until the 11th, and I have at least two set plans for April. From the 8th to the 15th, I’ll be in Israel and from the 18th to the 22nd I’ll be in London!

…So where do the oranges come in? I’m getting there!

March 2nd, 3rd, and 4th I went to three different carnivals around Belgium. On Sunday, we went to Villers-la-Ville. There’s a really cute abbey in ruins there, but the day’s attraction was the carnival/festival/fair/parade… thing they had going on. It was very small, with only about five floats, but it was still really nice. It felt very “small-town” and intimate.

They had games and rides and fair fare which were actually fun, and the people in the parade were incredibly friendly. They included the random tourists and onlookers in their dances and showered people in confetti. Other people who presumably live in Villers-la-Ville, also had a lot of confetti, and silly string, and were not shy about throwing handfuls of the colorful bits of paper at strangers. It was a lot of fun though – even when I got confetti-bombed.

Everyone, or almost everyone, was dressed-up in fun costumes too, and it was really cute to see the little kids running around as pirates, football players or animals.

Then on Monday we went to another city called Alost. We knew it would be a bigger affair, but we still weren’t sure what to expect. As it turned out, there was a huge parade, and when I say huge, I mean literally over 100 floats/costumed groups proceeding through the city, blasting music, dancing, handing out candy, etc! It was so different from the first day and it was also a ton of fun. It was the kind of thing we wouldn’t see in Canada. Many of the floats were racist or risqué. They made fun of politicians, royalty, religion, some racial groups, things in popular culture, you name it! In around three hours, I took nearly 800 photos!

They had people walking around who could “take your place” who actually came around and tried to pull onlookers into the parade while standing next to their friends for pictures. They had people handing out candy, others were throwing it, they had people handing out champagne (unfortunately they ran out before they got to me), they had people coming around with stickers, …it was a really big deal! People were still dressed in costumes, and while the confetti and silly string were available, nothing was thrown at me this time. There was also a lot of cross-dressing, not as a means of self-expression or identity as it would be in Canada, but more so, just for the sake of dressing up, being silly and having fun… because why not?!?! More than anything though, I think there was a lot of drinking. Every float had cases and cases of beer hidden – usually not very well – behind curtains so that the paraders walking around with the float would always have a supply… A very different, but still excellent day!

Finally, Tuesday. Mardi Gras.

Well, you might have heard of the “Carnaval de Binche” and if not, that’s ok, I hadn’t either, but ten years ago it was recognized by the UNESCO group as a cultural event. Many people in Brussels, and perhaps other cities in Belgium as well, had the day off and some chose to go to Binche to experience the orange chucking festival. Other then that one thing (the throwing of oranges) I had no idea what to expect.

Honestly, it’s nothing more than that! There are people dressed in traditional “gilles” costumes and various groups of people in other costumes as well walking/dancing through the streets of Binche with oranges (often blood oranges) in baskets, throwing them into gigantic crowds of people. Many oranges reach their targets but many others splatter against wall, get squished on the ground, shatter windows, or hit innocent bystanders and sometimes even leave bruises.

It might not sound that cool, but you really can’t imagine how much fun the whole event is without being there! It’s actually very worth it 🙂

It was very different from the two previous days I’d experienced, but it was just as excellent. And I got a bunch of oranges out of it.

I also left with many fun memories. First, my friends and I went to a restaurant for lunch. it was absolutely delicious! The place was also packed, and we were sitting at a table with another couple. We were mostly speaking English between the three of us, but we did say some things in French and this piqued other patrons’ interest. By the end of our meal, the whole restaurant knew we were Canadians.

Anyway, back to the couple at our table. They were actually very friendly and helpful towards us. They helped us with the menu, with the ordering and with communicating to the busy staff in general. Then we got to talking about our lives and we all shared a bit about who we were. It was so casual and comfortable we felt like we’d made new friends. They even said they’d be interested in coming to Canada! By the end of our time there, we had their contact information and they wished us a good carnival.

Then we made our way into the crowds lining the streets in anticipation of the orange throwing. We eventually settled into a spot with a family of four to our left, a family of three to our right and a tall man in front of me. The tall man was actually quite in the way, blocking my direct view ahead, so I had to lean left and right a lot to see anything. When the paraders finally did start throwing oranges into the crowds, they could barely see me! Some handed the daughter of left-side family oranges, so the mom handed me a few out of pity.

I couldn’t catch anything!

Between families with kids and friends taking part in the orange chucking who came up to them to say hi and conveniently pass them extra oranges, and Mr. Too-Tall blocking me in front, plus my general non-sportiness and short stature (although I’m of average height for a Canadian woman), I literally caught no oranges all day. Eventually my friend gave me his cowboy hat to try to help me… We definitely attracted more orange tosses, but I still caught nothing. The family to our left actually felt bad for me.

It was super fun though nonetheless, and my friends agreed to share our orange haul between the three of us (I did help by picking up a few oranges and being pathetic enough to have some given to me) and my friend even gave me his awesome cowboy hat!

The crushing comes in because on our way back to the train station we passed by a few potholes on the roads, as well as the general road surfaces, that were filled with crushed costume parts, crushed cans, crushed oranges and soggy confetti – I would describe it as crushed confetti, but it’s kind of hard to crush a small piece of flat paper… so they were more, “just stepped on.” It looked like a battleground. A rather happy-looking battleground though, due to all the colors.

So, all-in-all, I really enjoyed the festivities! ***PICTURES TO COME LATER, SORRY***