Carnaval Saturday, Part 1

Saturday was Carnaval in the small town of Schriek (pronounced a lot like “shriek” but with more friction on the back of your tongue at the beginning).  Several towns in the area have their own Carnaval celebrations over the course of a couple weeks, but the one in Schriek is rumored to be the largest one specifically dedicated to children in Belgium.

The sky overhead was gray but the smiles and laughter were pure summer warmth.  The main event was a parade around town with floats, music, and costumes.  Both children and adults dressed up, and costumes ran the full range, from vampires to disco dancers to farm animals.  One float had cardboard cutouts of cowboys and Indians, and what looked like American Civil War soldiers; hey that’s my country’s tarnished and dirty history!  And wow, old school Disney sure was racist!

Each float had it’s own sound system, and the cacophony of different music gave an unmistakably festive feel to the air, which was already redolent with the smells of frying potatoes and grilling burgers from the mobile vendors who had set up their trailers in the central square, below the quintessential towering church steeple.  If the church bells rang, I couldn’t hear them, as the different anthems bounced back and forth off the bluff fronts of the brick houses ringing the square.

Every good pirate ship needs a Batman.

Many of the people on the floats had full plastic bags in hand; a few of them were full of candy, which they flung to the people lining the sides of the streets, but the majority of them bulged with confetti.  The people of this area must have been saving the bounties of hole-punchers all year, and spent the last month having all-night magazine shredding parties.  “Combative” and “aggressive” are both much too strong of words, but the confetti throwing was not so much of the gentle snowfall variety, but was more likely flung in faces and stuffed down shirts, all in amiable good humor of course.  The streets were covered with bits of paper, gathering in drifts in the gutters, which the children gathered up in handfuls, just like snow, to throw again.

The confetti gets everywhere, and I fully expect to be finding little paper squares around the house for weeks, despite the best efforts of the vacuum.  I think I will deliberately not clean out one of the pockets in my pants; I wonder where I’ll be when I rediscover it and remember the mass of laughing children throwing flickering fistfuls of floating paper at each other.

Here’s Katrien getting confetti-ed by our friend Fana

Who felt really bad about it

Vampire-themed float, complete with ghost horses:

Vampire float riders, observe the full bag of the girl to the left of the inexplicably blue guy:

And its contents airborne:

After the parade, people took shelter from the confetti blizzard in the town meeting hall, where a long bar dispensed pints of Belgian beer in the back and an effervescent band played sing-along children’s songs on the front stage.  At the beginning of each verse of one particular song the singer would ask what language they speak in a given country, then that verse would be sung in that language.  We went through French, German, and I think Danish before reaching America, when I found we had been singing about Bob the Builder, who I recognized from posters and toys throughout Europe and America.

The Band

The audience, complete with oversized hot dog which was gone in a remarkably short period of time:

The post-parade party went all afternoon, people in costumes and normal clothes enjoying the music, hot dogs, beer and laughter until the frequency of tired-child-tantrums grew indicatively higher and people trailed off home.  There were a few hours of normalcy, then the evening’s adult party started.  Instead of a children’s band playing cyclical songs with exaggerated arm gestures, the hall featured Willy Sommers, who as far as I can tell is something of a Belgian Wayne Newton.  Everyone knows his name, though no one actually likes him (other than one guy‘s parents), but when he played in the small town people were grudgingly interested.  My own Carnaval took me to a different show though, so I can’t testify as to the quantities of spray-on tan or hair gel he brought to the stage.