Friday, March 03, 2006

They Throw What?? I Smell From Where??

Last Monday night, Dan and I were sitting in our noisy little downtown apartment, freezing our butts off, switching between French TV and the BBC, when I came upon an article in a magazine about this little town south of Brussels that throws a huge Carnaval celebration. Apparently, this town is Belgium's answer to New Orleans, only they have been doing it a lot longer - like since the Middle Ages! Binche's Carnaval has even made it to UNESCO's Protected List of World Heritage. (You'll have to Google it yourself!)

Like the good non-Catholic that I am, I suggested to Dan that he take the next day off so we could go check it out. (They had me at "huge"!) Since Dan positively hates crowds, not to mention that he is the least spontaneous person I know, I figured it would be an uphill battle. But, it just goes to show you that you can still be surprised after 16 years, because he said yes!

Fat Tuesday started like any typical Belgian day -- snow! In fact, it snowed the entire hour-long train ride. It was snowing when we got off at the station, and I couldn't help but think it was karma kicking me in the butt. Here we were in weather that I hate, about to be surrounded by crowds of people, which Dan hates. Yeah, what a happy couple we were! Laissez les bon temps roulet!

As we were making our way to the center of town, we stumbled upon our first Gille parade. Traditionally, the Gille (there are about 1000 of them - all male) start partying at 4:00 AM on Fat Tuesday, which, by my calculations, meant that they had a good six hours on us! They were dressed in these fancy costumes, which are stuffed with hay (still can't figure that one out), and paraded through town, stopping at the houses to pick up other members of the Gille as they made their way to the town square. Along the way, they beat huge drums and shook little bundles of sticks. (The history and pomp and circumstance surrounding this event is fascinating, but to fill you in would make a short story even longer, so you are on your own!)

Given the logistics - thousands of people and lots of snow -- Dan and I ditched the town square in favor of a pub, and that's when the party started. This young guy asked me something in French, to which I provided my standard response, "Je ne se parle pas Francais." He then says, in English, "Do you have a fire for me?". There are probably numerous ways to respond to this question, but, given the circumstances, I opted for the safe, "No." Turns out, he was looking for a light. We ended up talking to Etienne, which is supposedly "Steve" in French (see why this language is so hard for me to learn -- nothing about "Etienne" looks like "Steve"!), and a group of his friends.

Etienne and his friends were all pharmaceutical salespeople, which meant not only were they into some serious partying, but they had access to one of the doctor's offices on the town square. Like the hospitable bunch they were, they invited Dan and I to watch the parade with them at the office. Since the office was inside, i.e. not in the SNOW, and came with a bathroom without a line, we jumped at the opportunity, although I was a little disappointed to learn that the office window had chickenwire covering it, which meant I was not going to catch any beads!

Around 4:00 pm, the Gille paraded back into the town square, having taken time out for a nap, where they then greeted the massive crowds. To our surprise, instead of throwing the customary beads, they threw oranges -- yes, O-R-A-N-G-E-S! All of a sudden, the chickenwire on all the windows made sense. What happened to beads? How can you drive around the next day with oranges hanging from your rear-view mirror? Will women bare their breasts for a piece of fruit, especially in the freezing weather? Do you realize how hard a 14 year old Gille can throw an orange - at your head?

As Dan and I were pondering the pros and cons of oranges vs. beads, a young guy dressed in a bright yellow coat joined the party in the dr's office. I will call him Mr. Yellow Coat. He was coming into the office as I was excusing myself to go to the bathroom.

When I got to the bathroom, I opened the door to find the bathroom absolutely spotless. In fact, if it weren't for the overwhelming stench coming from the toilet, I would have used it. The smell was so bad, that the only thing that kept me from vomiting was the thought that I was going to have to throw up in the commode. Gagging, I left the bathroom and bought a diet coke from the machine across the hall, hoping that something would make me laugh while I was drinking it so that it could burn the rank smell from the inside lining of my nose. It was that bad!

I went back to the office, still recovering from the disgusting toilet smell. Mr. Yellow Coat had now joined the group at the windows. He saw me and said something to Etienne in French. Everyone, except Dan and I, started dying laughing. I asked Etienne what he said, and Etienne, barely able to get the words out because he was laughing so hard, said, "He says you smell from your ass." Thoroughly confused and thinking that there was a massive freaking flaw in the translation, I said, "I don't get it." I raised my voice over the laughter to ask Etienne, "What does that mean?" Etienne says, slower and louder, "he says you smell from your ass," all the while pointing at my ass. Now everyone, except me, is laughing. I'm horrified. I ask Etienne, "why would he say something like that?" At which point Mr. Yellow Coat tells Etienne that he went to the bathroom after me and that it "stunk like ass."

Of course, my insistence that I refused to use the bathroom because it smelled so bad, fell on deaf ears. I tried to point out that Mr. Yellow Coat had not left the room since I returned from the bathroom and that he came into the office when I left to go to the bathroom. Any sober person could see that it was clearly Mr. Yellow Coat that "stunk like ass" and not me. Unfortunately, I was not dealing with the sober.

I decided that it was a good time to catch the train back to Brussels. All the way to the station, I was praying that Dan would get hit upside the head with an orange, so he would quit laughing!

© 2006 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cindy, all those times at your house, I thought it was Dan stinking up your I know the real truth!

5:06 PM  

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