Monday, January 30, 2012

My First Carnival: Bal du Chat Noir

V, Bruno, and me!!

  It's been a difficult process getting this blog written today. Maybe my struggle comes from the lack of sleep I've had in the past few days. Or maybe it's because I keep getting distracted by the random post-Carnival neon green, pink, or blue feathers floating around my apartment.

  Either way, I have finally put the right words together to sum up my first Carnival experience!

  To tell you the truth, going into Saturday night (and the Bal du Chat Noir), I thought Carnival was just another excuse people used to drink excessively and act crazy (which still might be the case for some). And knowing it was going to be after a difficult French Cup game versus Mondeville (that we lost, by the way), I didn't have high expectations for the night.

  But two days removed from Saturday night at the ball, I can genuinely say I found Carnaval de Dunkerque to be all about camaraderie, friendship, and tradition. And it was a blast.

Ready for Carnival!
  Honestly, I've never seen anything like it. I had seen pictures and heard stories, but the atmosphere and my experience surpassed any expectations I may have had.

  The friends I would be attending the Bal du Chat Noir with, came to my game dressed in their Carnival attire. After the game, and after I finished my post-game duties as a DMBC player, we raced to my apartment so I could get into costume as well.

  My friends V and Valerie were in charge of my costume and makeup. They basically had free-rein to do whatever they wanted (which is something not too many people get to do with me! But they are Carnival vets, and I had to make sure I looked the part!).  After the quick transformation from basketball player to leprechaun (that's what I felt like anyway!), we made the five minute walk down the boardwalk to the Dunkerque Kursaal, and the start of the ball.

  I was excited, but didn't quite know what to expect. My teammates and people who knew I was going to the ball told me: bon courage as I left the gym (basically meaning, good luck). We went through a quick security check, and filed into the Kursaal along with thousands of other partiers.

  My first thought as we made our way through the crowd of colorful costumed Frenchmen: these people are crazy! Seriously. It was a spectacle in every sense of the word.

Finally ready to go! Me, Val, and V.
The Costumes 
  Every color in the rainbow was represented, and usually, all on the same person. Umbrellas stretched 15 feet into the air. Men were dressed as women (something I think they look forward to doing each year when Carnival rolls around). Jackets were covered with pins and other mementos representing Carnival from years prior. Faces and hair were covered in sparkles. And hats. Hats on the men seemed to be a must. They were covered in flowers and other trinkets. And again, the more color, the better.

  But regardless of costume, it seemed every person at the ball wore a huge smile. Including me.

The Ball
  We arrived just after midnight, which just so happened to be when the 'parade' inside the Kursaal began. In the center of the huge ball room was a circular stage where a band played. And on the outskirts of the room were various bar areas where people could mingle and socialize (and get more drinks, obviously).

  It was in between the circular stage and the bar areas where the real action of Carnival happened. Starting at midnight, the bravest Carnival-goers continuously walked the Kursaal loop (around the stage), singing Carnival songs at the top of their lungs.

  At 1 AM, the 'parade' dispersed, and regular music continued. The paraders took about an hour break (to rest and refuel), only to resume laps around the Kursaal at 2 AM. This went on the entire night. Until 5 AM. Gives another meaning to the word endurance!

  Even if people weren't taking part in parading around the ballroom, they were singing. Singing was the most-overpowering sound from the night (that, and horns anyway). Every person in the room knew every word to every song (except me!). They sang it loud, and they sang it very proud!

Cyrille, V, & Seb.
The History
  I made sure to find out why Carnival is such an important event in Dunkerque. Historically, Dunkerque was a fisherman town. Late-winter every year, the fishermen would set sail for Iceland. Unsure if they would return, the townspeople started the tradition of Carnival to send them off after a great time celebrating together. And the history of Carnaval de Dunkerque was born.

  As word spread that there was an American celebrating her first Carnival in the room (I think people overheard English being spoken), the most common questions I got were: "What do you think of Carnival?" and "There is nothing like this anywhere else in the world, is there?" My answers ranged from Carnival is: 'Impeccable,' 'Insane,' 'Crazy,' 'Unbelievable,' and 'Fun'; to: 'I have never seen anything like this.'

This picture makes me laugh--Brubru & Guilb.
  As I answered their questions, I could see the pride on their faces. The Dunkerquoise have a huge reputation to uphold in having the greatest Carnival in France after all!

  They showed me a great time, and it's safe to say it's a night I won't soon forget! I realized towards the end of the night that my cheeks were hurting from laughing and smiling so much. A pretty good sign that you're having a great time, isn't it?!?

  Thanks to V, Bruno, Guilb, Cyrille, Valerie, Seb, Brian, Maurice, Melanie, Bebert, and all the others for sharing your awesome tradition with an outsider, and making sure I had a great Carnaval experience!!

 ....a few more pictures & video below...

Val getting me ready to go!

Cyrille & V got a hold of my camera!

Inside the ball.

Bruno & Guilb.
A look from the bar area into the stage.


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