Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Trois Joyeuses: Carnival

Me and my teammates!

  Rio and New Orleans are renowned for their Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) celebrations. The masks, the colors, the beads, the over-the-top festivities. We've all seen the video and pictures, if we haven't been fortunate (or crazy?) enough to attend the celebration in person.

  With a little less fame, but just as much (if not more) excitement, energy, and spirit, the apex of the Dunkerque Carnival should be mentioned alongside festivities in New Orleans and Rio. There's one difference however. In Dunkerque, culmination of Carnival, known as trois joyesuses (three joyous days) does indeed last for THREE JOYOUS DAYS.

Dunkerque Town Hall.
  Sunday afternoon I again donned my green 'leprechaun' costume, outfitted with face paint and a green boa, and headed out to celebrate Carnival with my Dunkerquoise friends. This time we were headed downtown, to the city hall. The main event of fish and lobster throwing was to get underway at 5pm. But by the time we got into the city around 4, the streets were already crawling with costumed, drumming, happy party-goers.

  The celebration actually got started much earlier in the day. Sunday morning (while I was still sleeping), a group of infamous Carnival-goers called Los Beitounos, host a chapelle in downtown Dunkerque. For clarification, chapelle has nothing to do with church or a chapel. It's actually hosting your friends for food and drink before (and after) attending a Carnival celebration.

  We made our way through the blocked-off streets, and found a spot to wait til the clock turned five. As it got nearer, the city hall plaza got more and more crowded.

  I was only expecting the balcony doors to open at five, and for the mayor to start his annual throwing of fish. As you can see from the video below, I was caught off guard when a parade of people and band players came charging into where we were standing! Once we cleared out of the way, we settled back in and the balcony doors opened, and finally the mayor emerged.

  For 20-30 minutes, plastic-wrapped herring was thrown out into the crowd (you could later see people eating it). We were at the back of the plaza, out of harm's way. From the looks of it, the area in front of the balcony was like a war zone. Hoards of people jockeying for position and fighting to catch one of the prizes.

  In those 20-30 minutes, 6 toy lobsters were also thrown into the crowd. If you were lucky enough to snatch a lobster, you could trade in the toy at a fish market for some real lobster. However, the lobsters are something like a trophy, and many times, the toy is kept as a memento.

Aftermath of the fish & lobster throw.
  Once the lobster and fish throwing was over, the crowd dispersed. My friends and I wandered to the front of the plaza to see the remnants of the 'war zone'. Confetti, feather boas, shoes, cell phones, broken bottles, garbage, you name it, and it was lying there, mangled on the ground.

  We then met up with some other teammates, and waited for the final event of the night. After mingling and enjoying 1-2 euro rosé, sangria, and beer for a couple of hours, the night came to an end with the procession at Jean Bart Plaza.

  It was much like the events of the Bal du Chat Noir, where a band in the center of the ball room played Carnival songs while revelers sang, and took part in a circular march around the stage. Only this time the band was at the center of Jean Bart plaza.

  The march commenced at 7pm, and continued for an hour. It is said that you can see steam coming from the crowd, but I can neither confirm nor deny this tale.

Walking towards Jean Bart Plaza.
  After being outside in the chilly 40-degree F temperatures for nearly four hours, I had had enough of the Carnival fun. And with that, Carnival 2012 ended on Sunday night (for me)!

  However the rest of Dunkerque continued with the final two days of trois joyeuses. On Monday, there was a similar celebration at the Citadelle (or the Dunkerque Harbor). And the three joyous days came to an end on Tuesday with the parade through the streets of Rosendaël (a small neighborhood in Dunkerque).

  So Carnival is finally over, right? Nope. Not here in Dunkerque. The celebrations continue this weekend on the beach (in my neighborhood, Malo les Bains -- but I'll be out of town), and then finally Carnaval de Dunkerque comes to an end the next two weekends with two final balls.

  It's been a unique and wonderful experience. And who knows, maybe I'll be around next year to celebrate again!

....more pictures below!

Waiting for things to start.

My costume!
Here comes the band!

Lost in a sea of colors and umbrellas.

The mayor throwing fish & lobster.

A look into the night sky.

Aurélie with the girls!


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