Just before the first spring flowers pop out of the snow and before Lent, the 40-day fasting period before Easter, something colorful and outrageous happens in villages and towns across Belgium. It’s carnival time and people come together to celebrate in excess, just as later on they used to congregate to celebrate in fasting and penance.

While the fasting and penance part is on the wane, the explosion of joy and excess of the carnival is alive and well. The carnival of Binche, a town of about 35000 inhabitants in the South-West of Belgium, is the best-known and the oldest in the country. The first written record of the event dates back to 1394.

People from all over Belgium and beyond come to witness one of the oldest surviving street carnivals in Europe. Hardly anything about the dress, rituals and customs have changed since the 14th century, prompting UNESCO to list the Carnival of Binche as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

Celebrations start on Sunday and culminate on Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras), just before Lent. The main characters of the event are les Gilles, with their tall hats with ostrich feathers, wooden footwear, wax masks and colorful costumes. The outfit features a linen suit with red, yellow, and black heraldic designs (the colours of the Belgian flag), trimmed with large white cuffs and collars. The suit is usually stuffed with straw, giving the Gille a hunched back.

Other characters, such as the Paysans and Paysannes, Harlequins and Pierrots, join in as the procession unfolds through the town.

They all throw oranges that the crowds try to catch in flight. Oranges fly in all directions and you really need to keep your eyes open and duck every now and then. The procession leaves behind hundreds of squashed oranges.

Here’s me, proud of having caught one while holding my camera in the other hand.

The celebration continues long into the night, after the Gilles have come out of their heavy costumes, after the big fire in the main square has raised its flames over the tipsy heads of the villagers and has consumed every last bit of winter wood.


Cultivating Attention

Photography cultivates a certain awareness and attention to detail. You walk on the street, all senses awake. There’s this detail here and that situation over there. You can see things developing into something that could be a good photo. You anticipate. You position yourself in the right place and wait for the right moment.

Sometimes (in fact, many times) that place was far from being the right one. And the right moment passed before you could react. Or never arrived. But the experience is still yours to enjoy. It wasn’t pointless.

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A Year In 12 Photos

This is my last post for 2022. December is often a month of reckoning, revisiting, and trying to make sense of what happened.

I need to accept how things are in order to go ahead and be prepared for how they could be.

I need to make peace with how things are in order to be able to turn them into what they could be.

Aren’t we all?

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There are borders that are meant to keep people in. They prevent people from traveling to see how life looks on the other side. When you see something different, you compare and evaluate. Terms of comparison are threatening for regimes that are built on delusions of grandeur and uniqueness: “Why would you even want to go out? This is the best place to be anyway!”

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Facing the wave

The tide is coming in like a tsunami.

The beach has been swallowed by the rising sea. There’s a storm brewing somewhere on the horizon. The waves keep getting higher and stronger. They splash against the concrete wall, creating foam tentacles descending upon unsuspecting passers-by.

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Shades of blue

It gets late and the tide is coming in strong. I am at the water’s edge, watching my feet slowly disappear under water.

The breeze is carrying smells of faraway life and death, of drifting away and never coming back.

Seaweed. Decomposing creatures washed ashore. Salt. Cold. Fear. Calm.

Fantastic shapes in the sand, resisting until the next big wave washes everything over. Water, the big equalizer.

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I sometimes find myself looking for serenity as if it were a moment of grace detached from the here and now. I suspect it happens to most of us. Serenity becomes a way of getting away from problems and finding a little bubble of comfort. A holiday thing.

The problem with this is that holidays end and you find yourself looking for the next holiday. It’s an escapist mindset.

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Traveling the world

I woke up before anybody else. Like a sleepwalker, I prepared my backpack before fully realizing what I was doing. I took a few sips of hot coffee and I went out in the cold air.

Past my neighborhood, with its smell of freshly-baked bread and its familiar streets that I can recreate in full detail

Past the railway station, which always smells of creosote and farewells and never-coming-backs

Past the forest, where I’ve lived my joys and drowned my sorrows and watched the sun go up and go down

Past the river, where so many have drowned trying to get somewhere or running away from somewhere

Past the mountains, with their dark valleys and shining peaks and secret caves and passages

Like the tiny forest spring flowing into the river that flows into the river that flows into the river

Eventually finding its way to the ocean

I keep on moving