We had such a wonderful time at Suzanne and Aginor's house that I'm not sure where to begin. Perhaps with introductions. The picture on the right is of their house, of course.The picture middle is Suzanne's picture of her mother, Charlotte Rousseau Dufour. On the right is Suzanne with Aginor, her second husband. Charlotte was the daughter of Felicité Dorval, who was the sister of my paternal grandmother, Victorine Dorval. Felicité Dorval married Jean Rousseau, a coal miner. Charlotte had a sister, Julia, and a brother, Cyrille.
Of course, as usual, brother Tom was doing most of the talking, and he would have to remember what the converstation was about. It wasn't too long until Pierre, Suzanne's brother, and Jeanette showed up, along with someone's niece, her husband and their child. Right away we were offered something to drink. I tried a Belgian beer that was very sweet and heavy. It was quite a contrast to the German pilsner I drank most of the time I was in Europe. Pierre and Tom talked a lot about the visits that he had made previously with our father and Uncle Alphonse. Charlotte wanted to fix us something to eat, but at first we politely declined. After a while, Aginor took us out in the back yard to see his garden. It was quite extensive. In the pictures you can see Aginor, Tom and Vicki and Aginor's tomato garden. Eventually, first the niece and then Pierre and Jeanette left.
Suzanne again asked us if we wouldn't like something to eat. Tom said that it might be nice to have some french fries. (Belgians are known in Europe for having the best fries.) She asked Tom if he would like some home-made mustard mayonnaise to go with the fries, and Tom said that, well, he would, if she didn't mind. The negotiation for this delicious late lunch continued, and eventually we ended up eating a large omlette, a huge bowl of french fries, and a big plate of Aginor's home grown tomatoes.
It was determined that sister Vicki would go out in the kitchen to help Suzanne with the meal. Tom said that this was unheard of, that a Belgian woman would show visitors to her kitchen, so Vicki was very special. What happened next was just the best fun. Earlier, Suzanne had shown us a huge bowl of Aginor's home grown potatoes, washed and scrubbed. Now she produced the peeled potatoes. She handed Vicki a paring knive and indicated to her that she was to slice these potatoes as her part of the bargain. Vicki bravely dived into the paring job, but she confided to me as an aside (in English, of course) that she didn't cook much any more, and wasn't sure at all about this. After a couple of potatoes, it became apparent that Vicki's talents didn't lie in hand-paring and slicing potatoes. Then, with a big grin, Suzanne produced a mechanical device that automatically sliced the potatoes. She showed Vicki how to push a potato through and come up with perfect french fries. Vicki tried it once, and exclaimed, "Now this, I can do." The potatoes were ready for frying in no time.
They had a french frier built right into their stove. (I remarked that we used to have such a frier in our electric stove, back when we were growing up.) We asked what kind of oil they used, and were told it was "arashide," or peanut, oil. Suzanne prefried the french fries, but did not brown them. Then she drained them for a while. Now she mixed up the mustard mayonnaise from scratch, using an egg, oil, mustard and salt, and a wire whip in a big bowl. At last the delicious meal was placed on the dining room table: fluffy omlette, french fries, tomatoes and home-made mayonnaise. We ate and ate but still there was food left. Tom and Aginor were also having a few beers.
After a while, Suzanne got out a fascinating videotape of the Carnivale du Binche and played it for us. During the mardi gras period, there are several societies in the city that take to the streets. It turns out that our relatives are a part of the Gilles, which are the most famous of four characters. There are 10 societies for about 900 Gilles. The names of those socities are : Petits Gilles, Réguénaires, Indépendants, Supporters, Récalcitrants, Incorruptibles, Incas, Maxim's, Jeunes Indépendants, Amis Réunis. Families that are in these societies begin months before to prepare elaborate costumes. Since only Binchois men can be Gilles, I'm assuming that one of the main roles of the women is to make the costumes. Then on three nights, the costumed family members take to the streets and quite a festivity begins, filled with dancing, drinking and other kinds of merriment. Through the videotape we were shown the whole process.
There is a wonderful website on Binche's Carnival produced by Hugues Deghorain. It will explain this festival for you far better than I can. You can also view his home page at GeoCities as well as a history of Binche online.
While we were watching the video, Suzanne received a call from brother, Pierre, who lived just down the street with Jeanette. We were asked if we wanted to go over to their house for dessert. And that is another chapter. But one more charming thing happened. It had become apparent that Vicki and Suzanne really liked each other. Suzanne disappeared down the hall. In a moment she came back with a large, original, signed poster of the Gilles du Binche, and handed it to my sister. "It's for you," she said in French. Vicki was thrilled, and we were touched.
One other thing that Tom was quite comfortable with, since he had visited before, but which caught me off-guard was the Belgian manner of saying hello and goodby to relatives and close friends. They hold your hand, and bus you three times, left, right, left, I think. Of course, you are supposed to respond similarly. Without experience, it was a bit awkward for me. By the end of the day, I was doing quite well.