We were flicking through the list of Carnival festivals in French Belgium and came across Carnival for Children in Villers le Ville. Since the ruined Villers Abbey is meant to be one of the most spectacular sites (and, indeed, sights) in Belgium, we thought it would make a nice day trip. From our small Flemish town we could hop onto a train and watch as the small brick Flemish houses turned into French farm houses. The farmland and forests didn't seem to notice that we had crossed the language border.
In Villers la Ville we had delicious pastries at the local pâtisserie
. One of the most delightful things about living in Belgium is how ubiquitious excellent food is. Good food is not reserved for special occasions, it is to be enjoyed every day.
Interestingly, the appreciation of good food in French culture is not as ancient as may be expected. It is probably only in the the 16th century that French food started to diverge from English food. In England, the Protestant Reformation, in rebellion to the decadent ways of the Catholics, praised plain ordinary food that did not bring any sinful pleasure to the eater. Like sex, the God-given intent of the act was to be functional rather than pleasurable, although unlike sex the Protestants actually succeeded in ruining the pleasurable aspect of eating. In France, on the other hand, the 16th century ushered a period in which the art of eating was being refined, with gourmet chefs being brought in by Catherine de'Medici from around Europe to fashion a unique fusion cuisine for the tables of the French elite.
The menu of the elite was far different from that being eaten by the masses, until, as an unexpected consequence of the French Revolution, suddenly many great chefs were out of a job in the aristocratic houses and looking to feed the common people. The love affair with great food in everyday life has only grown stronger since.
Villers Abbey was surprisingly glorious. With no anticipation we had no expectation, and the sudden shock of the vine-covered ruins of a great building flicking past us on the train was a pleasant surprise. The Abbey was founded in 1146 for the Cistercian order, a Catholic order which placed great spiritual emphasis upon physical labour rather than intellectual pursuit. The site was greatly expanded in the 13th century, with an entirely new Abbey being rebuilt and 25,000 acres being controlled in a feudal manner by the Abbott.
In 1796, the Republican French administration closed the Abbey and sold it to a material merchant, who started to demolish it to sell as raw stone. Luckily, the market must not have been as all consuming then as it was today, for it left behind most of the framework of the Abbey, with mainly pillers and roofing stone being removed. Even half of the spectacular 300 foot long and 70 foot tall Church is fully intact, with the vaulting ceiling remaining strong despite the growth of vines and trees. The Cistercian Gothic style of the building lends itself to being appreciated in ruin. Unlike the ornate decadence of Catholic Churches best appreciated in full glory, the Cistercian aesthetic prohibited glory in the form of rich details or materials. Instead beauty was the be achieved only though the natural stone, with an emphasis on the mathematical design of harmony.
Such a building displays very well even when left to the ravages of time for over 200 years, and I cannot imagine it being more beautiful if it were still intact.
The Children's Carnival of Villers le Ville was a small local affair, but one in which the town obviously threw its heart into. Lead by a brass band a parade of costumed children entered the Carnival Hall to elect a King and Queen of the Carnival. Once there the children, dressed up as furry animals, pirates, trees, Indian Princesses, cowboys or bizarre combination of many things which interest children, were entertained by clowns. The plot of the show made little sense to me, with the clown inviting a man up onto the stage then carefully seating him and, while elaborating shaving the man, sneaking swigs out of the bottle of red wine must to the delight of the children.
Possibly it would have made more sense if I understood French, but judging from the look of the other adults there the issue appeared to be age rather than language. The small differences were noticeable - very few parents had cameras out to record the moment, beer and wine were obviously available and were consumed without fuss in front of small children, and the street food stall outside was selling escargot.
Villers-la-Ville Nightlife & Entertainment review
Fun for French Children
The Children's Carnival is held on the Saturday before Shrove Tuesday in Villers la Ville, in Walloon Brabant. The main Carnival is on the day after, … read entire review