Thursday, February 27, 2014

Rural Beauty

I have a favorite local hideaway spot. A place where I go to be reminded how wonderful the simplicity of rural life is. 

A silver lining to not owning a GPS is stumbling upon accidental gems, in this case, Café des Etangs. I’m not certain if I was charmed more by the bar and its location, or by the humble proprietors, Michel and Natalie. Like the owners, the structure exudes warmth and welcome. The café’s name hints at the surroundings, “etangs” translates to “pond” in English. The terrace outside offers a beautiful view and a dozen tables overlooking the interconnecting ponds of St. Denis. The patrons are varied. It’s not unlikely to find yourself sitting alongside fisherman downing a Juplier before they head back to catch their dinner.  Their numerous tents dot the lake’s perimeter. On several occasions, especially Sundays, I’ve found myself in the company of senior citizens passing time with a deck of cards. And one day after hiking around St. Denis we were surrounded by celebrities and paparazzi! Our visit was at the same time a film crew was shooting a wedding scene for a popular Belgian reality TV series. The bride was sitting alongside her parents in a beautifully decorated horse drawn carriage. It was amusing to watch the TV crew wait for their instructions to proceed down the hill to the Abbaye of St. Denis. The groom along with a procession of people in ornate French costumes were waiting to welcome the bride and her parents. To pass time, the driver of the carriage enjoyed small glasses of cold beer while he waited in the hot sun. My husband and I, along with Natalie and Michel, were the only people there to witness this unique event.

Entering the café you’re most likely greeted by Michel or Natalie because they live over the bar. Their guests feel the genuine warmth that can only come from being in someone’s home. The space is dimly lit and lined with wooden tables and chairs. Overhead are tunes of classic rock. A small sun room overlooks a gated garden area. Our family tends to sit towards the back of the café, where the chalk board easel and dart board are set up, an added touch, but an important indication. It tells visitors like me, kids are welcome too!

Two important elements tucked in a corner provide insight into one of the owners, Michel. The piano is a hint to his love for music. He’s been the guitarist for a local band called the Flying Cervelazzz for nearly 30 years. I’ve seen them perform both at the Mons and Jurbise Beer Fests. His casual attire for the performances stayed true to his personality- dark jeans, boots, and a collard button down dress shirt. On both occasions his petite, smiling wife Natalie was there greeting family and friends. At both concerts, I witnessed the crowd come alive as they watched and listened to this local institution. They have a following, including our family!

The second hint of Michel’s interest sits on the piano, a statue of a Gilles. If you haven’t seen a Gilles, you will want to mark your calendar for March 2-4, 2014. Unique to Belgium, they are honorable participants of the carnival of Binche; which dates back to the 14th century.  Their purpose is to entertain during the days leading up to Ash Wednesday.  Historically they are male, natives, and are between 3-60 years old. They are dressed in colorful attire with a signature wax mask and wooden shoes. Their heads are topped with tiny white caps that tie around their chin. On the last day of carnival (also known as Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras) they dance through town with wooden sticks with bells in hopes of scaring off evil spirits.

Afterwards, the Gilles can be seen carrying baskets filled with oranges that are thrown into the crowds.It’s considered good luck to catch an orange thrown by a Gilles. The fact Café des Etangs happens to be owned by a guitar playing Gille makes me think I’m already lucky. No oranges required.


No comments:

Post a Comment