Friday, March 18, 2011

For the birds

While everyone is eagerly awaiting tomorrow's Milano-Sanremo or the equally famous Tobacco Road Marathon, I want to draw your attention to two other Belgian sports -although there is at least some doubt as to whether one of them is really a "sport"- that are commonly associated with the kermis. This just to show you that there is more to the kermis than the kermiskoers.

The first and legally most controversial -there is at least one legal precedent establishing that it is not a sport- is the duivensport (literally the "pigeon sport"). In this activity, that is popular in both Belgium and the Netherlands, pigeons are boxed and driven 300-1,300 km into France or Spain before being released. Pigeon sport is in effect an adventure race that combines navigation and time trialing for pigeons. It is no walk in the park either, as pigeons fly anywhere from 60 to 130 km/h (37-80 mph).

And they are off!

The objective -for the pigeon- is to make it home and deliver a ring that is then put in a special device to time the bird. Unfortunately, duivensport is rather boring to watch and the only thing offered to the spectator is birds circling their home till while anxious owners try to lure them in and retrieve the ring. Needless to say, many birds first sprint home and then spend hours flying around their till while the owners tear out their hair and chew up their fingernails.

Vinkensport or "finch sport," on the other hand is a spectator sport, a truly exciting activity where owners sit in front of cages and count the number of songs birds produce. A legitimate song is marked on a special stick and the bird with the most songs wins the event. To get a true sense of the intensity and tension created by this event, I post the following video of a vinkenzetting at the 2010 Destelbergen kermis.

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