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Gilbert's three favourite days

Masques de Mi-Carême

Small, festive groups of people in disguise go from house to house. Called Mi-Carêmes after the French name for the Mid-Lent celebrations, they step into the living rooms and kitchens of the neighbourhood where the game is to guess who's who - identities are well hidden behind masks and extravagant costumes. Once a group has been found out, it heads for the next house. Mid-Lent was a French custom and is now celebrated in Fatima, on the Magdalen Islands. The event spans over three days, in the middle of Lent, three weeks before Easter. Some Islanders, who now live on the mainland, find it very hard to spend this local holiday away from home and family. Gilbert Chevarie remembers the winters he spent working away. "I felt like dying."

He is now the owner of the family house, well-known in the Des Caps canton for its role in the Mid-Lent festivities, a legacy started by Gilbert's father, René à Théo. Even if Gilbert is now hosting the event, he can't stop talking about the costumes.

Gilbert can't stop talking about the costumes

Over the years, he's recreated the looks of drifters, Ninja Turtles, beer kegs, coffee cups, etc. Costumes are always well-detailed and often involve interactive parts - for example, the kegs came with a functional tap and a hidden reservoir, and the rim of the coffee cups could be rolled up! He recalls spending an entire evening on roller skates for a costume, and another one in flippers. "You shouldn't do it," he adds, laughing. "It's risky."

Bienvenue aux Mi-Carêmes
Décorations extérieures
Mi-carêmes démasquées

For him, the smell of Mid-Lent is in the spray paint he used as a boy to create costumes and accessories. Inspiration for the yearly disguise always stemmed from a visit in the attic at René's. "We used to get all the garments down on the second floor, and then walk knee-deep in clothes."

Nowadays, he starts planning his outfit in August. "It got easier with the Internet. We get ideas from current events." That's how a few public figures and celebrities ended up in Fatima during Mid-Lent, including His Holiness the Pope and Elvis Presley (many years after his death).

Looking for the perfect disguise? Here are some pro tips from Gilbert:

1) Alter your gait and the way you gesticulate;
2) Change your figure (e.g. with a hump in the back);
3) Don't forget your hands - remove all rings and bracelets;
4) Hide your eyes before putting your mask on.

Fatima's residents are proud of their legendary hospitality. During the Mid-Lent festivities, every visitor in disguise gets a free drink, and mountains of triangle-shaped sandwiches and homemade sweets are passed around on trays before quickly disappearing behind the masks.

Gilbert offers a glass of bagosse to his guests - this alcoholic homebrew is made with yeast, sugar and apples, as per his father's recipe.
Of the whole event, Friday night is Gilbert's favourite evening, because it's the busiest. On the other hand, on Wednesdays, he has more time to welcome his guests. His greatest pleasure is still to take the end of the night off to put on a mask and go visit a couple of the other houses, incognito.

Par Suzanne Richard

Suzanne Richard is an author, a speaker and a musician. She published a collection of short stories entitled La mer, trois kilomètres à gauche. Her conference — Les mots et la mer — is about maritime words and expressions commonly used in the French language.

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