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Saturday, February 2, 2013

a fool's show

Gold, sequins, pomp and circumstance.  This is carnival.  But, I just don’t understand the point?

Last Saturday night, I headed out with mickey and minnie (including many of mickey’s nine siblings, their partners and children) and their neighbours, veronica and archie.  Great guy dropped me off at m&m’s place, and stayed just long enough for a bubbly toast to get our party night started.  He is definitely not a fan of the big, dress-up parties…a drama queen he is not.  So, as he went home to settle into an evening of watching terminator for the 100th time, I put on some blue hair, a short, red flamenco dress, a black boa and some high, high heels.


Arriving at the decked-out carnival club (official name: Kemptener Narrenverein 1950), along with nuns, prisoners, hippies, and more nuns, I could feel the air heavy with excitement in anticipation of the revelry to come. I had no idea what I was in for, but everyone else seemed to  know that they were going to have a great night.

The evening began, and continued on for four hours, of glitzy, sequined, white feathers-in-their-hair, blue, red and white tutu-wearing, dancing girls (mix cheerleaders with the rockettes and you’ve got it); costumed men giving long, (apparently hilarious) speeches in dialect so heavy I thought at some points they could possibly be speaking English.  I had no idea what some of them said, but watching minnie and veronica laughing so hard that there were tears running down their make-up, stained faces was entertaining enough; dancing skits with cops & robbers, cheerleaders & soccer players, and even two guys in a boxing ring spoofing the new rocky musical to the tune of ‘it’s the eye of the tiger’; and last but not least a group of young, super-cool-wannabes going gangnam style and actually doing it not that badly.


Now I still don’t really understand what or why carnival exists…in Rio, New Orleans and our side of the Rhein.  It seems to be one of the very few, if not the only (other than communion) church-sanctioned (or even initiated) event where the major point (it seems to me) is to drink…heavily.  Ok, maybe it’s not the main point of carnival, I know that the gardemädchen (dancing girls) are superfluous during carnival, but the drinking is a huge, helluva-helau part of it!

Speaking of helau…this year’s theme for the evening was ‘a thundering triple hellau!’ (okay, it doesn’t translate that well) which meant that every 10 seconds or so the hall would erupt in screams of ‘helau, helau, helau!’ Appropriately this ‘helau’ is called ‘the call of fools’ which you’ll hear on the streets and in the hallways, as a greeting throughout the weeks of carnival.  And, if someone on stage messed up or said something too crude the entire crowd would respond with a rousing rendition of sing-song which I will attempt to write as, ‘oi, oi, oi oi…ow wow wow, wow wow’.  Guess you have to be there.  But, it sure is fun to watch people, young and old, singing at the top of their lungs (the more you drink, the funnier it becomes).

Here, a few of my favourite things:

-archie continuously flipping his long, orange locks, like one of charlie’s angels


-mickey getting so annoyed with the large, hairy she-devil at the next table who was boisterously balancing wine bottles on his/her very ample bosom, that he started throwing walnuts at his/her head (one question: Why did mickey have walnuts along? He was dressed as a cleaning lady.)

-männerballet (yup, that’s right, man ballet) which if you’ve ever seen top secret you’ll get the right idea…but without the super-sized balls.  Mickey’s nephew was one of the dancers, along with the son of another friend of mine.  Family and friends howled and cheered the guys on, as they twirled and pirouetted, hopped and leaped, while lifting and throwing each other around; all the while dressed as police officers (I still don’t know why).

And, the highlight (by far the funniest thing that I could understand) was a video spoof of ‘America’s Most Wanted’ (Aktenzeichen Ungelöst) re-enacting recent unsolved crimes in the area.  A nun (clearly not a real nun) is seen sneaking into the Hildegard herb garden of the nearby Hildegard of Bingen convent, heading over to the herbs and ripping them all frantically out.  In the process he disturbs another nun (clearly not a real nun) who is quietly meditating in the garden.  The thief runs out of the garden, his habit flying behind him (isn’t there a movie about this?) as he makes his great escape, arms full of herbs, into the woods.  A police man (apparently a real, neighbourhood bobby – judging by the audience’s reaction) just happens to be strolling past the convent garden (probably his regular beat) when he senses something amiss and gives chase.  To no avail, the thief is gone.

Next scene: the neighbourhood building centre, where on every Saturday a bratwurst truck is setup selling to the lunchtime crowd.  Right next to it, on this particular Saturday, a nun (again, clearly not a real nun) is busy setting up a herb-selling stand.  A moment later the friendly, neighbourhood policeman happens to drive by.  He sees the nun, slams on his brakes, jumps out of the car, and with baton waving runs towards her.  The nun, notices the policeman, herbs go flying and they run off.  Break to mug shot of said nun…apparently some prominent person from the area (major hooting and hollering from crowd)…who knows.  But, during the chase and ensuing arrest, someone else entirely took off with the herb stash.  Case still unsolved.

It’s one am and slowly people get up, gather their fallen-off wigs and long-tossed-aside wands and weapons, and in mickey’s case, a plunger.  The floor is littered with feathery boa remnants and the long, wooden tables are messy with empty glasses and plates, and lots of sad, used up luftschlangen (literally translated as ‘air snakes’!). There are still two guys on stage doing a sketch about the high cost of parking metres on mainstreet, but nobody seems to be listening anymore.  Everyone is just plain exhausted from all the laughing, the singing… and the drinking.

Maybe at the end of the day (and long night), the point of carnival is for the community to come together; to plan and prepare and execute a night of merriment and laughter; to not take themselves or each other or politics too seriously, but to make fun and have fun…and to look silly.

Good, hometown fun…not my hometown, but that’s okay, they happily let me in. Or maybe they were just drunk.


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