Okay kids... here it is... the weekend post that has now become a midweek post.
Carnaval is an annual celebration in the South Netherlands. It's at the same time of year as the Rio festival and has a similar 'religious' history, except revellers are inclined to wear more clothes (especially as it had been snowing this year).
I've included pictures from my time at Carnaval two years ago, because this year I didn't take a camera with me. Too much responsibility. But you'll get the general gist...
So NF is marrying into family in Valkenswaard (which sounds like it should be translated to Eagle's Fart, but it isn't). Every year, NF's fiancee potters down to Valkenswaard for the four-day Carnaval festivities. I've been there twice, and I've known the family long enough to sort of understand what goes on... but I still don't really know why they do half the things they do. There are themes and costumes and songs, princes and speeches, breakfasts, dinners and parades. And beer. Lots and lots of biertje.
This seems to be the general idea of the Dutch Carnaval: either you wear a precisely-constructed and socially-witty costume; or you dig around in your closet and wear whatever you wouldn't dare wear over the last 30 years, all at once. On the previous occassion that I joined NF, we donned bright wigs, a few feather boas and some mismatched clothing. This year, we were informed - in no uncertain terms - that we were to actually put some thought into our appearance. So, after discussing the fact that we really should plan our lives better, I finally purchased us two matching outfits the day before Carnaval. We were going as Robin Hood(s).
Right. Arriving in Valkenswaard, we were greeted by the fiancees Carnaval club - Het Kozakedeur. Outfit: red trousers [side note: every true Dutch person owns a pair of red trousers. Mills and I have yet to establish the reason behind this], yellow shirt, grey fluffy jacket and hat. NF and I rush to get dressed - put on our Robin Hood outfits and realise just how short the dresses/tops are. Interesting. Outfit consists of long shirt/skirt thing, brown tights, brown boots, brown boat-shaped hat. Plus false eyelashes as an impulse buy on my part.
We decided we were now called Robin Ho's.
Challenge No. 1: putting on false eyelashes. I'm not much of a make up fan and have certainly never donned falsies before. After a few attempts we finally got them right... sort of. Certainly not before:
a) putting them on too high
b) pulling them (and half my real eyelashes) off
c) putting them on skew
d) putting one higher/slantier than the other
e) glueing bottom - REAL - lashes to top eyelid.
With puffy, irritated and watery eyes, the Robin Ho's were finally ready.
Challenge No. 2: cycling into town. Wearing nothing but tights, Robin Ho skirt/shirt and a jacket that does not button down to my knees, cycling into town was a breezy affair. Not helped by the fact that I was having to hold my boat-shaped hat on my head. The koekie's jamjar has never felt so exposed in broad daylight (or any light, for that matter). To be honest, cycling in a short skirt is not an unpopular past time in the Netherlands. Although, godknows it should be. Eventually, I killed two birds with stone - so to speak - by using my hat to cover my decency. Sort of.
Once in town, Carnaval proceeded as I remembered it. Lots of Oompah-oompah type bands and marching songs. Lots of lyrics that go "lalala laaalaaa lalala" (when I was singing along anyway). And a ridiculously constant supply of beers. Anyone who thinks that Amsterdam is a culture shock, should try South Netherlands over Carnaval...
The Robin Ho's were a hit (obviously). What made it more amusing is that NF and I look vaguely alike - in the right light. In a dark pub, wearing the same outfit with matching false eyelashes, we were getting A LOT of double takes. Men are very easily confused. Very.
This weekend was also the only time I have had beer thrown at me by a jealous wife. That definitely was a first. You see, Carnaval is all about mingling and drinking and talking with random people. NF and I were talking to a short, fat Elvis (probably about something as innocuous as sustainable development) when I got hit on the head by a peanut. After some discussion, we realised which direction it had come from. "Oh," said Elvis, as he pointed behind us, "that's my wife." NF and I turned around to see the wife of Elvis literally take a handful of beer and fling it in our faces. I've spent a fair amount of time in pubs. I've never (that I can recall) actually received a deliberate beerful in my face.
I think the best part of Carnaval is really just looking at the fantastic outfits. Like mentioned earlier, a lot of people just seem to wear the ugliest clothes they can find. Others spend most of the year constructing just the right look. Again, this differs from Rio. The idea is not to look sexy. In fact, it seems that the frumpier and kitscher, the more 'carnaval' you are.
Carnaval is a must. If you're ever in the Netherlands at the beginning of Feb, look it up. It's only big in the South Netherlands (Northerners think Carnaval revellers are completely nuts - and with reason), so pay a visit to Eindhoven, Maastricht... or, of course, the little place inbetween called Eagle's Fart.