I saw Frankenstein waiting at the bus stop this morning. Her hair was pulled back tight against her skull, and she had a perfect lipsticked rosebud pout, and a beige overcoat, but the extra lines on her forehead looked like a deep frown. In my office I have three colleagues, a red & white clown, a parking disc and a banana. In my grey top and black trousers, I say, grinch-like, that I have come as a stormcloud, that I will rain on their parade.
I can't really pinpoint why I feel uneasy about Karneval, partly it is the dressing up which always seems childish verging on sinister; there is no tradition of this in my past, the only time costumes were allowed was for Halloween, and once you'd gone to big school, even that was out. I read in books of masked balls, revels, Carnevales, all colourful backdrops for darker deeds.
The attraction I suppose is that it is a time out of time, where things that are done are out of character, and not mentioned in the cold light of day. In a costume, less recognisable if not actually disguised, you can be someone else. There is not exactly a conspiracy of silence, more a recognition of 'but for the grace of god' that observed indiscretions could have been your own, and keeping quiet is the norm.
I think it is the organised nature of the fun that makes me itch. The Karneval season 'kicks off' on the 11th of November, and the next three months are spent planning parades, with several practice parades as Rosenmontag draws ever nearer. That's right, they spend three months practising to walk through the town. They have bands playing, and floats from which sweets, badges etc are thrown, but a parade is basically a bunch of people, some dressed up, standing at the side of the road to watch another bunch of people who are definitely dressed up go past. There is a whole subset of songs, all rousing and earnest and 'fun!' and almost all indistinguishable from each other, all to be yelled along with while swaying from side to side. The Kölsch flows, a gassy lager beer, lubricating the whole occasion, hardly transmuted when expelled as urine. The expectation that you will have fun is high, admitting that I don't particularly want to join in is puzzling evidence that foreigners are different. I drive home, and the roads around my house are filled with people milling, and some plainly staggering, there are six Rotes Kreuze vans in my street alone to cope with the alcohol related injuries as the day wears on.
I sound like a puritan, unable to bear other people enjoying themselves, but I think for me the key niggle is that it lacks spontaneity. These five days are when you are sanctioned to go have fun, to drink to excess, to wear outlandish costumes. When they are finished you have to wait seven or eight months, then you can start planning to do it all over again.
At the bus stop on the way home, a pirate and an airline pilot, both checking text messages.