Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fasnacht: Mardi Gras a la Suisse

I’ve been hearing for two years now about the giant party in Basel that lasts 72 hours straight starting in the middle of the night on Shrove Tuesday.  Evidently, the parades, the masks, the costumes, the floats, etc. are just something to behold.  The crowds are reputedly enormous and the people all stay drunk on copious amounts of beer for three days and don’t go to sleep. Here’s the link to the Basler Fasnacht in English:  Intrigued by the possibility of witnessing Swiss People Gone Wild but much too old to party for 72 hours like a twentysomething, I began searching for an alternative.  Fasnacht Lite, if you will.

We don’t have Fasnacht down here in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, so I started looking in the towns and villages along the Rostigraben, the imaginary line that divides the German speakers from the French speakers.  Apparently, these villages stagger their Fasnacht festivals throughout the month of March so that, if one were so inclined, one could pretty much attend a parade every day and night for a whole month.  I was just interested in finding something to do on a Sunday besides watching taped episodes of American Idol with Mr. Big.

All the towns along the Rostigraben have two names—one German and one French, like Basel (German) and Bale (French) or Biel (G)/Bienne (F) or Visp (G)/Vierge (F).  The town that I picked was called Murten/Morat.  Their website promised a parade that was “small but very nice”.  I mean, Murten only has a population of around 6,000 people, so how crazy could it be, right?  It sounded like it was right up two old farts’ alley.  Sorry, Mr. Big, you are going to have to put Ryan Seacrest on pause because we are going out to soak up some Swiss culture.  Get your German on and let’s go.

We have been to Murten before.  It is very charming and medieval.  You can’t go inside the castle but the rest of the village is picture-worthy and you can still walk all along the ramparts of the 13th century castle walls.  The parade was scheduled to start at 15:03.  Not 15:02 or 15:04.  15:03.  We caught the train out of Lausanne around 11:00, giving us plenty of time to have a nice lunch in Murten before the “cortege” or parade started.

About two train stops before we reached Murten, we noticed people boarding the train wearing costumes.  OK, at least I didn’t have the date wrong and there was definitely SOMETHING going on in Murten that day.  While walking the block between the train station and the old village inside the ramparts, we noticed a rather large sign that said “Village Ferme” or Village Closed.  Of course, Mr. Big, who does not trust my French, immediately thinks that I have translated the website wrong and he is ready to turn around and go back to Lausanne.  Dude!  It’s closed for TRAFFIC, not people.  C’mon, it’ll be alright, just follow me.

Right outside the gates there are a number of official-looking people with money boxes.  I thought it was free, but apparently not.  I ask, in my abysmal German, if the parade is free and the guy with the money box says yes and waves us in.  Only later do I find out that they were selling “blaggedde” or pins/badges for 10 franc each.  So, because we are stupid Americans, we go inside Murten with no blaggedde pinned to our jackets.  Here’s a hint Fasnacht Committee:  put up a sign saying “Blaggedde 10 Fr” or something so that complete neophytes like us will not be caught unawares without our blaggedde.

We ate lunch here:,_Morat/Freiburger_Falle_-_Fr_-_HOME.html  This is a fabulous “keller” or cellar or wine cave underground on the main street inside the village.  The proprietors had it all decorated with streamers and clown masks.  Most of the people looked like locals, slurping up their fondue and most were in costume, except for us and this other table that held a Chinese couple.  How do I know they were not locals?  (I mean besides the fact that they were Chinese, duh.)

In the time it took for us to sit down, take off our outerwear and decide on a wine, these two had ordered, received and eaten half of their ONE COURSE meal.  They drank water and ordered no coffee.  They were in and out in about 30 minutes.  Aren’t Mr. Big and I getting quite smug and didn’t we just feel like a normal, Swiss couple compared to those meal-inhaling tourists?  Just wait.  Our big smackdown was coming.

Halfway through lunch, I reach inside my bag for my camera to take pictures of the décor and the restaurant for this blog.  To my horror, my camera battery is dead.  I would now have to rely on pictures for the blog from Mr. Big’s phone.  Aaaak!  Mr. Big is known for his lousy head-chopped-off or, conversely, tops-of-heads-only-the-rest-sky-and-clouds pictures.  I’m panicking at the table and trying to give him Photography 101 tips over the dessert course before we venture out onto the street.  Close-ups, Mr. Big, I need close-ups!   He begins damage control, (also known as CYA—Cover Your Ass) before even taking Picture One by trying to tell me that his phone does not have a zoom.  Liar!  His phone does everything but wipe his butt!  I’m sure there is a zoom function in there somewhere but it is not worth fighting about.  You pick your battles, you know?  So, people, be forewarned, all of the pictures herewith were taken by Mr. Big with his mobile.


1.        The babies wear Bose headphones.  OK, when we saw the first one, I thought it was an anomaly.  Oh, how cute, I thought, that little guy is rockin’ out, doin’ his own thing.  No.  It appears that there is a certain lime green brand of headphone here emblazoned with the word “kidz” which is plunked on all the heads of the littlest Swiss to SAVE THEIR HEARING.  Remember, this is the land of quiet.  A parade, by definition, is noisy.  It’s those piercing drums and fifes, you know.  So, the mamas pop these lime green headphones on the little ones’ ears so THEY WILL NOT BE SUBJECTED TO TOO MANY DECIBELS.  Swear to God.  I saw one mama, apparently a Forgetful Mama, who, realizing she did not have her “kidz” headphones, HELD HER HANDS OVER HER BABY’S EARS whenever a band went by.  I am not kidding.

2.        There are NO cartoon character children’s costumes, save, inexplicably, Spiderman.  First of all, understand that 99% of the children in the crowd, including teenagers, are dressed up.  There are princesses, but no Disney princesses.  No Transformers.  No Power Rangers.  No Sponge Bob.  Sooooo disconcerting.  Instead, there are generic witches, pirates and, incredibly, an inordinate amount of American cowboys and Indians.  Outfits that American children would sneer at are a hot ticket item here.  Go, Geronimo!  Go, Johnny Cash!  I saw a teenager dressed as a Secret Service man doing crowd control.  He had on a suit, tie, ear plug and a gun (no kidding) on his hip.  He was workin’ it, too!  He was walking up and down the line of spectators, talking into his shirt cuff.  There was another teenager, with a fake mustache, dressed as the President of UBS (a big Swiss bank), wearing a suit and tie and looking smug.  ONLY in Switzerland do the teenagers dress up like their favorite bankers.  Mind boggling.

3.       The floats are, literally, inches away from the spectators.  This goes back to the issue of personal responsibility, i.e. if you are so stupid that you can’t get out of the way of a towering, two-story structure which was built in 48 hours by a bunch of drunk people that is balanced precariously on top of a John Deere tractor, well, then, you probably are too stupid to live.  Or, you need to move back to Eastern Europe or Northern Africa or wherever you snuck in from.  Period.  Believe me, there is no such thing here as Political Correctness.  You people just need to go.  Now.  Unless you are rich.  Then, we will make an exception.  ANYWAY, the floats are directly next to the crowd.

Which brings me to my final observation.  It is from these floats that confetti is thrown.  No, wait.  Thrown is not the right word.  Projected.  Hurled with abandon.  Copious amounts.  Directed at, you guessed it, people who are not wearing a blaggedde.  Y’ALL!!!  When we were on the train platform leaving to go home, Mr. Big and I had to give each other a rub down to get the bulk of it off.  It was ridiculous!  It was impacted in Mr. Big’s ears!

We were annihilated by billions of tons of small paper bits.  By the end of the parade, I was like, ENOUGH!  Enough, already!.  Point your high-design Swiss airhose at someone else!  Surely, Mr. Big and I cannot be the only two people in the crowd who are not wearing a stupid pin!  Where is that lovely Chinese couple from the restaurant?  Surely they don’t have a pin!  Go get ‘em!

It is now Tuesday and I have vacuumed our apartment twice.  There is so much confetti everywhere, you would think the parade was inside our apartment.  Days later, it keeps coming out of every orifice.  It was inside my bra.  It was inside my socks.  Don’t even talk about the confetti still embedded in my hair that is laughing at my feeble shampoo regimen.   Lesson learned, Swiss Fasnachters!  Bring on Basel, we are ready!

1 comment:

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