February 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

This time of the year always throws up the annual dilemma. There are of course two major carnivals kicking off in different far flung parts of this global village. The raunchiness of Rio, sweaty steaming streets packed with scantily clad gyrating Brazilians always invites. But then there are the more nuanced temptations offered by the Roermond carnival in the Dutch province of Limburg. What to do? Okay it’s cold in Roermond right now but as the various carnival committees have been focusing all their planning acumen on preparing for at least a week, a strange loyalty prevailed. So I cancelled my flight to Rio and walked down the road to Markt Plein to watch the parade.

Perhaps it was the weather or the economic gloom but carnival in Roermond was strangely subdued this year. There were the usual smiling princes accompanied by jovial middle-aged men in dark suits and silly hats, a scenario that somehow always makes me wonder what child protection procedures are in place. The garish plastic floats, all oddly rented from Belgium, were still as noisy and as always were pulled by oversized tractors driven by equally oversized unshaven farmers who looked as if they had just reluctantly taken a couple of hours out from the beet fields.


Public urination also always makes a surprise appearance at carnival time in Roermond. I’m not sure why but Dutch homes endow themselves with very few bathrooms. The whimsical indulgence of the Brits, the Americans, the Aussies and much of the rest of the world for en-suite bathrooms seems to be shunned in the Netherlands. So much so that I have occasionally wondered if the Dutch actually either defecate or urinate and whether or not the secret single bathroom in most Dutch houses is merely there for the disapproved convenience of foreign visitors. Then suddenly it’s carnival and there isn’t a single Dutch male under 75 who isn’t peeing in the streets of the Gemeente. (Mind you I’m still not persuaded one way or the other on the toileting needs of Dutch women) Though given that the future King and Queen showed up I’m sure there were suitable royal ablutionary arrangements somewhere around.


Maybe the streets at carnival in Roermond are more awash with urine than they are with capirinha but the parade does have certain local charms. The locals may overdo the peeing in the streets but they also use the parade to take the piss out of local dignitaries and to prick their pomposity. A disgraced local lawmaker and businessman, van Rey, together with his fragrant and very self indulgent wife was a particular target at the parade this year. The local Catholic Church usually takes a bit of a pummelling as well.


The essence of Roermond carnival lies not in the garish floats but in the small groups and individuals who lurk between them commenting on the vagaries of local life. The comments are always in the local dialect, Limburgs, and invariably resort to, at least to me, incomprehensible playful puns and word play. A skit on Fifty Shades of Grey was followed somewhere down the line by a group dressed as chickens protesting at a local supermarket’s sale of force fed chickens. Interspersed along the way was a myriad of eccentrics on various unreliable forms of transport making equally as unreliable points about obscure discontents. But then it’s more than possible that they were just onlookers who got caught up in the flow of the parade. It can be hard to tell in Roermond.


It’s not hard to get caught up in the flow of the parade particularly if you are a member of one of the two gangs that infiltrate the carnival to engage in insidious gang warfare. On the one hand are the anarchic under-tens who, free from the contraints of school or parental oversight, seem to roam at will. On the other hand and even worse were the marauding pairs of pensioners armed with sharp elbows and oversized plastic shopping bags. Gang warfare ensues as each float passes by showering onlookers with sweets, nick nacks and enough tatty stuffed toys to lead to a trade war with Taiwan. The competition between these two gangs for the freebees flying through the air is fearsome and remorseless. From my vantage point I saw pensioners and preteens fight a bloody and inconclusive war of attrition. I wasn’t sure whether what were needed were more effective child protection procedures or a new Treaty of Vienna.

So, sorry I kissed you off this year Rio. Maybe another year; don’t call me I’ll call you…but only after I’ve had a written reassurance that Brazil has an adequate supply of Portatoilets.


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