Carnival officially kicked off at 12:11 on the Vrijthof with the raising of the Mooswief doll, but Dan and I were antsy so we got dressed up and left early with the intention of prowling the streets. I dressed as a blue punk rocker cat-girl (kat-meisje) complete with tail. Dan wore a foppish, multicolored Victorian-esque jacket and hat along with his old Renaissance Faire shirt. Both of us had lots of layers on in a rather desperate attempt to keep the chill off. My toes froze anyways.
Leaving early turned out to be a great idea when we were lured by music down a side street and into a ceremony being performed in front of the Prince of Carnival’s ‘Palace’ (his home). How lucky that we just happened to live nearby. Even though we didn’t understand much from the speeches (a word here and there) it was fun to see this small, side event and the people who were (we suspect) from the neighborhood.
Towards the end of the ceremony, a Tempeleer member attempted to unfurl a banner hanging on the palace to commemorate the day. The plastic covering got stuck and they eventually were forced to bring in a ladder and handyman. This caused a lot of merriment among the onlookers and speakers.
About that time we took our leave and headed down to the Vrijthof, sure that there would already be a crowd waiting to watch the opening ceremonies. Boy, were we wrong. Maybe it was because of the cold, but very few people were there when we arrive. It wasn’t until about 20-30 minutes before noon that groups began to trickle in with their elaborate costumes and carts. We discovered later that many of them were in the parade.
The opening ceremony itself seemed long and involved a lot of noise. After a speech or two a small cannon was brought out and fired first by an organizer and then by the Prince. At this point I figured they were done, but no. It turns out that after raising the Mooswief doll, the cannon needed to be fired an additional 9 times. 11 blasts in total of course. We didn’t wait for all the bangs. It got too cold so we met up with a classmate and wandered for a while in search of a place to watch the parade until we discovered that it didn’t start until 3 pm. We lunched at John Mullins while waiting.
While there was a great deal of variation in themes and complexity, the most impressive costumes were the coordinated groups. One of my favorites was a group of people with flower blooms perched on top of their heads and spring green coats and dresses to simulate stems.
The Maastricht Carnival parade was both an impressive and, like much of the Carnival activities here, rather casual with people drinking and chatting as they strolled with their push/pull floats down the narrow street from the train station, over the St. Servaas Bridge and beyond.
Most of the bands we would encounter in the evening and over the next couple of days were also in the parade. Some wore elaborate, thematically-colored costumes and painted their faces to match. What was really impressive was the variation within the group color scheme. Within the same band, individuals had customized their costumes to different lengths, motifs, stitch, etc. while still maintaining the overall look.
Other bands, the so-called, Drunk Bands were not coordinated at all; their varied but still frequently elaborate costumes lending to their chaotic air.
The parade slowly wound along for about an hour until our fingers and toes were too cold. We slipped back inside John Mullins to meet up with a couple more expats and then found our way back towards the Vrijthof and the party already well under way there.
Stepping away from the regular events of Carnival, we discovered the even more casual and potentially crazier aspect of celebrations in Maastricht. The cafes. And the costumes.
All of the cafes in the old part of Maastricht around the squares had prepared for the large influx of people by moving all of their tables and chairs out and setting up outdoors glass collectors and bars. Carnival folk music was the order of the day at most of the places we went, with the occasional modern (or at least English-language) song making its way into the mix.
We wandered down a side street to the slightly less packed Café Cliniq first where they were serving beer and some fried food options and met up with some more classmates. Like many of the cafes we visited, the walls had extra panels covering all the walls for decoration. It was there we were surprised to discovered small children running around the crowd and playing Frisbee with beer coasters. Clearly family was an important part of the celebrations; resulting in an odd scene for Americans.
We then moved on to the Vrijthof to the Perron again and then down to the Onze Lieve Vrouw Plein. This third location teamed with people and seemed to have attracted many of the parade participants.
A somewhat unique aspect of the Maastricht carnival is that nearly all the participants dress up and paint their faces. Some only chose to wear a colorful scarf or boa, while others got a Halloween-esque route (like us), and still others have developed intricate costumes made of various types of fabrics and themes.
As befits this particularly cold Dutch winter, many costumes we saw were warm looking. A number, like the awesome squid costume, were actually made out of quilted coats. Definitely a smart move. Like the bands, families and couples usually had coordinated costumes.
Many of the participants (particularly the older ones) dressed in complex and interesting “garb”; their faces painted or covered with intricate masks and lots of lace. The costumes were often reminiscent of renaissance fairs or Holland’s “Golden Age”. Dan’s costume fell more or less into this range and the costumes were so amazing I’d like to go this direction next year for both of us. Dan on the other hand wants to do Isle of Dr. Monroe costumes.
Other popular themes were cross-dressing (more female-impersonators than male ones), fuzzy animal costumes (particularly holstein cows), and, rather uncomfortably for me, cultural stereotypes (Dutch, Irish, African, and American Indian). Cowboys too, which made me wonder if this was the Dutch stereotype of Americans in general.
This is the second article in my Alaaf! Carnival 2010 Recap Series.