Landschlacht, 11 February 2016
Let us now praise the introverts amongst us and may the meek truly inherit the Earth.
Every year, every damn year, my wife notes that every February I remark that we have entered “the silly season” once I spy the first celebrants of Carnival with their ringing bells and odd costumes and painted faces and grotesque masks.
But what she fails to notice is that this festival of fools never really ends, but like a travelling circus or a non-academic Chatauqua it simply moves onwards to another place to infect others with its insanity.
My wife, being a woman and less introverted than myself, longs for regular contact with others, but festivals and parties are not how I wish to make contact.
My wife, 11 years my junior, complains that I am already a grumpy old man.
A former fiancée of mine once commented that I was a strange combination of school boy and grandfather in character, that I was born old, much like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
My younger colleagues tell me that there´s nothing like the life-affirming buzz of a major festival, whether it is toasting the arrival of a season, soaking one´s liver in alcohol or electrifying one´s senses in an orgy of sound and light, frenzy and fury, pulse and beat.
I have travelled enough of the world to realise that every country in the world has its own festivals and celebrations.
Travel guides encourage me to mingle with the mob for these world parties are the key to unlocking local culture and make for a fantastic travel experience.
Run with the bulls, join the procession, burn something, drink till you drop, life is a party.
Yet introverts know better.
Prices of everything skyrocket.
You are surrounded by huge crowds of folks who are in varying degrees of intoxication and diminshing realisation of self-control.
Eat, drink and be merry, damn it.
Life´s too short.
Live for the moment.
And sometimes a moment doesn´t last long.
Hospitals are filled with the injured and graveyards increase their numbers every festival time.
And all the freaks come out, as do the pickpockets, as do the inherantly violent.
And innocents are swept away and peer pressured into swigging that vodka in a cocktail mixed with drugs in the middle of a crowd in equally rough shape.
And then, if you´re lucky, morning arrives and you are broken and broke.
You wake up in unfamiliar surroundings, perhaps with strange bed companions or bathed in the scent of vomit and sweat and maybe even livestock.
Are we having fun yet?
Carnival, carnaval, carnevale, Fasching, Fastnacht, Mardi Gras, wasn´t that a party?
Now all of this takes place just before Easter, but as the Church follows a lunar calendar and moves Easter every year, Carnival can take place anytime between the first week of February and the first week of March depending on where you live in the Christian world or whether your land is Catholic or Orthodox.
Yet Carnival which is supposed to precede 40 days of fasting for Lent bears little resemblance to religious solemnity.
So, Christians are the only party animals?
Not at all.
Hinduism and its legends are the basis of thousands of festivals every year with huge pilgrimages to holy sites and riotous noise and colour over everyone and everything.
Buddhists also party.
After all, it is in their Karma to do so.
Muslims depending on their devotion save the eating and drinking and smoking and sexual contact until after Ramadan is over but then they feast, feast, feast and party, party, party with a release of emotion more powerful than an exploding locomotive.
I spent the first three decades of my life in North America, have lived in Europe for nearly two decades and have spent time in Asia.
I have experienced Carnival by many different names in many different places.
And what remains is not a feeling of lingering joy but rather the feeling of isolation, alone in a crowd I didn´t understand, a thinker surrounded by the thoughtless, clean amongst dirt and depravity, a seagull surrounded by an ocean wave of desperate people determined to have a good time even if it kills them.
I remember with stark vividness being trapped on a train travelling through southwestern Germany´s Black Forest, heading to Breisach on the French border, with wagonloads of Carnival celebrants.
Drunk as skunks, loud as lords, they sang and shouted off-key and off-colour.
I couldn´t run, couldn´t hide, couldn´t escape.
To this day I cannot think of the Smokie song “Living Next Door to Alice” without remembering the insertion of the line “Who the f— is Alice?” screamed into my ears in heavily accented English by wobbling Germans who could not expel vocabulary without the threat of vomiting.
Are we having fun yet?
Growing up in the countryside and raised by extremely introverted foster parents, partying was not something I was familiar with until I left home for a higher education.
Our idea of celebrating New Year´s Eve was to drive out into the middle of open fields far away from any town and stare up into the wonders of a star-filled sky.
On my own as a young adult their ways remained mostly with me.
I can count on the fingers of one hand the few times I have drank heavily and I lacked the courage (because I lacked the knowledge) to experiment with exotic substances stronger than alcohol or caffeine.
This does not make me superior in any way whatsoever, but I have come to realize not only who I am but more importantly who I am not.
So dance till dawn, drink on the beach in the pale moonlight and live like there is no tomorrow.
And if you are looking for me I´ll be outside hiking in the woods, sleeping under the stars or curled up beside a fireplace reading a good book.
To each his own.