Travelling with panthers

The old lady and her walker overtook me in a neat sprint. I gasped. She was at least two decades older than me.

We were both running. A nice chap stood in the doorway to ensure we both made it – just. She got a seat, way before I jumped on board the last carriage of the local tube.

Both still breathing heavily, I congratulated her on her speed. Boy: she started out way behind me, then overtook me as if I was a tortoise. She said a walker was a great help, even when loaded with overstuffed shopping bags. Silently, I wondered which brand hers was: Ferrari Formula I, or a simple rocket launcher?

At the next stop, two panthers got on: one black and the other spotted. All the passengers craned their heads. It’s a spectacle you see here only once a year.

They were hungry. They started feeding on crackers and fruit. Inside different panther print jumpsuits, there were two young lads. They were obviously heading south.

The old lady and I wondered aloud,m if the two were heading for Mestrich? No, no, no. They were on their way to Lampengat (Lamps-hole). No, you won’t find that on Google maps.

They had their personal belongings, money, more food in small plastic carrier bags. They demonstrated how they’d put their plastic bags into the jumpsuits, zip up, pull down the hoods. They hadn’t decided yet, if they were going for make-up or masks. I dared not mention their stuffed bags inside the suits made them look like pregnant kittens.

They’d join a crowd of friends in various other suits, to celebrate carnival non-stop for three days. At least: that was the plan. There was probably a “mopping up” band playing on the platform of the train station to welcome them: a brass band playing special carnival music.

Yes: in dull cloggy country, they do celebrate Carnival. No, they don’t celebrate it the Venetian or Brazilian way. Yes, cloggies also celebrate Caribbean Carnival. It’s organised during what’s supposed to be summer, so-called Summer Carnival. London’s Notting Hill one is far, far grander.

For a cloggy Summer Carnival, you head off to Rotterdam in July. Of course, no guarantee it’ll be sunny, warm, brilliant weather. But hey: you’re there for the pretty girls, rhythms, steel bands – I presume.

For ordinary carnival you also quit Amsterdam. In some places it starts the Saturday, in others Sunday, or Monday before Lent. Fun ends on Ash Wednesday.

Some places have a traditional Carnival church service. Others don’t. Many have a special show: a long line of rolling floats. These contain comic and satirical scenes with as subjects local power-brokers, national politicians, world affairs. Practically each town and village has its own music, Prince Carnival, traditions.

Most northern cloggies don’t understand carnival. So all carnival lovers head south, though there are a few towns in northern regions, which also celebrate it. This is either because these towns sport universities; or because historically, they were Catholic pockets in a mainly Protestant country.

But the best regions to celebrate carnival remain the provinces of Limburg and Northern Brabant. If you end up in Maastricht for instance, it’s only a bus or short train journey to Cologne and other German towns. Both provinces also border Belgium. So if you find cloggy carnival boring, there’s nothing to keep you from hopping across the border to join celebrations in Germany or Belgium.

Of course, like both panthers, you’ll need to dress up as something. And of course, you’re not travelling to Eindhoven, Nijmegen, ‘s Hertogenbosch, The Hague, and any other places known by Google Maps. For three days, these places disappear from the earth.

Instead, you travel to Lampengat, Knotsenburg, Oeteldonk, Mestrich, Kresidentie (pronounced “crazydancy”) and other otherworldly names. For a list of place names during cloggy carnival: alternative place names.

PS: I wanted to include a pic of several German floats focussing on Charlie Hebdo and other world events. Unfortunately enough, I received a message that pics of these floats are so dangerous access to the server(s) was barred.

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