The Fasnacht, German Europe’s Mardi Gras, a controlled sequence of mayhem throughout Basel, has come, and, with a puff of multi-coloured confetti, a piccolo trill, a trumpet toot, a bass drum and a rude gesture, has gone. Jessie and Ella each got up with their friends to witness the formal beginning, the Morgestreike, at 4am in the frosty darkness. I failed once again to do this but did see some of the formulaic madness as I later cycled around the mounded paper trails in Basel. The rest of the family also saw the Oberwiler Fasnacht the previous week at the bottom of our road. What strikes me most about Die Drey Scheenschte Dääg is the determined sense of order within an otherwise chaotic proposition. The centre of Basel, nomally fastidiously tidy, is suddenly ankle deep everywhere in confetti, flowers, fruit, vegetables and pieces of coloured paper. It is as if a psychedelic Fall/Autumn had suddenly occurred in just a couple of days and left the streets awash in swishing leaves and floating seeds of purple, orange, red, yellow, green and white. The processions feature marching bands with garish costumes and bad tempers, and waggis, androgynous giant dwarves in hideous masks (most with priapic noses) who jabber on the sides of the decorated floats, showering spectators with pillow cases full of confetti and bombarding them with oranges, cabbages, flowers and samples of shampoo, perfume and miniature drinks. Alli caught seven oranges in a row from a waggi in Oberwil, one by one, thrown (and caught) with a precision that seems a bit inconsistent with bacchanalian revelry. Ella, on the other hand, was flourishingly presented with several bunches of flowers as the float trundled past. The apocalyptic twilight scenes that I cycled through near the end of the celebrations were quite literally brought back to decorum within twelve hours, and when I cycled into work the next day only very slight traces of the carnival could be seen on the scrubbed pavements.
On St Valentines day I had dinner with a work colleague in Barfusserplatz (during which we swopped the coincidental information that our wives had each forgotten (or possibly chosen to forget) about the most romantic day of the year) and I left my rucksack on the bus while returning home after the dinner, realising this even as I watched the bus’s tail lights fade into the freezing fog of the madrugada. The next day was extremely painful – I spent it in silent and brooding dread of the realisation that all my personal documents – ALL of them – from passport to credit cards, watch, keys, a large amount of cash, passbooks etc had not only been lost but might possibly never again be found. The morning was spent cancelling all the cards and getting flimsy duplicates of my documentary life. But the utter dread was caused by the mournful musing: would a kind Swiss gentleman or lady hand in the rucksack after finding it on the bus in the early hours of the morning or would I become the victim of an identity theft made laughably easy by immediate access to all my most defining documents. The answer came, thankfully, within 24 hours. The rucksack had been handed in intacta at the Lost Property office. Oh Joy! I felt light headed enough to faint when I heard the news. I went joyously off with Alli to participate in an English Burns Night (piping in Yorkshire Pud instead of Haggis, and oodles of Morris dancing and Steeleye Span songs) and slept soundly that night – the sleep of profound relief. So chapeau to the kind Swiss gentleman. I spent the rest of the weekend and many days thereafter in a warm haze of grateful feelings about the Swiss nation in general.
We have had seemingly thousands of children eating with us at weekends as the sunny weather has brought all Gwen’s friends out into our garden and the long half-term break has seen the children hang around the house much more often than usual. Jessie has had two friends from England to stay: Grace and Asja, who were a big hit with her ISB friends. Alli and I have been out rather more than usual, to the aforementioned English Burns Night supper (I do hope my Scottish cousins will forgive the blasphemy), dinner with our good friends the Kellys and to a dressing-up Quiz Night benefit at the school. Dressing Up? We were Gothic for the night. Black mostly. Black and occasional chalk white. The event, in which our table did well in the quiz, coming third overall, also produced some worryingly defining photographs of me and Alli looking like, respectively, a tubby Ozzy Osbourne and a moonstruck Mrs Munster, thrown suddenly together in a ghastly ghostly cameo.
I can also report that it has at last snowed in Basel, on two occasions, but on neither occasion with much determination – a morning flummery each time. The dogs continue to vie with each other to see which can get lost in the woods for the longest time and which can disappear the quickest once left off the lead. Bonnie is in for a major lifestyle change when Licorice finally makes it back to New Zealand to his family. I should also report that serious computer problems have also intervened dramatically at home to make emailing either way virtually impossible for Alli and me over several weeks. Thanks to our computer man from Rheinfelden, these problems appear now to be over. I can get back to my power chords.
Yours from the court of darkness,
Waggi Priapic Dread