domingo, 10 de febrero de 2013

Km 28,806: My friend was kidnapped by a prisoner and a sleeping bag in Oeteldonk

The Dutch enjoy carrying all sorts of things on their bicycle, including furniture and people. In fact, carrying another person on your bike is a sign of fondness in the Netherlands, an honor reserved for the cyclist's offspring, girlfriend or close friends. However, if your relationship with a Dutch person hasn't reached the point where you could be taken for a ride on their bicycle, they might just hand you a greeting card for any random occasion for which you could imagine a greeting card being made. "Happy swimming diploma Janneke! We got you a card!"... yes, the card for such occasions does exist. 

As a foreigner living now for a couple of years in the Netherlands, I sometimes think that Dutch people have weird habits. In addition to their bizarre displays of affection, another activity that the Dutch seem to enjoy very much are festivities that result in urban destruction. I mean Carnival, of course, where people dress in elaborate costumes, binge drink in public and then proceed to more or less destroy the city they live in. Carnival is a catholic festicity and is therefore celebrated mostly in the south of the Netherlands. If you want to take part in the whole thing, your best shot within the Netherlands is probably Maastricht or Den Bosch. So this year, we decided to go to Den Bosch (or Oeteldonk as it is known during Carnival).

Oeteldonkers take their carnival seriously. They decorate the city in red-white-yellow (the colors from the flag of Oeteldonk), put their boerenkiels on (blue vests traditionally used by farmers), play the Oeteldonk anthem and celebrate their royalty and its entourage. And just in case you hadn't noticed it yet, despite the fact that it has a flag, an anthem and some sort of political leader which could lead you to believe that it's a sovereign state, Oeteldonk is actually not even a real place. 

You may have seen the carnival pictures from Rio de Janeiro, with essentially naked people dancing in Sambadromes covered with gold and feathers. This is nothing like that. Here, it's cold or, if you're unlucky, you might find yourself in the middle of a small blizzard which will persuade you of the importance of heavy drinking (if the horrible music hadn't done so yet).  After wandering through the city, drinking a beer here and there, trying to keep our fingers and toes safe from frostbite, we decided to go into a heated bar. We made it in and pushed our way to the back and there, while we were standing right by the line for the toilet, we had the real carnival experience. We tried some Schrobbelèr, sang the "Shoop shoop" song with Boy George, made friends with Cleopatra and by the time we were fully integrated in Oeteldonk society, we were pushed out of the bar. I came back on a rescue mission to recover a lost jacket (which would result in much harrassment from a carrot and no jacket recovery) and in the meantime, a sleeping bag, a monk and a prisoner attempted to kidnap one of our friends. Although lifting her up and walking away with her was a flawless plan, it didn't work as well as expected and she was promptly returned to us. But yeah, when carrots try to grope you and sleeping bags start kidnapping your women, you know it's probably time to leave. We made our way slowly and happily back to the train station, with strategic stops at seemingly joyful bars.

Unfortunately, it doesn't always go well for everyone. On our train back to Nijmegen, there was much fuss and commotion in the hallway: a very drunk kangaroo had locked himself inside the bathroom and refused to come out. It took a lot of threats and banging on the door from his friends and bystanders to get him to open the door, only to discover (with much horror) that he just should have stayed inside the bathroom and kept the door locked: the very drunk boxing kangaroo had thrown up all over the place. While it might seem ok to trash a city to the sound of oom-pa-pa music, trashing the train toilet is apparently unacceptable. 

Oh well, what happens in Oeteldonk, stays in Oeteldonk.

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