This past weekend I had the opportunity to learn about a celebration that I had never previously experienced. Taking a two hour train ride to the south of the Netherlands, I arrived in Maastricht to celebrate Carnival. We’ve all heard of Mardi Gras, and if you can sort of picture that in your head, then you have an idea what Carnival is like. Carnival is thought to have originated from Catholic regions, in preparation for Lent. During Lent many people decide to give up things, so it is said that before they do, they celebrate with dancing, music, rich food, and drink.
I traveled to the province of Limburg, to it’s capital, not really knowing what to expect. All along the next few hours, we slowly accumulated a train full of passengers who were dressed up in brilliant costumes. I felt like I was watching “adults dress up for halloween times 1000x”. Faces were painted like intricate masks, and homemade dresses, suits, and jackets were in full force. At this point I started wishing that I had maybe visited the market next to my apartment (Waterlooplein) and atleast bought a mask. I was the odd one.
The train pulled in around 2:30 in the afternoon, and we followed the hoard of people moving from the train station out into the open streets. A blast of noise that reminded me of polka music hit my ears and the load beat of drums could be felt vibrating on the cobblestone streets. Hundreds of people moved along with the parade in tune with the amateur marching bands that played throughout the entire city. It felt different compared to the other Dutch cities I had traveled to. It’s hard to put my finger on it but there was an air of grandeur that Amsterdam doesn’t mimic. The accent of the language is unique as well in this region. Some of my Amsterdam friends claim that they find it difficult to understand. The houses were much bigger and some of the decorations were quite elaborate and not as modest as traditional Dutch housing. It lies on the border of Belgium so I assume there is much influence from there as well. This is also the city that the Maastricht treaty was signed in; the treaty that created the European Union and started the euro).
We had the entire day to explore, but after only three hours my feet were screaming at me to rest. The Dutch are notoriously known for being able to keep a party like this going until dawn of the next day…how do they do it? Having accomplished seeing almost the whole historic city center along with eating more then my fair share of Dutch treats, we made our way back to the train station. I refuse to consider this as a defeat.
Bellarmine… I have an idea. Why not have a celebration next year for Carnival? With our creative and spirited group of students I’m sure the thing would be a success. Plus with our Italian influence in architecture and our love for Roberto Bellermino we could find inspiration from a place like Venice that has one of the most beautiful carnival parties in the world! I already can imagine the support from our art students. But eh, just a suggestion :)
I’m ending my rant with a video of one of the marching bands. Enjoy!