Karneval at sub-zero

February 27, 2012, Monday/ 17:29:00/ JOHN LAUGHLAND

It happens all the time; I spend a few days brimming over with trivial subject matter, or suffer days staring at a blank page and suddenly something happens which demands my attention; something like an overdose of “Phyllosan” (“Fortifies the over 40s”) washed down with a pint of Red Bull.

Last week Die Frau bundled me aboard a Boeing 737 at 6.30 a.m. on a chilly Antalya morning and a little after three hours later I found myself standing on an obscure German airfield not 500 meters away from a hangar bearing the name “Zeppelin” and in a temperature of -13 degrees Celsius. It took no more than 15 minutes to rush to the terminal building, clear immigration, collect our luggage and clear customs, after which we sat to drink hot coffee (slightly fortified by Irish whiskey in my case) and to consult timetables in order to plan our final 20-kilometer journey to Frau’s family home. (I bring to the attention of Mr. Dalaman Bey that there was public transport from the airport and that it was well advertised within the arrival lounge. Need I add that the café had chairs?) It was little surprise to find that the train arrived exactly as scheduled and also, despite the appalling weather, reached its destination on time. Yes, we were surely back in Das Vaterland.

Call me an old skinflint, but in the first hours and days in Europe I tend to spend my waking hours comparing the cost of living with that back home in Turkey. My first comparison gave a result quite contrary to what later turned out to be the general case. Whereas a beer in town was to cost me 50 percent more than in our Turkish town, a beer in Antalya Airport had cost me double what I paid in our German airport. My maths fail me on this one but the numbers strongly suggest that we were robbed blind at Antalya.

After a good night’s sleep and a far too hearty German breakfast we ventured into town and I recalled that the airline had fed us a not unreasonable cold breakfast with a free 50cc of cold water, but had asked for three euros for a plastic mug of coffee. I could have used that mug for my illegally opened Jameson’s, but I improvised instead.

Tomatoes in our German town cost a staggering 10 times more than in Turkey; bread comes in at only eight times more expensive. Call me an old skinflint.

It is very refreshing to occasionally visit a town where the roads are properly paved, the footpaths likewise and which are devoid of mantraps; footpaths separated from building sites and on which one may walk without climbing over heaps of building materials or nail-ridden timbers. Cars stopping to let you cross on a Zebra takes a bit of getting used to.

Cold as it was back there, we were frequently able to warm up by diving into shops; shops so warm that the assistants worked in cotton shirts. Of course, we also occasionally ducked into pubs, there to stare in disbelief at the cost of food on the menu but nevertheless to enjoy the warmth, comfort and bonhomie.

Bonhomie was more abundant than usual because I had made the mistake of booking our flights to land us in the south of Germany right in carnival week. I beg you Turkey, if anything like carnival week is ever contemplated, please model it on the Rio or New Orleans versions, not the German. Let us have our fun in warm weather and not have our participants dress up as monsters or witches and do their best to frighten the life out of onlookers.

Our German town has a population of a little more than 20,000, so it seems to me quite remarkable that participating in the final carnival parade I counted 10 marching bands. I also counted the number of band members. There were approximately 400 musicians marching through the town. I’d guess that 50 or 60 were drummers but the rest were playing the brass or woodwind of the marching band. Would you believe about 20 tubas? The tuba is the big one, something like the size of a European sit-down toilet with all the attached plumbing. Come to think of it, it sounds not too dissimilar. There were countless trombones, trumpets and, though not identifiable to us, there were probably a few contra-tubas, mellophones and sousaphones. Here’s a bet… There are no more than 20 brass instruments in any Turkish town of the same population. (Mind you, it might be pointed out that Germans have something of a reputation for marching; often in an inappropriate direction.)

I was disappointed to see so few glockenspiels on parade, not because I particularly like the sound of the instrument but because I love its name, like to say it and would like to talk of it more.

The 10 parading bands only played two tunes. One was a typical march in 4/4 time and the other was a very lyrical waltz. The march had us all marching on the spot to some degree whilst the waltz had a few folk dancing but most of us at least swaying together and joyfully either bobbing or bunny-hopping on the down beat of every third bar of the chorus on a note that was pitched an octave above the down beat of the proceeding two bars. I surprised myself by becoming a little emotional once or twice. It is somewhat unusual to have something like 1,000 people within one’s sight all of whom are smiling or laughing and who all bob or jump more or less in unison every few bars of a catchy tune.

I touched upon the costumes earlier, they were bizarre to say the least and beyond my powers of description in a short column. One particular costume had its wearer carry a long spun-rope whip with which the bearer could make the most astonishing noise; not so much a “crack” but more of a “bang.” It sounded as though the streets were alive with gunfire.

I believe there have been a few carnival-style parades in the south of Turkey in recent years but I would urge the organizers to study the German version and learn a few things. Firstly of course, they must get the weather right, after which they must train up some bands and invent some “traditional” costumes, turning, I suggest, to Rio for inspiration. By all means replace the whip with actual gunfire; it will probably be less dangerous.

 Lest my description of the music two paragraphs back is inadequate let me put it this way….

“Um-pa-pa, Um-pa-pa, WHOOP-pa-pa.” There, I knew you’d get it. (And I bet you bobbed or bunny hopped.