My first Fasnacht

Experiences from the first few months living in Switzerland.

I've always loved Halloween, especially when I was asked to assemble my haunted house for the neighbourhood school and festivals held in Toronto's Beaches area. I would begin in September, preparing the seven foot tall wooden wall segments for the maze I would build for frightened people to claw at while trying to flee. I'd oil up my chainsaw, fill the fog machines with fluid, spread my professional collection of severed rubber heads, limbs, and rotting torsos around, spray blood and guts all over the corridors of the haunted house, and adjust the strobe, making it flash fast enough to make my customers feel disorientated and ill. I was in my glory! The day of the festivals, I would wake at 5am and power up the PA system to blast the recorded sounds of horror and the moist howls of the undead. I would prepare myself mentally by paying blind satanists to shave my entire body with the filed edges of human skull bone fragments, while I slowly sucked the thick juices and maggots out from week-old raccoon roadkill. I then submerged my defiled self into a hot cauldron of my own boiling fecal matter and nose hair trimmings! Well, not quite… I would have a herb and garlic cream cheese bagel and a hazelnut-flavoured decaffeinated coffee while pondering deep thoughts of floral wallpaper and the lovely teal blue Tea cozy I'd been recently hand-knitting.

Anyway, I practiced for hours swinging the 26-inch chainsaw around my head, frequently peering into the full-length mirror to see if I looked cool and if my love-handles showed too much through my rubber corpse costume. Vision from the executioners hood stretched over my head was limited to a few degrees beyond straight ahead, and became even worse while fog and strobes throbbed through the darkness. I knew the maze quite well and could stumble through it quickly while pursuing crying and screaming children, the smoke-spewing chainsaw roaring and swiping inches behind their heads. The nasty terror sounds pumping from the loudspeakers drowned out the rumble of the idling saw while I waited on the other side of a closed blood-caked door. Women carrying their terrified young children shuffled up to the dark entrance, reaching out to the handle... and suddenly I would squeeze the chainsaw back to life and slam my heavy boot into the middle of the door, ripping it open to the cries of women and children running away, desperate for the exit and safety of the outside world. Scraping the roaring blade down the narrow walls, I would chase them for a few moments, taunting them with my bloodied forestry tool! Oh, the rapture and euphoria that surged through me when I contemplated the important contribution to the psychological molding of the young minds I was creepifying. I walked away from my haunted house feeling fulfilled and proud of my accomplishments – I had scared the hell out of many people and made grown women pee their pants.

In Switzerland, Sandra introduced me to Fasnacht, a heavily-costumed week-long party held every year to banish old man winter. It was not a typical Halloween scary costume gathering, but a massive twenty-four hour drink-a-thon which easily rivaled any drunk I've ever been involved in. Fasnacht kicked off at 5am on Schmudo (Carnival Thursday) with heavy drinking before most people were awake, including me and Sandra. That evening we dressed in our karneval garb – Sandra in her homemade Japanese girl outfit and me in my quickly assembled Swiss Forest Ranger ensemble, grabbed from her parents closet. It wasn't a costume, but it worked as a last-minute costume substitute. We then took the bus and entered the realm of Fasnacht. These Swiss folk knew how to celebrate nothing – the many drinking tents we entered never shut down, and the revellers never seemed to tire the whole week of nonstop alcohol inhalation. The costumes were extravagant and flamboyant, with fluorescent fabrics and airbrushed faces on ninety-nine percent of the assembled masses. The drinking never ceased even after unconsciousness – the diligent server would just place the fresh beverage beside the comatose head of the over-indulger. Everyone was holding each other up – or rather, there were so many people in each drinking tent that you could sleep standing up while wedged within the tight crowds. Perseverance, agility and extreme thirst were the requirements to navigate and tolerate the path needed to reach the bartenders behind the bar. Just as we returned from the bar with the drink in our hands, we realized half the beverage had been spilled and absorbed by the fabrics of the costumes we had climbed through. Then a wet teabag that released itself from the ceiling of the tent would smack us in the head – it seemed there was a contest of some sort, in which the teetering drunks pulled the teabag from their traditional schnapps drink and slung them above their heads, trying to make them stick. And looking up, proved many were successful, as the hanging strings of hundreds of teabags swayed to the pumping music.

Who wouldn't love it here?!? I think I'll stay.



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