Monday, February 07, 2005

Happily unhinged in time

For those of you in America who might be up late this Sunday night after Super Bowl, no sense clicking on this now dead link to the Schwanenplatz webcam where once you could have beheld Luzern, Switzerland in bright morning sunshine, a few scant hours before the Güdismantig Fasnacht parade begins on Schweizerhofquai.

There are revelers already lining up along the lakefront strasse for the grand passage of floats and the abundant blaring music groups announcing that Winter is nearly over and Spring is in the wings!

Below is what I wore on Güdismantig two years ago. This is the best photo of Nicole and myself together in our costumes as we enjoyed the music and hobnobbing at the Helvetiagärtli at the conclusion of the parade. She is in her stunning Amazon apparel and I'm decked out in my Drachenwächter costume. (Drachenwächter = dragon keeper).

Since Luzern is steeped in dragon lore, due to the prominent local twin-horned mountain that overlooks the grand city called Mt. Pilatus, I dreamt up a character who cares for the dragons when they hibernate, looks after their eggs while they're off hunting and mating, and who ritually prepares the many sacrifices that are tendered for their appeasement.

I conceived, designed, fused, and amalgamated the various components and accessories. Some of the pieces are hand-crafted, others accented in artsy touches. I found the bonework that sits atop the cowl washed up on Stinson Beach north of San Francisco about 10 years ago. It is the partial backbone of a seal, most likely dispatched by a great white shark. I had to leach and clean, bleach and sun-dry it for weeks and months to get it to a state that was free of the clumps of tissue and viscera that stubbornly clung to it. I won't begin to describe the awful stench the decayed thing emanated.

When I at last married the seal spine to the leather cowling, adorned it with painted rib bones attached with bits of sinew, jute and leather, it was permanently curved in a hardened and calcified arc that formed perfectly to my head. Lucky thing as there was no straightening it out for a fine tune fit.

I had spent the better part of two months creating and detailing the various components that made up the costume that took shape in my mind and unfolded in my busy hands. There was the fitted leather tunic, the leather gauntlets, or gloves, each with their own unique styling of rings and fashioned wrist wraps, the drach-o'-nine-claws that hung from my side, the necklet of dragon teeth, the hissing scale rattle, the drachenman amulet, the steelchrome neck spikes, the chain mail coif and silver-black face chain, the aged drachen buckle and scorpion headpiece, the black cape and broadsword baldric that straddled my back with talismanic attachments ornately decorating the length of its leather and animal fur construction, the black side bag for holding my camera, money and passport that locked with a claw through a painted ring from an auto transmission, thigh-high boots anachronistically accented with bone, copper, shellwork, spikes, magnifying glass, and other steel braided hoops and timepiece elements that took hours to both pepare and affix.

The whole costume seemed to make itself. The tights, undergarmenting, the silk pantaloons all necessary to ward off the cold Swiss winter especially when the night wind banshees through the old town strasses as we tried to stave it off by drinking hot tea and spice-mulled beverages to keep our bones from shattering into a thousand shudders.

The whole ensemble, including the big duffel bag I had bought to carry it in, weighed some 70 pounds. Post 9/11 US Customs gave me the hairy eyeball when I checked it through. However, the Swiss customs officers were impressed that an American would go to such lengths in making a costume for Fasnacht and waved me through with smiles of admiration and well-wishes for my stay. It made me feel quite welcome.

On Güdismantig 2003, I had walked the entire length of the parade route from Old Town to Helvetiagärtli ahead of Nicole and her KUF group, Rätsch-Häxe (Prattling Witches), and waited patiently as they slowly approached the tree-lined terminus. Everyone could hear the ominous music of the Trojan Wars booming a full 100 meters before you could actually see them weaponed alongside the tall equine boobytrap as they reenacted the legend of the Greek Trojan Horse.

After a couple of hours in the outdoor plaza listening and dancing to Vikinger, meeting several of her friends and getting caught up in all the festivities, I was allowed to ride on the hand-crafted, two-story tall wooden horse back down Pilatusstrasse into the Old Town section to Burgerstrasse, near Restaurant Taube and the landmark Franziskanerplatz. I was in heaven: Nicole and I fabulously costumed, riding through the streets of an old European city as if we were happily unhinged in time.

It's no wonder that I would love to be in Luzern right now, this very morning, as the parade swells and surges with participants and the traditional Fasnacht excitement is in the cold air warming everyone from within as it has for hundreds of years. It was an honor to participate in it, to experience the most elementalizing week of my life. I look forward to again surrendering myself to the rich and enculturing festival of Fasnacht in 2006.


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