Like me, many expats in Geneva are determined to go to the famous Basler Fasnacht. But year after year they ruminate and decide they’ll go next year. And it’s not only expats. A charming Swiss lady I met on the train this morning confessed that she had lived in Geneva close to 50 years but was only making her first trip to the famous Basel Carnival. She had finally been persuaded to go with her adventurous seventy-something friend.
Once we arrived, we saw the crowds billowing up slowly as clocks moved towards 13:30, and then boom! the first drum sounded, on the dot, the piccolos followed, and then there was a hushed silence. The cortège was underway.
Slowly, the atmosphere changed, the more sombre, traditional mask wearers lurch forward, followed by the floats of the respective groups, each with their own theme. The mesmerising designs, colours and detail of each group based on carefully selected themes, reflecting current Swiss and world events, rolled past.
Next there was a competition to catch goodies being thrown to the crowd from the floats. Not only candy but oranges, bananas, roses, onions, garlic, carrots, water bottles and fistfuls of confetti. Be prepared!
Cartoon characters abound, but also scary ghouls, decrepit souls, hackers and gas mask wearers. And sure enough, a stream of political caricatures. Yes, the familiar ones, the dangerous tweeters, the muscle flexers, the leavers – all on display.
The pièce de résistance was surely the orange, yellow and green group with its merry pipers and drummers with doleful masks.
Kevin MacCabe, one of those behind the masks, was kind enough to reveal himself. Born and raised in Basel, he has participated in the festivities since the age of nine. At 27, he is now a senior member.
And his group’s theme this year? The legalisation of cannabis in Switzerland, a federal rather than cantonal decision. Do any of you smoke weed?, I asked. Oh, no, no, no, they all exclaimed. But as they marched off, I wondered what that aroma was that they left behind!
Basel Fasnacht continues till 21 February 2018.
By Renu Chahil-Graf
Renu is a Geneva-based writer and former international United Nations civil servant.