Carnival is Weird: World Edition

For partiers and the lackadaisical types, this week has been perfect so far. On Monday, many Americans stayed at home or enjoyed a good sale thanks to Presidents Day. On Tuesday, many folks reveled in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Many kids have the entire week of for winter break, and hell, Mardi Gras is still alive and well. For those who need a quick reminder, Mardi Gras = Fat Tuesday, a celebration of everything in excess before you fast or give things up for Lent, the time period leading up to Easter. Now Mardi Gras is the biggest celebration in the U.S., but around the world, there are oh so many more extravagant parties.

When I studied in the Netherlands, I happened to be in Nice, France during their weeklong version of Mardi Gras, which is Carnival. You probably relate the term to the biggest one in Rio, where I’m pretty convinced no one goes to work for like, a good month. I had never experienced anything like it before – drinking, parades, people dancing in the street, just a lot of organized chaos and large bejeweled costumes. People do Carnival big overseas, and to be quite honest, some of the floats and masks and costumes are just plain weird. And scary. But mostly weird. While you’re sitting at work today, here are so people around the world that are actually having a better (yet odder) week than you.

Brazil

Sao Paulo – If you stare into her glasses long enough, you’ll think she’s the love child of Beetlejuice and Lady Gaga

Rio – I feel like this is the version of the Hulk I would see if I was tripping on shrooms. Do kids still do that these days?

Rio – Obviously Rio has the largest Carnival in the world with tourists flocking there every year, but the scariest thing about this picture isn’t the creepy sleeping mask float – it’s the thousands of people crammed in that arena. I MEAN THE PARKING MUST BE A NIGHTMARE

Rio – Carnival: Where you can get a cheerful reminder that global warming exists and we’re all gonna die soon

Paraty – Outside of Rio, there are plenty more Carnival celebrations, and in Paraty, they have what’s called the “Bloco da Lama” or “Mud Block” carnival party. According to local legend, the off tradition of covering yourself in dark mud and dancing dates back to 1986 (exactly our year of birth), when teens who were hiking in a nearby forest slathered themselves in mud to ward off mosquitoes as they went through the town. The tradition has grown every since. IDK, you can go to the Korean Spa and get something like this without the danger of diseases or whatever is in dark mud.

Germany

Cologne – Nothing says “I’m ready for Lent” like cut plastic watering cans with tiny disco balls and feathers attached to it.

Munderkingen – My, what large nostrils you have scary clown man!

Wuerzberg – For some reason I feel like this pink elephants got lost on their way to the pride parade.

Mainz – Is this the episode of Walking Dead where the dude from Love Actually starts killing German zombies?

Wuerzburg – Ich wanna Rock and Roll all night!

Mainz – Vlad Putin. In a bear costume. On a float that says “Problem Bear” … in GERMANY.

Dusseldorf – Apparently the Germans like to incorporate a lot of political floats in their parades.

The Netherlands

Roermond – I just feel like people must be high 24/7 during Carnival week in order to just get through it.

Italy

Venice – Never has Venice looked so much like the set of Pretty Little Liars.

Hungary

Mohacs – I know where the wild things are

Spain

Aguilas – Not shitting you. These are dancing Jim Carreys from The Mask. Apparently Aguilas is 21 years late to the party. Sssssmmmmookin! *jazz hands*

Luzon – In more frightening Carnival news, Luzon holds the La Fiesta de los Diablos y Mascaritas, or Festival of Devils and Masks. Clearly the dude with the horns represents the devils and the ladies are the masks. Couldn’t pay me enough to hang out with these people.

Luzon – I mean come on. For Lent I would give up hanging out with anyone who dresses like Babe the Blue Ox’s long lost evil twin brother.

Lesaka – Spain, seriously, what’s up with your Carnival traditions? In the small village of Lesaka, townspeople dress as the “Zaku Zaharrak”, or “Old Sack”. After the sun sets, they cover their faces with white handkerchiefs, stuff themselves with straws in sacks, hold a stick of an inflated animal’s bladder (which is used to hit people), and roam through the streets for hours dancing to an accompanied band. Hide yo kids. Hide yo wives.

Switzerland

Lucerne – I’d like to call this series “Switzerland takes well-known children’s story characters and fucks it all up”. Here is Shrek and Princess Fiona, who is apparently being held at gunpoint.

Lucerne – “How do you expect me to grow, if you won’t let me blow??”

Lucerne – Antonio Banderas sure has changed since his split with Melanie Griffith.

Lucerne – In which the Native American crying by the side of the road goes to see Dr. 90210 and has a botched face lift.

Lucerne – Just kidding. THIS is the episode of The Walking Dead where the dude from Love Actually travels to Switzerland in the 1960s.

Lucerne – Something has changed within me. Something is not the same. I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game

Lucerne – Frozen 2: The long lost third princess of Arendelle returns from Star Trek Deep Space Nine

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Study Abroad: A Lesson in Jumping In

In the spring of 2006, I went through the rite of passage that many college students go through, which was to study abroad. The college I went to had an especially unique one in the Netherlands located about two hours southeast from Amsterdam in a small town called Well. In my head, I pictured it to be all Stars Hollow-like, since there was one main street, where the bakery, grocery store, restaurant/bar, and school were all on the same stretch of road, and only about 2,500 residents. Why Well? WELL, it’s because it’s where our European campus was located. See below:

Yes, that’s a castle. Yes, that’s a moat. Not pictured: a second outer moat. Welcome to Kasteel Well – the 14th century castle where approximately 75 to 80 students called home for about four months. This is where we slept, ate, and even took classes, which were mostly taught by European professors. We took said classes Monday through Thursday, and Friday through Sunday were designated as travel days. Throughout my time there, I went to 12 different countries (including Spain to visit Molly where she was studying at the same time!) and was lucky enough to see all these places and landmarks I may never see again in my lifetime.

In full disclosure, I could talk all day about my time at the Castle, but I’ll try to keep it at a minimum for this post. Looking back on that experience, it almost seems surreal. I mean how fortunate and crazy were we as 20 year olds to roam around Europe on our own and discover cultures and lands much different than we were used to? Not to mention the whole living in a castle factor, which already seems like a made up thing. Peacocks! Did I mention we had pet peacocks!?

Castle

Going into that semester, I didn’t really know anyone going. I mean I had a couple acquaintances going but some people were going with their best friends. This terrified me. I dug up my LiveJournal (yes, ‘dug up’, and yes, my LiveJournal) entry from a couple days before I left for the Netherlands. And because we’re friends now, I’m going to share that entry from 19-year-old Traci with you:

08:32 pm 1/11/06

jump in
I leave for the netherlands in approximately 46 hours …
i do this thing where i put off thinking about something big that’s going to happen in my life because i don’t want to face reality if i don’t think i can handle it.
i’m excited about getting to see new places and new people, new cultures. but it still worries me that i won’t make friends in the process. you can tell me over and over again that i’m going to have a great time and that i will make friends, but i’m just so scared about it. when i look at the people going to the castle, all i see is cliques and groups of friends, and me trying to fit in and be a part of theirs.
i’m scared of living in europe for 3 and a half months, and not having anyone to travel with. i’m just scared overall.
but of course i’m not thinking about it.

You know how people ask, ‘what would you tell your younger self?’ My answer to that in this particular situation is… nothing. I wouldn’t say anything. I needed that sense of fright in me. I think I would be more worried if I WASN’T scared of leaving everything I knew to be familiar for 4 months and diving into a foreign country with no one I knew.

I can’t pinpoint an exact moment in that semester when it happened, but the day I returned to the States, April 27th, 2006, I felt something was different within me. Maybe it’s that I had to quickly learn how to go into the world and fend for myself. Maybe it’s that I was able to come across so many people from different walks of life and realized that there is so much more than the bubble we live in each day. Maybe it’s the unexpected (lifelong) friendships I made with people that share that magical time in our lives together. Maybe it was the reverse culture shock – it is REAL y’all. If you’ve never experienced it, it’s nearly impossible to explain. I remember having a particularly hard time coming back to my friends in Boston. All I knew was that I was so so so happy to see them and be in their presence once again, but I didn’t feel like the same person they were friends with 4 months ago. Whatever it was, I knew I was forever changed because of it.

So here we are, eight years later and to this day, deciding to go to the Castle is one of (if not the biggest) game-changers in my life. I can honestly say I’m not sure I would be living the life I had now if I didn’t go the Castle. To mark that day we came back from a semester of living worldly lives, our core group of castle girls decided to celebrate our ‘Castleversary’ each year. I believe the first anniversary involved a sleep over, temp tatts, and painting picture frames (because we had since become mature adults). Now that four out of the six of us live in LA, we’ve been celebrating our own Castleversary with mini-adventures in the city – which just happens to be this weekend.

While we ‘hit the town’ and celebrate our general eternal love for each other, I am reminded of the countless memories we made all over Europe, the late-night train rides, the getting lost and not really being worried about it, the meeting of strangers who would seem like old friends, and how the fear I had going into the whole experience was completely warranted. What’s that quote? “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Studying abroad is not something you go into with complete confidence. It’s daunting and unfamiliar, but in the end it’s all worth it. Whether you’re thinking about doing a similar program in college or if you’re a grown ass person who is stuck in a rut, the same message rings true for all – what are you waiting for? Be excited. Be scared. Jump in.

“For if every true love affair can feel like a journey to a foreign country, where you can’t quite speak the language, and you don’t know where you’re going, and you’re pulled ever deeper into the inviting darkness, every trip to a foreign country can be a love affair, where you’re left puzzling over who you are and whom you’ve fallen in love with. All the great travel books are love stories, by some reckoning — from the Odyssey and the Aeneid to the Divine Comedy and the New Testament — and all good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited in the midst of terror and wonder.”

Pico Iyer, “Why We Travel

Style Watch: Future Queens Of Europe

This past spring, when some non-royal handed Duchess Catherine a teddy bear, she said “thank you, I’ll give it to my d…”.  As of July 22, 2013, Kate’s secret was out – we all filled in “daughter,” but apparently she was going to say “dog.” Yes, Middleton gave a stuffed animal from an adoring commoner to her pets.

I don’t want to be publicly on the record as saying I cared whether this baby would be a boy or a girl. I really don’t care, I promise. It’s just that little girls have such better outfits! Trust me – I have like 100 nephews (ok, 5) and 1 niece, and shopping for little boy clothes is just not that fun.

While we can’t start our wardrobe watch for a future British Queen, fortunately Europe is lousy with little princesses right now. Any of them would make a great match for little Prince George, provided they’re not too-too related. And ohmygoodness, look what they’re wearing!:

Infantas Leonor and Sofia, Spain

The princesses were big news in the Spanish tabloids when I studied in Madrid. With DNA from the ridiculously good-looking Felipe and Letizia, it’s no wonder these kids are adorable. Anyone who’s spent time in Spain knows that kids there are dressed beautifully, but even for Spain, this is good.

Like a walking Brooks Brothers children’s catalog.

Infanta Sofia wore this Nanos dress that her older sister sported on the family Christmas card a few years back. Royals – they’re just like the rest of us.

Princesses Catharina-Amalia, Ariane, and Alexia, The Netherlands

Royal blue dresses for their father’s coronation. Oh my goodness.

Can I get those matching blue/pink dresses in grownup size?

Best brunch outfits ever. That little plaid suit! I love over-the-top preppiness on little kids. Which means my future children will hate me by the time they’re 10 and go full-goth by the time they’re 15.

Princess Estelle, Sweden

This is Estelle on Sweden Day. I also love children in traditional national dress. Unfortunately, I’m from America, where our “traditional national dress” is, I think, yoga pants.

You might want to pop a few aspirin, because your ovaries are going to hurt from this picture. Out of the frame, there’s a blue flower applique on the skirt of that dress, but that just seemed like too much to do to all of you.

We all know that babies aren’t really sailors. And we don’t usually dress babies in other kinds of professional garb, like tiny mechanic jumpsuits or little power suits . But I’ll be darned if babies in sailor dresses aren’t the cutest thing ever.

Princess Ingrid Alexandra, Norway

See? National dress. Is it OK to dress your children like Madame Alexander dolls if you’re not royalty?

Rocking the white-on-white like a PRO. And I’m sorry, are those little brogues? Dead.

Second in line to the Norwegian throne, but already a fashion queen.

Princesses Elisabeth and Eleanore, Belgium

With all apologies to Zooey Deschanel, this is the best use of the Peter Pan collar I’ve seen in months.

Flawless pink trench coat.

So if the cut and color of these coronation dresses weren’t cute enough already…

THE FABRIC. Love.

And that’s how you wear a print.