I have this theory that the Swiss people are too busy enjoying life and being outdoors than to be the tortured artists that North America is well known for. After all, it’s hard to write sad music, poetry, or create emotional artwork if you’re never standing still or don’t have any sad experiences to draw from. It all started when I asked Mike to name a few famous bands or musicians from Switzerland since he’s my music encyclopaedia. When we both kept drawing blanks (I know this doesn’t mean they don’t exist), I started thinking whenever I’ve been my most creative is when I’m “recovering” from something else. The height of my short-lived painting career all came about when I was trying to force myself to get over a terrible break up. When I was in elementary school, I had very few friends to play with at recess or after school, so I spent all of my spare time reading books and writing short stories or poetry… that were kind of depressing. My English teachers lapped it up and told my parents I was destined to be some kind of literary genius (I wasn’t and my poor parents for getting their hopes up).
In reality, I was just sitting around and making the best of my time. I have yet to meet an unhappy Swiss person who isn’t active or involved in various sports or activities. Granted, I don’t know too many of them so I am totally generalizing. But, with Switzerland’s year-round weather as mild as they have (compared to our Canadian winters) and stunning scenery at everyone’s doorstep, I wouldn’t really be sitting around listening to sappy love songs and painting my frustration away, either. I’d be running, skiing, cycling, and hiking.
Every European that we meet on our trip always asks us why we chose to come here over the winter. Like every other country in the world, Europe really comes to life in the summer. We’re well aware of this and were expecting many grey days, but also less tourists overall which was a tradeoff we were willing to make. What we weren’t expecting to see, was how positive the Swiss are even among damp, cold, and grey days that can stretch on for months. We got to see this firsthand when we went to Fasnacht winter carnival in Basel. There’s a brief description of the carnival on the MySwitzerland website. From what I understand, the celebration starts at 4:00am on Monday (after Ash Wednesday) and continues for three days, until 4:00am on Thursday. We arrived on a Tuesday afternoon, when many of the participants were resting and getting ready to come back out, so it was quiet at first. We were wondering if we had missed something…
And then, we heard the music before we saw the people. We sat at a cafe while we watched floats and marching bands walk all throughout the city centre. They seemed to be coming and going in every direction.
Mike put up a video where you can hear the type of music they were playing here. There was a sense of history, authenticity, and pride. Most of the parades in Toronto are heavily sponsored and each float ends up looking like a giant walking advertisement for whatever company is sponsoring it. Honestly, I kind of hate parades – at least I thought I did, until I went to this one. At Fasnacht, I couldn’t exactly figure out what the theme was, but it was clear that the entire city was on board with it. Adults, teenagers, and even little children were all out and most were dressed up. People on floats were throwing candy, fruit, and flowers to people standing on the street.
Whenever we wandered into alleyways to get around crowds, we’d see a few participants dressed up and playing bits and pieces of the same kind of melodic music. Sometimes it was just two or three people playing with whatever instrument they had, even if no one was watching or following them. It was truly incredible to see and it really brought a sense of happiness and excitement to the otherwise gross and grey day. I think it’s a perfect time of the year to have a carnival. 🙂
People were celebrating, laughing, and drinking on the streets – but nobody was violent or causing any embarrassing scenes (hi, every other parade that I’ve ever been to in North America). I’m not saying it doesn’t get rowdy – we didn’t stay around for the whole festival, but it just seemed to be centered around the city and its participants, rather than an excuse to get extremely drunk. Eventually, Mike and I got hungry after wandering around for a while and decided a beer and pretzel on the street was a very good idea.
As long as I’ve got a pretzel in my hand, I’m in my happy place.
I don’t get a sense that there are too many food-related traditions that go hand in hand with the carnival. Most of what was being served were hot dogs, pretzels (you’d better believe we got one!) and beer. The one thing we did notice, however, was a quiche looking tart thing every single bakery seemed to be selling. We picked up a piece to share and ate it on the train ride back which was the best decision ever. It may have spoiled our dinner a little, but it was worth it.
If I was at home right now, I’d be scrambling to recreate the recipe immediately. Alas, I’ll just have to file away this tart as one of the best savoury things I’ve ever eaten and re-visit Basel some day to have another. I did a little googling and this seems to be a pretty decent recipe in case you’re interested in trying to make this tart yourself.
If you find yourself in Switzerland during the winter months, I highly recommend checking out Basel’s Fasnacht festival. Don’t forget to get a slice of cheese tart.