Another Saturday

April 28, 2001

I am sitting under an umbrella at a picnic table in the middle of the Place Central in Lausanne, which usually resembles an asphalt-covered empty lot. Today, however, is the middle day of the three-day Carnival du Soleil in Lausanne, and the entire area is unrecognizably crowded with pavilions, picnic tables, rides, carnival games and food carts. As I write this, I stop to taste occasionally from the fresh chocolate-chip gaufrette (Belgian waffle) and glass of Italian champagne near my right hand. My first choice of beverage might have been a more ordinary wine, but there seems to be some sort of strange anti-subsidy here: every stall that sells wine is asking 16 francs (roughly $9!) for a 30dl glass -- this in contrast to beer and champagne prices that are relatively reasonable.

There is a distinctly demonic cast to this festival. Two of the marching bands I saw earlier were dressed up as devils, and most of the others were wearing elaborate face paint. To my right at this moment I see a boardwalk-style haunted house ride entitled, simply, "Hell" ("l'Enfer") and decorated with Dante's famous quote "Abandon all hope, ye who enter" ("Laissez tout espoir vous qui entrez") as well as vivid paintings of gloating demons and the suffering (mostly naked, and in the case of the women, spectacularly endowed) damned. There are hordes of smiling five-year-olds jumping on this ride in a steady stream with and without their parents, and not a placard-bearng protestor in sight. This is definitely Europe....

...Another sign of which is the ride I see directly in front of me. It is a relatively gentle centrifugal-force-based ride with padded seats around the circumference, facing inward. The strangeness, from my American point of view, arises from two things. First, there are no seat belts, although the ride bounces and is significantly tilted. Second, and more dramatically, some of the riders stand up in the center, trying to remain upright and facing forward even when the ride is spinning fastest. Although they don't always succeed, and are sometimes thrown into the laps of the seated riders, no one attempts to stop them. Our American culture of legislated safety over personal responsibility would be appalled. (I will definitely have to try this ride!)

The rest of the carnival is much like any other carnival you might see anywhere. You can have your face painted, eat an overpriced sausage, or throw balls at a stack of cans in a vain attempt to knock them all down and win a large stuffed animal. As a self- respecting and offspring-challenged adult, I suppose I shouldn't find this exciting, but I do. The part of me that is still a child responds to it even as the older and more cynical part stands aloof and amused. All in all, and combined with the fact that today is by far the most beautiful spring day we've had yet, I am having a wonderful time.

*** LATER, circa 10:00pm ***

Did I say the spinning ride was gentle? Mon Dieu! I sat on one of the seat-beltless seats and held onto the railing for dear life while the ride spun, bounced hard enough to send me flying into the air, and changed direction at random moments. I also found myself wondering if I could hold on with one hand, so as to use the other to fend off the falling bodies of the failed standees. I can't imagine how the ride avoids breaking several noses a night, but I've seen no sign of injuries.

What a blast!!!! Safety is overrated.

Till next time,
-- Lyn

Copyright 2001 Lyn Pierce