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Clara's Carnival experience

I'm blind from birth, and I'm one of those blind people who really love sounds (birds, music etc.), but start detesting them when they get too loud. A bit like vampires with light, I guess. I must have been 15 last time I entered a disco, and I've always awaited with terror the popping of balloons at birthday parties!

Knowing all this, you can imagine how I felt on Sunday morning, when I got off the train from Liège and discovered, half-terrified half-amused, that the Maastricht I knew had temporarily disappeared. No trace of the quiet, tidy Southern Dutch city I had visited so many times since October. In its place, an explosion of music, streaming from the Carnival floats. Carnival songs mixing in the air with psychedelic songs, rock songs with waltz. I think that the Prince of Carnival was called Contrast this year. Here is what it sounded like!

I was with 4 friends, and getting to the market square seemed to take centuries, ages. The Old Bridge... wasn't it just straight on from the station? Why does it seem on the other side of the city now??? Every gained metre felt like a great achievement, and I spent the first half an hour trying to convince my unruly ears that it wasn't so bad after all. At a certain point, I even remember thinking: "Liège will seem dead when we go back tonight! After this endless flow of sounds, normal silence will be deafening!".

Another thing that I found completely different from what I knew was the language. I've been speaking Dutch for more than 10 years now, but on Sunday I felt like I didn't know it at all. People were shouting things from the Carnival floats, giving prizes and congratulating masks and costumes... but what I heard was a mixture of Dutch, German and unknown. I swear I was completely sober, so it must've been the loud music playing tricks on me. I bet my German friends understood more of it than me!

Speaking of my German friends, they suddenly decided they absolutely needed to get to the beginning of a float, instead of walking next to its centre or end. Only, the floats were very long, and running to get to the beginning was near to impossible, with all the people constantly blocking our way. In short, they kept running after floats trying to keep up with the beginning, and I tried to keep up with them without stepping on too many people's toes.

To get some respite from the crowd and the incessant music, we got into Mc Donald's. "Are the brass-bands playing inside as well?!" I asked my friends, not knowing if I had to laugh or cry. "No, the entrance door is just open".

I felt like I was in the midst of an apocalypse. Even queueing for the toilet felt different. A jungle! Everyone holding on to his queue spot as if his very life depended on it.

We started walking again. More people, more music. We stopped to watch the floats, and everyone was pressed against each other, without really speaking. That's what struck me as very strange: I could definitely feel there were a lot of people around me (they pressed me from every side!), but I hardly heard any laughter, joke, comment. The impression I got is that they were too busy drinking to bother.

On our way to a pub where we had to meet other friends, I stumbled into a bird. I noticed there was something feathery floating in front of me, and started feeling it discreetly. It turned out it was someone dressed up as a bird, with big feathery wings, walking just in front of me.

At about 6 PM we started making our way to the station... and it's good we started one and a half hour before our train: the situation had gotten insane! People didn't form a crowd anymore, but felt like just one big fluid mass, which swallowed you like quicksands. So many bottles and glasses on the ground... so much garbage (what a stark contrast with the perfectly tidy street of the Maastricht I knew!). I was walking with a friend and sometimes we didn't make any progress at all: we just stayed there, pressed against other people, packed like sardines. We were so close to each other, that I said something to someone thinking it was my friend, but I got a very surprised "Sorry?" in reply: my quick Italian remark must've startled him!

We finally managed to get to the station, and the silence in the train to Liège was almost deafening, as I had anticipated.

All in all, it was an interesting trip, but definitely not one that I would do every day or every month. One of my friends said that Carnival is the only time of the year when Dutch people can forget tidiness and deadlines and release the craziness that's inside everyone of us... and I think he was completely right!