Monday, December 8, 2008

Krampus

This weekend was weird. Strange. Bizarre. Odd. Freaky.

There really just aren't any words that adequately sum up what happened this weekend, so I guess I'll just start from the beginning and let everyone decide for themselves.

A few months ago, Giada told me about an annual Christmas festival which takes place in her hometown on the first weekend of December, and invited me and Marta to come with her. So on Thursday, we all packed up our bags and headed to Giada's city, Tolmezzo. It's a beautiful and tiny town surrounded by mountains, so far north that it's practically in Austria. It felt like an entirely different world, even though it was only 4 hours from Bologna by train!
Giada's boyfriend Massi picked us up at the train station and we all went to dinner at a local place called "Bef'ed." This restaurant was completely crazy, not like anything I've ever seen in Italy or in the United States. First of all, they don't believe in silverware - see, it's part of the fun! We were served shelled peanuts as an appetizer, and by "served" I mean that there was a giant pile of them on the table. The floor of the restaurant was completely covered in peanut shells, because this too is part of the fun. I'm not sure what it was about this place, but it felt awfully.... American. Anyway, Massi and Giada ordered for Marta and I, because apparently there's only one "right" choice when eating at Bef'ed: the polletto - practically an entire chicken.
Call me crazy, but I've never really considered an entire roasted chicken "finger food". I've also been a vegetarian for a pretty decent-sized chunk of my life, so this was a little bit... intense. To the incredible delight/disbelief of my carnivorous friends, I proclaimed "grazie pollo, per avermi dato la tua vita!" (thank you chicken, for giving me your life - yeah okay, a little weird but give me a break, I was about to eat an entire bird), and then I overcame my vegetarian doubts and devoured that thing like a good little carnivore. As proof, here's a picture of me that I doubt any of you ever expected to see:

Yes, I believe I am using my teeth and hands to rip a small animal's wing away from its torso. Definitely a new experience for me... and a tasty one!

As if this restaurant weren't strange enough, on the way out I saw what I thought was a gumball machine. I quickly realized, though, that these were no gumballs. No no, my friends, these were sexy panties.
That's right. Located above Winnie the Pooh and directly to the left of Hello Kitty, a beautiful (and tasteful) selection of thongs! I mean I guess it's not that much different than a gumball machine. Multi-colored, probably edible....

As you can see, my first impression of Tolmezzo was an interesting one. Trust me though, when I went to bed that night I had no idea what was still to come.

The next morning, I woke up to Marta's excited announcement: SNOW! I haven't seen that much snow since I lived in Michigan. The trees and houses were covered, cars were buried, everything was sparkling white and beautiful and cold. Luckily, Giada made sure I was equipped with heavy-duty, rainbow-colored mittens.

Armed with our mittens, we went to Giada's grandparents' house where they served us a huge lunch. I realize that most of my blogs so far have had to do with food, so I'll skip the details and just say that I was, once again, amazed at how much food my relatively small body can consume. When we had all recovered from the food coma, we set out for the festival. This is where things got really, really weird.

The Krampus festival is a traditional Austrian celebration in which the men of the town dress up as horrible demons and chase small children through the streets, beating them with whips.

No, no I'm not kidding.
It started with a "parade", although I hate to call it that because I like parades. They're usually pretty fun, you know - floats, beauty queens in convertibles, high school marching bands. This, on the other hand, was terrifying. The demons entered the town, waving torches and rattling their chains (yeah, some of the scary demons were chained to a giant wagon which was being driven by another scary demon). They were all screaming, growling and making all kinds of other demonic noises as they marched past, whipping anyone (me) who happened to be standing too close. This was not a joke or a friendly tap, people. I still have a bruise from the demon's whip, which is a sentence I hoped I'd never have to say.

When the demons reached the center of the town, they gathered in what was essentially a satanic ritual in which they were "set free" by San Nicolo. Yeah, Santa. Santa Claus unleashed hordes of demons on this town, giving them permission to run free and whip innocent young children and Americans. It was unbelievable. At one point, I watched a large hairy demon chase after a small girl, dive through the air, tackling the girl to the ground where he ripped off her hat and started rubbing her face in the snow. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo of this, as I was too busy dealing with my own evil demon attack.

Here's a description of a Krampus festival, taken directly from wikipedia:

"Today, Schladming, a town in Styria, over 1200 "Krampus" gather from all over Austria wearing goat-hair costumes and carved masks, carrying bundles of sticks used as switches, and swinging cowbells to warn of their approach. They are typically young men in their teens and early twenties and are generally intoxicated. They roam the streets of this typically quiet town and hit people with their switches. It is not considered wise for young women to go out on this night, as they are popular targets."

Mm hmm. Interesting. I especially like that last part.

The second portion of the festival took place at the bottom of a forested hill. The demons came down through the trees, clanking their cowbells as usual, shooting off flares, hissing and screaming. The forest was illuminated with red lanterns and several small fires, and there was an eerie amount of fog which I told myself came from fog machines. There was also terrifying music playing. It was one of the scariest experiences of my life, watching the demons slowly descending towards me through the fog... When they reached the bottom of the hill they engaged in yet another satanic ritual and then (of course) they started whipping children again.
The funny thing is, people bring their children to this festival every single year! They want their children to be whipped by demons! I actually saw parents laughing hysterically as they tried to get the perfect photo of their child, being held upside-down and shaken by an evil demon. The whole town goes nuts for this festival, and people spend months preparing their masks and costumes. There were even tiny models of Krampus monsters:

(In case you're confused, the small child is kneeling in prayer as he is being surrounded by Krampus demons.)

Hopefully now you all understand why the word "weird" just doesn't cover it!

Luckily, we all escaped relatively unharmed. One of the demons actually posed for a photo with me before whipping me in the legs (never trust a demon, especially if he has Santa's permission to whip you!)...

The rest of the weekend was much less demon-infested and I had a great time with Marta and Giada, playing in the snow and hanging out with Giada's family. I'm so lucky to have such wonderful roommates... I honestly can't think of anyone I'd rather be chased by demons with.

9 comments:

Jose said...

You're funny Kalen. That part about the sexy panties made me laugh a lot!

Anonymous said...

hahaha.... i still feel like you have to be making this up... insanity.

-kayla

jkasmama said...

OMG I am coming over there to whip the demons for whipping my baby...just as soon as I get over the shock of seeing you ripping a bird apart with your teeth!
Love,
Mamina

angelica said...

Ohhh lord! This sounds sooo scary!!parents laughing at their kids...wtf!!I miss you!!

Ryan said...

haha you´re right, there really is a shortage of words to describe this. but you did a good job with the words at your disposal, im still laughing, and in awe.

ciao bella, ci sentiamo pronti, amore mia :-)

Marta said...

Ti voglio benissimo!! Tanto tanto:) Mi mancharai..!

MeliD said...

oh my lord. i have officially devided that from now on i have to read your blogs in the privacy of my own home! haha. i am sitting in my Stats class, and am litterally laughing outloud with tears in my eyes.. i miss you... now im just crying. <3

peter said...

hello! i stumbled upon your blog by searching for krampus. im from austria and i always loved krampusday since i was a kid. its like a real life horrorfilm, i always thought its very thrilling...
i just want to say that the custom is very manifolded. there are as many krampus or perchten tradtitions as there are valleys and villages in the alps. some of them will hit you, some of them will not; some of them wear birches, some just make noisy 'music'. in south tyrol they dont have birches but 5 m long tree branches to beat you with.
one of my favourite aspects of it all is when two hordes of krampus meet: they will stop beating pretty girls and instead do this little dance, i think its awesome:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EofwFcV_xvA

i hope you got back home well, i enjoyed reading your blog.
greetings

nick norton said...

A fascinating, well written blog - thank you