Put On Your Thong And Cheer On Your Countrymen

The Tour de France is known for the wild enthusiasm of its fans.  The fans are part of the spectacle.   Where else do you see people camping in devil costumes replete with pitchfork or dressed as Borat running up a hill?  I have never seen so many men in thongs.  As one of them explained to me, “we don’t normally dress like this, we do it for the Tour.”

Others dress like they normally do.  These guys might not normally plan to all wear same hot pink jersey.  Then again, they might.

People show their enthusiasm for the Tour in their dress.  This poor lady from Luxembourg had a cast.  She painted her toenails in her country’s colors and drew red and white polka dots (to represent the King of the Mountains polka dot jersey), yellow and green stripes (for the Yellow and Green jerseys that go to the overall tour winner and the leader in the sprint points).

Although the Tour de France is France’s premier sporting event, its international aspect is an integral part of it.  We saw people from:

  • Norway,
  • Luxembourg,
  • Denmark
  • Belgium,
  • the Netherlands,
  • Germany,
  • Switzerland,
  • Estonia,
  • the United Kingdom,
  • Australia,
  • New Zealand,
  • and the United States (although Boris and Natasha said that there weren’t as many Americans as there were during the Lance Armstrong era).

Having a rider win the Tour de France, is a huge boost to cycling in that country.  People become more familiar with the sport, it gets more publicity, people starts buying more bikes and riding more.  Australian’s interest in cycling and the Tour exploded with the success of Australian Cadel Evans who won the Tour last year.

We saw tons of flags we’d never seen before.  There were tons of Brits and we saw several of these three-legged flags.  We learned it is the flag of the Isle of Man, the home of legendary British sprinter, Mark Cavendish.   Undoubtedly, the Queen, Prince William and Kate are all Cavendish fans.

Someone else had a theory that the nationalities of fans on the mountain revealed something about how economies are doing.  Vacations in France aren’t usually cheap.  We saw tons of Norwegians (who went nuts for Team Sky‘s Edvald Boasson Hagen).  Norway is definitely not hurting.  The UK, the Danes and the Germans have some of Europe’s strongest economies.  Then again, it could have something to do with geography and when people have vacation time.

French rider, Thomas Voeckler, won stage 10 from Macon to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine.

How do Frenchmen celebrate a fellow countryman’s victory on a stage of the Tour?   With champagne, bien sûr.  We had to hustle to get to the next day’s stage so we didn’t stick around to see if they had thongs.

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Sweet, Let’s Burn Some Stuff – Sechseläuten

We joke about burning a couch when something good happens (like Michigan State winning the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament).   It’s not out of the realm of possibility.  Apparently Zurich, Switzerland feels the same way.  They celebrate Sechseläuten.  To celebrate the arrival of spring in Switzerland, they burn the winter in effigy (in the form of the Böögg, a figure of a snowman filled with explosives representing old man winter).

Sorry Mr. Snowman, but let’s face it temperatures have been getting warmer and you weren’t long for this world anyway. – From 20 Minutes

Sechseläuten is kind of like Groundhog’s Day. The time between the lighting of the pyre and the explosion of the Böögg`s head predicts the summer weather.  A quick explosion means a warm, sunny summer. A long, drawn-out burning means a cold and rainy one.  Even though Switzerland is known as a winter wonderland and ski mecca, locals (including us) hope for its quick end.  Earlier this week, Zurich burned the Böögg.

Not so frosty now are you Frosty? – From 20 Minutes

In medieval times, when the first day of summer working hours was celebrated in the guildhalls because during the summer work was required to stop when the church bells tolled at six. The rest of the year, they worked until dark. Who doesn’t celebrate some non-working daylight hours?

From 20 Minutes

Itinerary for Sechseläuten:

  • Sunday before Sechseläuten – children’s parade in historic and folkloristic costumes
  • Afternoon of Sechseläuten – parade of the 26 guilds (over 7,000) in their historic dress costumes, each with its own band, most with a sizable mounted ‘Reitergruppe’, and horse-drawn floats
  • Post-parade – ceremonial galloping of the mounted units of the guilds around the bonfire
  • 6:00 p.m. – burn the winter in effigy (in the form of the Böögg, a figure of a snowman filled with explosives representing old man winter)
  • Post-Burning – dinner banquets for the guildmembers (and their lucky guests)
  • Night – delegations visit other guilds in their guildhalls to exchange greetings, toasts, witticisms and gifts

The summer should be hot, if one believes the time the Booge of Sechseläuten took before exploding on the funeral pile in Zurich: 12 minutes and 7 seconds. The myth is that the faster the head of the snowman explodes, the hotter this summer will be. The average of the last ten years was around 14 minutes. In 2008, 26 minutes was necessary. – From 20 Minutes

What’s a holiday without a family spat?

The holiday is often within a week of May Day, a working class holiday.  Sechseläuten seems to be a rather posh, upper class affair. The proximity of these has led to various, ahem, issues.  In 2006, the Böögg was kidnapped.  Now, they keep spares… just in case.

Annecy’s Venetian Carnival

Annecy, France is beautiful.  As it is an easy day trip from Geneva (or even an easy dinner trip), we’ve taken lots of visitors there.  While it is exceptionally beautiful in summer with the masses flowers planted throughout the town every year, it has gorgeous old buildings, canals and a beautiful lakeside making it  picturesque all year round and never disappoints visitors.

Last weekend, Annecy had its Venetian Carnival.  It is a logical place for a Venetian style carnival for several reasons:

  • Annecy is in the Savoy region of France.  The Savoy region was part of the Italian Kingdom of Sardinia.
  • Savoy borders Italy (as well as Switzerland).  Annecy has maintained a strong relationship with Italy and hosts Italian themed cultural events, including and Italian Film Festival.  It is even twinned with Vincenza in Venetia, Italy.
  • Like Venice, Annecy has canals running through it with ancient  bridges over them.  It is known as the Venice of the Alps.

Two weeks after the traditional Carnival, Annecy hosts its own Venetian Carnival.  Many of the costumed participants were in Venice during its carnival.  The costumes are similarly ornate, mysterious and luxurious.  Its over 350 costumed participants make it as large or larger that that of Venice.

Annecy has tourism down pat.  It is photogenic and people turn up in droves to capture the over 350 costumes with the town as a backdrop. Although its crowded, if you are patient, you will get a shot as the participants are gracious and are eager to pose for you.

I kept trying to get more natural pictures of them.  These are the closest I got.

One of my favorite parts was seeing children so excited and dressed up in costumes.  They were adorable and their enthusiasm was contagious.

Tschäggättä. Tschwhata? A Swiss Valley’s Unique Carnival Celebration

Tschäggättä are frightening figures that wear furs, giant cowbells around their waists and carved wooden masks.  Every inch of the person underneath the costume is covered to prevent their recognition.  Tschäggättä walk the streets during Carnival waving large wooden sticks,  scaring and/or tossing soot (nowdays confetti) at their unsuspecting victims.  An unwritten rule, allows only unmarried men to do this.  Go figure.  Guys always try to arrange things so that they have all the fun.

It sounds like a rockin’ good time to me, but some may ask whyTschäggättä stems from a time when winter cut the Lötschental Valley off from the outside world during winter.  It was fairly isolated the rest of the year.  Like many rural places, the church dominated many aspects of daily life.   Local peasants saw the time around Carnival as an opportunity to let off some steam, an expression of anarchy and rebellion.   Or, it could come from the heathen tradition of scaring away the spirits of winter.

The legend of Tschäggättä describes them as wild men, thieves from the no longer existing town (but poorer) across the valley that would come to steal.  The thieves dressed themselves up in frightening costumes to create fear and aid in their larceny.