Thursday, 2 March 2017

Mardi Gras and the Start of Lent

 

Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann


published 1924

 
Mardi Gras MM 1


It was carnival time. Mardi Gras was upon them.

More or less everyone made a pilgrimage to Platz that afternoon to see the carnival in the streets. There were people strolling in masks – Punchinellos and Harlequins, flicking whips that rattled – and flurries of confetti burst among the pedestrians and above the heads of masked passengers in the decorated sleighs jingling past. By suppertime, spirits were already very high at all seven tables, with everyone determined to continue the public gaiety in their own closed circle. The concierge had done a good business in paper hats, rattles and sacks of favours…

Management had placed a paper lantern on each table, a colourful moon with a candle burning inside.

The festive spirit was very apparent from the start. Laughter reigned, streamers dangling from the chandeliers wafted in the breeze, confetti floated in the gravy.

Once the lights were turned off towards the end of the meal and only the lanterns illumined the dining hall with the soft colourful glow of a night in Italy, the perfect mood was set.

Magic Mountain  Mardi 2
 


commentary: Mardi Gras is the Tuesday before Lent starts – yesterday was Ash Wednesday (the date is different each year, depending on the date of Easter). The world celebrated, and now the hard times have begun.

This is one of the setpiece scenes of Magic Mountain – I have already done a couple of previous posts on the book,  after being inspired to read it by Linda Grant’s marvellous Dark Circle, and have looked some other works on TB sanatoria.

The patients in a sanatorium are celebrating moments in the year, glad to have survived. Before the party begins, as Hans Castorp thinks ahead
‘I’m all for celebrating holidays… we’ve had Christmas and New Year and now Mardi Gras… Then it will soon be Palm Sunday… and then before you know it it’s the longest day, Midsummer Night…’
His Italian friend Settembrini shouts ‘Silence! I forbid you to play so fast and loose with time!’ – he is aware that some of the people in the sanatorium do not have much time ahead of them.

And there is one of the odd moments in the book where the author intrudes:
At this juncture we alone know to what these carnival festivities eventually led, thanks to Hans Castorp’s enterprising spirit. But we are not about to let our knowledge of what happened disrupt the deliberate pace of the narrative; instead we shall give time the honour it is due and not rush into things – perhaps we shall even draw them out a bit.
And so the celebration is exciting and colourful, but becomes increasingly manic and a touch desperate. There is mention of danses macabres, and the chapter is called Walpurgis Night - the witches’ orgy which is actually April 30th.

Mann describes costumes and clothes in great details, and the whole section is compelling and horribly sad.

There have been Mardi Gras entries on the blog most years (with some wonderful pictures) - click on the label below. 

The Mardi Gras picture is from the Dutch Archives.

The other picture shows patients at a European sanatorium of the era.


















16 comments:

  1. What a great description of Mardi Gras, Moira. And it's made even more compelling, I think, by the sadness of the context. I think Mann writes very well about this celebration.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it is very well done - you get a real feel for the patients enjoying themselves in a slightly frantic way, with that underlying thought of wondering where they will all be in a year's time...

      Delete
    2. I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras back in the 80s, and while it was mostly a pleasant experience, the excerpts you quoted remind me of a few moments in the Vieux Carré when I thought I was going to be crushed for sure. A panicky thought in the middle of all the hoop-la!

      Delete
    3. I've always been curious exactly what it is like - I think I would have taken the chance when I was younger, but now I really dislike crowds, so have faced up to the fact that I probably will never go.

      Delete
    4. Other than that scary moment, I had a wonderful time. What helped was that I was with friends, one of whom had relatives in the area. Her dad grew in and around New Orleans (her mom was an WWII Enlgish war bride), and one of his brothers actually lived on Bourbon Street. We had a place to crash, get cheap (free!) food and drinks, and, most critically, a place to pee. It's crazy and fun, but, yeah, it was probably more fun because I was in my early 30s.

      Delete
    5. That does sound good. There's your novel, right there...

      Delete
  2. I keep meaning to read a book that focuses on Mardi Gras (preferably in New Orleans), but I forget every year.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There must be lots of them! I remember reading murder stories set there at Mardi Gras - part of a Julie Smith series I think, I might try to find one of those again - I read them years ago.

      Delete
    2. New Orleans Mourning by Julie Smith and several in the Benjamin January series by Barbara Hambly. But I will forget these by next year.

      Delete
    3. Oh yes, that must be it. But I know what you mean - people recommend to me wonderful books in the comments, and I can never remember them, and shamefully even if I remember the book I forget who told me...

      Delete
  3. I went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans once, in my early twenties with my first husband. We camped in our new camper van with friends, and I remember more about the camping and the New Orleans food than any of the Mardi Gras festivities (long long time ago). I think it was the last thing we did with that couple before my husband went into the Air Force.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well I just said to Paula above that she could write a novel - and so could you...

      Delete
    2. If I had that kind of talent and imagination (and patience and discipline), it would make a good basis for a novel. I really admire authors who can pull it all together.

      Delete
    3. I know - they have that extra something don't they?

      Delete
  4. Not rushing to find a copy of this one thanks.

    ReplyDelete