Little Extortionists

Feb. 23 - I wrote a lot about Fastelavn on the blog last week and made the usual hash of it.  For once, though, I seem to have made an error of omission rather than commission.

"Think what such a Shrovetide meant for Danish parents," I wrote, "Early one winter Sunday morning, they'd wake up to children in costumes singing and whacking them with sticks until they got out of bed to bake them some goodies." I was right as far as I went in describing the old Fastelavn or Shrovetide traditions. But I didn't go far enough.

Once the kids finally get their hands on the extorted buns, you see, the parents set them loose on the world. The children then go door-to-door in their costumes, singing their extortionary song to every Dane fool enough to open their door:

"I am Shrovetide, I am Shrovetide, give me some money or there's going to be trouble!" You toss them a few crowns and they go on their way. It's like a nation full of budding little congresspeople!

The shrewd American will by now have discerned some similarities to a certain American tradition (besides the kickback). I'm talking about Halloween. The only real difference between Fastelavn and Halloween is that the kids seem to go out during daylight and they want money instead of candy.

The DMG and I went for a walk Sunday afternoon and were fortunate enough to encounter several costumed little extortionists. We came across one little Superman ambling alone down a quiet residential avenue who was kind enough to grant the DMG an interview. I've transcribed it below in an English translation. Note that Danes refer to the act of going around and collecting Fastelavn money as "jingling" (rasle), due to the sound their money-holders make when they shake them in your face.


DMG: What a beautiful costume!

Superman: (Stops, looks around, fidgets nervously.)

DMG: Show me how strong you are!

Superman: (Continues to eye us suspiciously.)

DMG: Oh, come on, show us your muscles!

Superman: I've been out jingling. I'm cold.

DMG: Yes, you need a hat.

Superman: No, it's my hands.

DMG: Where's your mom?

Superman: She's at home. My hands are cold.

DMG: You better go home to her then.

Superman: Yeah, but my big sister is out jingling, too, with her friends. She's my big sister.

DMG: Maybe you can join her.

Superman: No, because she's out jingling with her friends.

DMG: Oh, then I guess you can't.

Superman: No, my big sister's still out there.

Superman sighs, shrugs, and continues on his way.

And that was that.

* * *

On the same walk we observed some old WWII-era bunkers. The DMG pointed them out to me with a certain pride.

"Well," I remarked indifferently, "fat lot of good they did. I mean, the German army just sort of showed up and said, hello, you're occupied, right?"

"Yeah," she conceded, "but we still got to use the bunkers. We were bombed during the war..."

"Why would the Nazis—"

"...by the British."

"Oh." There was an awkward silence. "No hard feelings?"

The DMG just laughed. "They were trying to save us!"

And of course, it was ludicrous for me to have thought an occupied country would resent an ally trying to bomb their dictatorial oppressors out of power. Civilian casualties are always a horror, but if the freedom of an entire nation is at stake...

Speaking of dictatorial oppressors...

Eighty-five years ago today, Benito Mussolini founded the Fasci del Comattimento ("Evil Fascist Bastards") party in Italy in hopes of improving the nation's irregular train schedules. The Evil Fascist Bastards did eventually succeed in getting the trains to run on time, but their success was short-lived: allied forces entered the country in the 1940s and threw off their timetables for ever.

On February 23, 1821, English poet John Keats died in Rome. Mr. Keats was Romantic and therefore wrote an Ode to a Nightingale, an Ode to Psyche, and even an Ode to a Grecian Urn. None of them would have him, so the poor man died alone.

On February 23, 1836, the siege of the Alamo began. It was quite an adventure. For years afterward people would sigh, "Remember the Alamo?" And they'd kind of nod and smile, but eventually they forgot.

February 23 is the birthday of John Sandford (1944), Peter Fonda (1939), W.E.B. DuBois (1868), and George Frederic Handel (1685).

February 23 is Republic Day in Guyana and Army and Navy Day in Russia.

The Moron's Index
Bean Counter: 14 weeks + 3 days
Days as a Non-Smoker: 8
Fastelavn Extortionists Paid Off, Lifetime: 2
Fastelavn Buns Consumed, Lifetime: 1

Dagens Ord (The Word of the Day)
Rasle. Jingle, jangle, rattle. "Jeg har været ud at rasle." = I've been out jingling.

The other day I said the Danish for arrest was standse.  That was inaccurate.  Standse means arrest only in the sense of "arrested development" or "cardiac arrest."  To arrest in the sense of handcuffs and perp walks, the correct verb is arrestere.  I apologize to any readers who embarrassed themselves try to arrest Aaron Burr in Danish over the weekend.

Happy Monday!

(And remember to keep up with Moron Abroad!)

© 2004, The Moron's Almanac™

[close window]
[Daily Briefing Archive]