Halloween IV: Blogsurrection

A party in Dracula’s castle? How could I refuse? When I originally outsourced my fall vacation to the whims of my friends, this was the big selling point and basically the only point of the entire trip that I had any knowledge about. I had decided that a mystery vacation to a country I’d never been to would be a grand scheme. How pleasantly surprised was I when the train deposited me and my party to our first location Brasov. For the low, low price of surviving the tribulations of Hell Train, I was treated to a feast for the eyes.

Founded in the early 13th century by Teutonic Knights, the city was perfectly positioned to gain economic and political and influence, due to it being situated at the middle of trade between the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe. This affluence helped the city to grow into the impressive place that it is today. It is not hard to recognize the old world beauty of this town. Resting in a valley, like most cities in a mountain range, the city is overlooked on all sides by lush forested mountains.

It is a city which is proud of its heritage with a great number original medieval buildings still standing in the historical center. This medieval splendor is something that was eminently visible once we realized that our Airbnb had a rooftop terrace. Red roofed buildings radiate outwards from the center of the city, reaching outwards to the fall tinged hills overlooking the town. It was definitely something that my meager photography skills struggled to adequately represent.

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After a brief period for refreshment we began to prepare ourselves for the evening’s event. Donning costumes and preparing makeup our little group became ghoulishly presentable over the course of a few hours. The evening greeted us with a fall’s expected chill as we set foot into the grand square of the city. Our destination this evening is one overpriced taxi ride further into the Carpathians. The village of Bran is a small and unassuming mountain town that looks as though it is normally home to ten shopkeeps. However, on this date, the population was bolstered by what had to be several thousand foreign merrymakers. The one main street and every store front were bursting with ghouls and ghosts. The boisterous becostumed crowd was here for the draw of the evening. The city too donned its costume for Halloween.

“I can’t believe that we’re standing where the real life Dracula lived.” I’m sure that my brain boozily muttered to itself as we turned down the walk which would lead to the famed structure Castelu Bran. Bran Castle, as it very simply translates, nestles itself picturesquely between two very large and prominent mountains in the Carpathian range. Fittingly, the castle in question is also a place that lies in between fact and fiction. The purported infamy and mystery surrounding this location has somewhat less to do with historical truth than with the power of myth and misunderstandings.

Over one hundred years ago, an Irishman with a flair for the melodramatic heard the name of a Wallachian prince with a nasty reputation. The prince’s name lent an air of mystery to the Irishman’s manuscript about malevolent supernatural beings that went bump in the night. It is also believed that said Irish author was exposed to an image of a castle in distant Romania, one whose exterior could easily instill a sense of foreboding and dread. It would be a place where readers could imagine repugnant rituals and devilish deeds being perpetrated. Thus was the most classic of horror tales penned with strange connections to the reality which inspired it.

Closer to historical record though is that various internal power struggles in medieval Central Europe led to Vlad Tepes also known as Vlad Dracul also known as Vlad the Impaler being captured by a Hungarian army because anyone who is blessed with the moniker “Impaler” probably isn’t the nicest guy. Our dear old Vlady did indeed reside in Bran Castle, but he only did so for a few months as a prisoner in transit.

Now, whether due to it resembling the descriptions of Count Dracula’s Castle or its location deep in the Carpathian Mountains or even due to the fact that encouraging the connection brings in tourism dollars, this structure has been irreparably associated with the Dracula mythos.

This string of historical research was likely lost on the line of hundreds of entrants just looking to witness Halloween glory. Fictitious or not the castle was sure outfitted to draw on the expectations. There was something awe inspiring in the way an imposing obelisk was cut into the night with Technicolor laser light shows. It sets the stage rather well. There was a kaleidoscopic light display running its way across the face of the castle. It was a feast for the eyes, crimson hues danced across the roiling beclouded sky. Blood dripped down the most prominent façade. It was very gothic in the pants with too many zippers kind of way.

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We went up the hill that lead to the castle. There we traded in the trite and uninteresting activity of waiting around in a big open exterior area for the glamour of standing still in line through claustrophobic stone corridors of a castle. There was only one path to take and it corralled the drunken masses single file through the castle. My girlfriend had again taken on the persona of the undead pirate, which was something that a string of drunken Russian pirates loved to no end. I don’t speak Russian, but I do believe that they were inviting her to be their captain. She tactfully declined. Our tour proceeded under the watchful eye of “Vlad Dracul” who excitedly offered photo ops to good looking women.

Rain fell as we descended slick stones towards the last event of the evening. Down in the clearing, overlooked by the castle’s watchful gaze, a driving beat was fueling a heaving mass of becostumed bodies. This was the part of the evening I most looked forward to, an all-night dance off led by the creatures of the night, only to disperse as the dawn drove the undead to their darkened corners. As we stood in line to get into the bursting at the seams tent, the light rain became torrents of water descended upon us. What had been the polite concept of the line then decided that all life depended on entering that tent. We were swarmed as the rains pelted the cold and angry mass awaiting to gain entry to the capacity filled party. I was excited to play up my role as lord of the dance, but I could glean from the looks of my friends and the angry words from their mouths that they were unwilling to wait for the line to dissipate. So we called it there. We left the pounding beat and luminous castle behind to procure near suicidally reckless transportation back.

We were cold and tired, but since me and my miss were all dressed up we decided to give partying one last chance. We marched up the central tourist area looking for an establishment to haunt and found and Irish basement bar. In the brick vaulted basement there was joyous chaos. Dancing on the table was highly encouraged. We got some drinks and listened to Romanian punk rock music as I loosened into my groove. Before too long the DJ worked his way into 80s and 90s English hit songs. I twirled and swirled to the music, but I really came into my own as Tina Turner began to roll down the river. A circle was formed so that I could ply the wondrous wares of my motion for my growing fanbase. Camera phones came out, and I was the evening’s dancing queen. We left not long after because a flock of floozies elbow checked my Pirate Queen to get a closer look at me. Good for my ego, not so good for the happiness of my long term partner. Somewhere along the way my vest was unfortunately sacrificed to appease the deities of dance.

Thus do I wrap up my tale of Halloween havoc. Tune in next week as I finish recounting the events of fall break and finally proceed with my life. Thank you for coming along with me through this adventure, my fair listener. To all of you out there, I say good day, good night, and good reading.

Interlude

Welcome back listeners, please come inside and take a seat. Rest a moment and perhaps listen to some friendly conversation while you remain. As may be obvious from the rather plain title, I plan on conducting business in a slightly different way than I have up till recently. I am taking a break from talking about the past to ruminate on current events in my life and how they are going to affect this blog for the next few weeks.

First and of foremost importance, my female companionship and I are now officially on Spring Break time. This means that we have a little over a week of freedom to be secluded from reality as we know it. As mentioned last week, this will be accomplished by travelling to and lounging about in the grand locale of Lisbon, Portugal. Before I continue, I want to contemplate that sentence, that preceding sentence. I have a job sponsored week free from responsibility and I am going to spend it crossing a continent and experiencing a completely different culture. When did this become reality? How did I end up in such a inconceivable place in my life? Try not to get the wrong idea, I am not attempting to inflate my ego or inspire jealousy. It is one of those sentences that I never contemplated me being able to say casually. It serves to show just how different my life has become in just eight months. Back in small town Oregon I was a homebody who held on to vague notions of nebulous futures exploring a wider array of experiences. In a shorter time than I would have thought possible, I am here and will soon be there. I guess it is difficult to see your life altering as the seconds go by. You don’t experience the curvature of the earth below your tread. It takes a moment to get out of your own experiences to really reflect on the direction of life. Me, the person who lived his whole life watching, reading, and listening to tales of adventure, I get to have some of my own. That’s cool. Ok, I may be bragging just a little bit.

However, to complicate matters more than they needed to be, procrastination intensifies. Due to my powers of chronic procrastination, I have created a convergence of events, essentially a nexus point of due dates all coming together right before I make my date with the Atlantic coast. Without going into too great of detail…

You know that old and tired joke where everyone forgets to do their taxes until the last minute? Well then, call me an overused punch line. Because I am some kind of machine specially designed to do things later than it should, I managed to wait until the night of April 13th before even beginning the filing process. It’s a good thing that I am a very organized person who wouldn’t dream of moving thousands of miles away from home without having all of my important paperwork on hand. It must be strange being the kind of person who has to do paperwork until 1:00 A.M. and have an hour long phone call with their mother in an effort to find one piece of paper hidden in the depths of a filing cabinet. Definitely wouldn’t want to be that kind of person.

In addition to that little bundle of shenanigans there was packing left to be done in the morning, Airbnb hosts to be contacted, and boarding passes to be found. It has been slightly hectic. Now, luckily that is all finished and behind me. The only thing that I have left to do before I am free to go is this post. With zero words written and only a few hours until liftoff this post is going to be more than a little bit rushed. It will also be somewhat shorter than the example I have been setting with my last few posts.

That does bring me to a point that I wished to touch on briefly. This blog is a personal passion project, albeit one on a public stage. Despite the amateur nature of the work, I do wish to present the best product I can. Each week I have been dedicating a fair amount of time to writing and editing these posts into a form suitable for human consumption. Recently, I may have become a little overenthusiastic about inflating my word count. As I try to produce one of these a week I feel like this increase in quantity has left me with very little time to dedicate towards the editing and revision of my writing. I am interested in conducting a little experiment. I wish to challenge myself to reverse trajectory and shorter entries with a higher level of polish. Will it work, who knows? I began this venture in an effort to achieve self improvement. In this spirit I hope to continue onwards into the future. If this alteration goes well, there may be more changes to the formula. Yes, I do realize the irony in expressing my concerns over lack of quality assurance in an essay that was by its very nature rushed and barely edited.

Well, this appears to be all the time I have to work with today, and Portugal awaits. Wish me luck in my travels and as I expand mental horizons. The skies await me, and they do so with a pleasant countenance. Adventure abounds, and I intend to seize it. For those of you seated on your couches or at coffee shops, commuting or cohabitation all of you coming to the web seeking literary fulfillment, I wish you good day, good night, and good reading.

 

Spookiness in Schools: Halloween Part Dos

Welcome back to a visual record of me slowly coalescing a cohesive style from a variety of bad writing habits, let’s slow things down for a moment as I shoehorn in a stupid joke…. Scooby Doo reference, meddling kids, cue the laughs. Give me your adoration; my words of forced introspection surely deserve it.

I said last week that I wasn’t done obsessing about the holiday of Halloween, and guess what? I’m not done obsessing about the holiday. I believe it deserves a special mention that this Halloween was the first holiday that I spent away from my family in my entire life. I know, there’s a big family component to sexy demons handing out candy. There is a deeper meaning than just the holiday itself sans familial relations though; small milestones like holidays abroad serve to highlight the ways in which my life continues to change from what it once was. It denotes a sense of growth into a new person. We all live in a constant state of flux, but it is something to be noted when you can so encapsulate such moments of change. The second that never have becomes the first time provides a recognizable milestone to examine far into your personal future. It also makes great fodder for those with journalistic intentions like me.

I do have a little more to say about the lead up to the annual gathering of ghouls. We still held onto the desire to wear costumes for the season. However we did want to do so without returning to that strange fever dream of a costume shop that ejected us so abruptly. With the full scope of time and experience in me, I do recognize that there were other places where we could have conceivable gone to outright purchase a costume. The rough ejection gave me the impetus I needed to pursue that creative spark I had wanted to express through action. It was decided, we would create our costumes from disparate parts.

Beginning with the conceptualization, we each came up with a few moderately reasonable ideas to in turn ultimately choose from. Somewhat early on in the month she was able to decide on a direction for her costume. Her costume was to be a skeleton/undead pirate. Utilizing some clothing which she already possessed, she started with a poufy purple blouse, over the top of which she would wear a black corset. She purchased some black boots with flared tops to really accentuate the pirate angle. Lastly she found a wide brimmed purple felt hat which she pinned together into a convincing looking tricorner hat. This wardrobing was finished halfway through the month which allowed her nearly two weeks in which to plan out and then practice her makeup to fully complete her look. In the end she painted what looked like half of a skull across her face. The look was quite impressive and effective.

I on the other hand have a brain made of scattered marbles. Consequently I found it impossible to make up my mind on what I was going to do. I had many possibilities rolling around with the only constant being that I wanted to use paper mache. I knew that I wanted to put my creativity to use and involve a buildable aspect to my costume. The big reason, besides the readily available nature of the materials, was that I had always desired but never had the drive to experiment with it. There was one issue that arose though. I had never even attempted to build anything with paper mache before. For anyone who is of the arty or the crafty persuasion it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that problems arose from my lack of experience. So, as I was attempting to discover both the benefits and limitations of the material, I also was unable to fully decide on what I was making. I chose a mask in an attempt to keep the scope of the build somewhat under control. By the end of October I had built the prototypes of three separate models. There were two geometric skulls designs, one of which covered only from the nose up while the other was meant to be a whole head helmet design. What I eventually chose to finish was an angular vampire inspired masquerade half mask with two long fang like projections which flank the mouth. It is painted a dark blood red. I worked on these masks almost the entire month, and in the end I am quite happy with how they turned out. I finished the costume with a pair of black slacks a white button up shirt and a black vest. I think that the red worked well with the monochromatic nature of the rest of my costume.

I did do more with the entire month than just working on a costume. There was school work to be done as well. As usual I was getting better at the job by slow increments, becoming more comfortable with being in front of students every day. Because Halloween isn’t a big event in Hungary I decided that a fun way to give my lessons a sense of timeliness would be to talk about all things spooky. What this translated to in practice was me playing Monster Mash on repeat while I had the students draw ghosts and skeletons. Towards the end of the month I figured that I would step my efforts up a bit and give the students an injection of American culture by showing each of my classes the fourteen minute epic that is Michel Jackson’s Thriller. I’m not sure how much they learned from the whole experience, but what I learned was that musical tastes have changed dramatically from when I was a child, and what I think is great sounds horribly bland to fifth and sixth graders. It brought down my holiday cheer to see this campy masterpiece of pop culture glory that I love be barely tolerated by children who would otherwise be practicing grammar if not for me. I feel like this is something that I should have anticipated, but as I have tried to express in the past, I am highly disconnected with the youth of today and I feel fine about that.

Since the school I teach at is bilingual with a heavy emphasis placed on English culture, the school itself was going out of its way to get into the spirit too. The American teachers were told early on in the month that some kind of big Halloween event would be held the last day of class before fall break. Students and faculty were encouraged to get dressed and good fun would be had by all. Important of note was that me and my girlfriend, being the new teachers, would have an important role in the whole affair.

The festivities would be split into a few events. The first was that there would be a gathering of the whole school so that the new English teachers could come up to tell a few stories and get everyone into the spooky mood. Then there would be teacher led events in the classrooms of each grade. I’m a pretty talkative guy, and I’ve given a few public speaking speeches in the past. When I was approached with the opportunity to warm up the whole school with stories from America, I was confident that I would be able to carry the whole presentation myself. I was so confident that I informed the other English teachers that I had so much to say that they wouldn’t need to say anything. I was so confident that I didn’t prepare a single word for the talk I was to give.

The day of the event came round. A good number of the students were in costume the whole day through which provided a fun starting atmosphere for the classes. I and my girlfriend also wore our costumes to school to show our spirit. Because the mask I had made for my costume was limiting in its peripheral vision I decided that I would save it for the party. So when my students asked me what I was dressed up as or going to dress as I told them to just wait, I had something fun in store. Walking through the halls in between classes everyone had an immediate reaction to my girlfriend’s costume, deservedly so. It was a striking costume. The smaller children cowered in terror at her skeleton face, and the older students were in general awe of how cool it was.

For the first half of the day we had to teach classes, but they were shortened so that everyone could proceed to the party that much faster. The teaching managed to kill all of the holiday spirit that I had built up to that point, because truly the greatest terrors are children. With fall break just hours away, the students were jostling with unrest. There was great difficulty in getting them to perform even the most basic of tasks. Just as with the Thriller video, I attempted to share and explain the things that I love about Halloween. To the same result, the students were obviously disinterested.

The time of the gathering was upon us, and I had worked myself into a funk. Once all my classes were finished I donned my mask and strolled the halls with my girlfriend. Everyone was just love, love, loving the undead pirate look. Either screaming in terror of her or running up to her amazing countenance. My costume was met with what could be described as lukewarm indifference. Then we got called up on stage in front of the massed student body. We had one of the oldest students being a translator for us so that the little kids could understand. I was given the mike first because, if you remember, I had been telling everyone that this was going to be my show. It was going to be a tale of mystery and terror that I would spin, somehow, even though I had prepared not in the slightest.

Stage mounted and the attention of several hundred people focused squarely on me, the crowd was hushed in anticipation of my grand speech. My soured mood and lack of preparation came together with jolly cooperation to Voltron style combine into complete and total brain shutdown. Beads of sweat forming and a hushed expectant crowd before me I had to say something though. So I began to speak and I can only hope the things I said have been lost to the annals of history. I don’t remember exactly what I said because I am currently blocking every moment of that from memory as hard as I can. I can make a good guess though. It went something like this. “In the States you buy or make a costume. Younger kids go trick or treating, while older kids might go to parties. You can get candy, it’s pretty delicious. Alright I covered a lot of ground, don’t want to overwhelm you, any questions?” The response was glacial which is to say frigid and slow coming.

With the most silence I have ever heard in the school the students laid their glazed over gaze of indifference on me. I looked to my lifeless pirate love with pleading eyes for her to take the mark of shame away from me. Consummately professional, she took my place and addressed the whole crowd. With the aplomb of an actor assuming a role, she switched tenor into her best oratory voice.

Launching into the true stories of Halloween past, she told about the time several years ago in the states that me, her, and a bunch of friends went to a full contact haunted house. In the middle of the scares, one of our group was singled out by Mad Max reject psychos. The unlucky member of our party then got bodily lifted and placed into a refrigerator, from whence we never saw her again. Actually she was just taken out of a hidden panel in the back of the fridge and sent on the long path for the house. My bonny lass glossed over that last part though and spun a fun little tale. This story took up the rest of the speech time and won the adoration of the crowd. As we were stepping down from the platform, kids kept coming up to her and asking if the story was true, or how scared she was.

So, disappointed with myself, the English teachers all split off to take part in the Halloween events we were meant to do with our respective grades. My corsair cutie and the other teachers as it turned out, held little dance parties in their rooms. There was food and drink, and they were only required to stay for a few minutes before they were released from their responsibilities. Unfortunately for me, I had, in a continued stretch of misgiven self confidence, signed up to do a choose your own adventure card game to entertain my classroom. Then I guess I planned to entertain the students with how cool I was. Fittingly with the theme of the day, this did not go exactly to plan.

From the start, no one told me what I was to do or for how long to do it, or even when to do so. All that I did know was which room I was to go to. There was unfortunately no one in charge who was able to answer my simple questions like when I could leave. So I wandered towards my assigned room, and luckily for me all the students in attendance were my least cooperative pupils. I set about doing my part though and handed out the card game supplies. The game was a fun diversion, and it lasted five minutes. Then, again, I heard the familiar sound of silence. That vacuous absence of joy or entertainment, the room was however exuded an aura of discontent. It was me, sitting there next to a bunch of very bored students. I had finished the game, but I had no idea if I was done with them. Could I leave? Should I keep talking? None of the students were privy to that knowledge either. Through some misguided instinct to go on with the show, I put on some Halloween jams which I had already determined that the children would not enjoy. My bag of tricks had been expended hours ago, but a clown I still was to be. Minutes turned into a half hour turned into what I think was eventually an hour of rabid disappointment. My mind had essentially frozen. Whenever you are up in front of a crowd, there’s this sense that can be felt under your skin. A tingling sensation that tells you that your audience is just not feeling it and they were in no way feeling my lack of interesting things to do.

As a last ditch effort to do something, anything to make the mortification abate even slightly, I pulled up Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. I began to read the stories in my best ghoulish accent. I hammed it up for those kids, and for a brief moment, I saw the faintest glimmer of interest drift across their dead beady lifeless fish eyes.

To rub final salt and lemon into my wounds like some kind of injury margarita, the door opened and all the other English teachers poked their heads in. With only the most pure and true cosmic hilarity, I was informed that I had not had to stay there so long and flounder so greatly. The other English teachers had gone to their rooms for ten or so minutes, given ghoulish greetings to their students and grabbed some snacks while walking away. Only once and not at all before the knowledge that I was a fool was imparted to me by my colleagues, a person in charge of the whole event came into the room to reiterate the point to me that I had far exceeded what was expected of me. Words do not describe my how incredibly, totally, and fully finished I was with Halloween.

Join me for the next installment when I was in actuality not finished with Halloween in the slightest. The week following the party was fall break, a week of freedom. We were slightly disappointed by the lack of holiday spirit present in Central Europe. Thus we decided that we should go somewhere more appropriately suited to the season. With that little teaser, I leave you for now. Good Day, good night, and good reading.