travelog 20


Most of you are certainly familiar with the Indian Summer mostly seen in travel guides, illustrated books or travel agency offers. Forests in terrific fall colors and fields covered with big orange pumpkins. We experience the preparations for Halloween with friends in Portland (Oregon) and Redwood City (California) on the San Francisco Bay.

In the supermarkets one can buy real pumpkins, fancy costumes and all kinds of kitsch made out of plastic (including plastic pumpkins for the lazy-bones). The show windows are decorated for autumn with pumpkins, colored leaves, witches and ghosts.

For Halloween one decorates his house with false spider nets, stylized ghosts, carved pumpkins and witches flying on their broomsticks. There are special instructions with different subjects for carving the pumpkins. Very popular are cats and eerie grimaces. In Redwood City we sit down on the terrace for a whole afternoon and carve three pumpkins with kitchen knives, small saws and spoons. First of all you have to scratch out from the inside most of the flesh and all the pips. After that the artistic part starts. At the end, candles will be placed into the hollow pumpkins to enlighten especially the grimaces in a terrific way.

For the Halloween evening everywhere are parties scheduled. In San Francisco itself there are world-famous street parties, particularly in the gay and artistic neighborhoods. Hotel rooms are booked a long time in advance by people who come to witness the reverry. Halloween seems to be the "Carnival" of San Francisco.

We are invited to a party where adults and children are present. Therefore the costumes are decent. The people show up as pirate, witch, doctor and his assistant, arabic girl or simply only with a mask covering the face. Everyone brings some food for the buffet and one or two bottles of wine. The varied selection is impressing. Especially the wine drinkers have to get used to the constantly changing content of their glasses. The host family is in the process of adding a new wing to their existing house and the empty rooms are just perfect for Halloween. There is pizza and Coca-Cola for the children as well as ghostly sounds and dimly-lit corners. After eating they have to walk through a well-prepared haunted house. The girls are all very excited. Some of them even cry in fear and refuse to go down into the dark cellar. In the haunted house the poor girls are confronted with cut-off ears (dried apricots), an extracted brain (cauliflower) and stuffed green olives as a collection of eyes. In the dim light these look quite realistic. The scene is of course brightened up with stroboscope flashes, music is added and many of the adults are helping with their "hooo-hooo"-voices.

In a small chamber the girls are confronted with two big (human-loving) dogs who like it the most to jump up on somebody and lick his face. After ten minutes the first group is released and a second group is sent through the dark cellar. After that all the children play a Piñata, originally a Mexican game. A pumpkin made out of papier mâché and filled with chocolate and candies hangs from the ceiling. One after the other the blindfolded girls try to crack the pumpkin with a stick. As soon as it falls down the whole bunch pounces itself on the candies and tries to stuff the pockets very quickly. Now it's finally time for the kids to leave and go to bed and the party begins for the adults. Everybody enjoys the buffet and tries to pick out the best wine from the big selection of bottles. Long before midnight we leave the chaos to the hosts and go home.

The next day, a Sunday, is trick-or-treat day. Small groups of children in scary Halloween costumes, usually accompanied by their mothers, come to the doors at dusk. In the past one would ask them if they want to have candies (treat) or see a trick (trick). Today the kids come with big bags and want to stuff them with candies and chocolate. We don't invite the children into the house - you never know if you will be sued the next day for child abuse. Home-baked cake or caramel apples are also taboo - too many stories of crazy guys stuffing them with razor-blades or treating them with poison. It sounds very insane but such "incidents" happen every Halloween. Because our friends live in a very quiet area with few children, we can enjoy the evening with very few interruptions.

The next day one can read in the newspaper the horror story about a man who tried to kill a boy with his baseball stick when the boy rang his doorbell. All the decorations are put away and the pumpkins end up in the garbage can. The shop windows are now decorated for Christmas although it's only the first of November!

November 1999

Julia Etter & Martin Kristen