Over the Carnival

by Abbye Meyer | 2/8/02 6:00am

I guess Winter Carnival is indeed the stuff of myths and movies. And with the wizardly theme of "There's Snow Place Like Home," I nominate myself as the Dorothy, for I believe that I am indeed the daughter of the Carnival, the tiny protagonist put on a long road of struggles to search for happiness and resolution.

My first introduction into the world of Winter Carnival (and of Dartmouth culture), a whopping three years ago, began much like Dorothy's introduction to the land over the rainbow -- I had no idea what was going on, but I knew I wasn't in Kansas (or Wisconsin) anymore.

Since the big announcement ("The End of the Greek System 'As We Know It'") had been made only two days before my first Carnival, the opening ceremony was a little weird. And it was crawling with a bunch of uniformed people (munchkins?) wearing big white T-shirts that read, as many will remember, "Unaffiliated But I Support the Greeks."

I stood on the edge of the Green in a completely foreign world, perhaps over the rainbow, and certainly one I couldn't comprehend. Though it was kind of exciting to listen to the beginnings of speeches and watch the wound-up students hold signs and shout words of protests, I couldn't figure out why they were reacting the way they were, why they loved the frats so much.

I had a small suspicion that something about this whole Winter Carnival thing was off. Something had gone awry, and I had a feeling that the fairy tale weekend wasn't going to boast a storybook happy ending.

On that Friday, I began the real weekend with a trip to the Skiway with a friend from my hall. For the sake of metaphor, I'll call her Glinda (because it was her birthday and because she granted me my happiest Winter Carnival memory). We got up early, took the bus, put on our skis and had the nicest, most pleasant and peaceful time skiing either of us has ever had. For the first time (and one of the only times), I think I felt a little bit of that Dartmouth magic: the outdoors, the fresh air of the mountains and a friend who skied at my level.

By the end of that first Winter Carnival, however, I had already come in contact with a few terrors: T-shirts, hallmates and frats. Oh my.

First, a boy came to my door to sell me a graphically illustrated "Yale Sucks" T-shirt, another one of those memorable phrases from my freshman year. I had seen others buy them and thought maybe I was the weird one for thinking them a little creepy. So I just said a polite "no thanks" and shut the door.

Next, a hallmate came into my room (clad in her "Unaffiliated" T-shirt, of course) just to ask, "Abbye, as someone who doesn't really go to the frats that much, what do you think about this whole thing?"

The room silenced as my roommate stood there with her, waiting for my words. I cleared my throat, weighed the pros and cons of honesty, and simply said, "Well, I think it's kind of funny." No response. "It's pretty funny that the campus chooses to react this strongly about something as stupid as the frats being eliminated, when they don't seem to get worked up about anything else."

This hallmate of mine, who I'd liked quite a bit until then, proceeded to lecture me on why the frats were so important and such an integral part of Dartmouth. I just sat there on my bed, wondering why I couldn't figure out what to say and thinking that I must have been wrong in my initial distaste for the selectively put-together, raucous, party-throwing frats.

I tried a few frat parties that winter, but never got used to them, never felt comfortable and never regretted leaving when I did. But just like Dorothy and the Lion made it through the forest without being attacked by the lions, tigers and bears, I survived my first Carnival.

Last year, I pulled another Dorothy, clicked my heels together and ended up in New York City for Carnival weekend. It was still too much, too traditional, too Dartmouth for me to handle. So I ran.

But this year, I've done my best to make this place a home and it's certainly true that "there's snow place like it." After three Carnivals and three years in Hanover, I think I've finally seen the Emerald City; I've pulled that curtain. And just like Dorothy, I saw the smallness behind it. I wasn't missing a thing by not going to frats every weekend and by not "unaffiliatedly" supporting the Greeks. I had no reason to feel intimidated by my hallmates, by the T-shirt sellers or by the campus at large.

So just as Dorothy finally made it over the rainbow, I think I've finally made it over the Carnival. I'm over it, over the myth and madness. This year, I'll happily take the day off from class, smile at the pretty mountains and maybe even try to make Glinda go skiing again, in part to remember that along with the bad often comes good.