Hidden Cultures

The term ‘hidden cultures’ might make you think of various religions and nationalistic customs. That’s not what I would like to talk about, however. I’d like to make an observation about hidden worlds which are often linked to a profession or hobby. Lately, I’ve been discovering a few societies which were previously unknown to me. Societies like these can be local, but they can also be scattered across Europe or the world as a whole.

An example of such a large community is a group of people who are very passionate about gigantic vegetables, specifically pumpkins. Last September, I visited the National Championship Largest Pumpkin of the Netherlands and Belgium. This was such a joyful experience, that I feel it would be selfish not to share it with the world. The championship was held in botanical gardens, making sure that the visitor experienced the wonders of nature upon arrival. To increase the positive atmosphere, there were stalls selling vegetable related gifts and gadgets, and for the children there was a bouncy castle. All in all, entertainment was provided for every family member. And then there were the gigantic vegetables: beetroots, watermelons, corn, carrots, beans, turnips, radishes and lots and lots of pumpkins. The largest pumpkins were displayed on wooden pallets, ready to be admired. Besides admiration, lots of assumptions were to be heard about the weight of the largest pumpkin. I haven’t heard so much gossip since secondary school. Also very conspicuous was the use of first names in these conversations. Apparently, I was present in a society where everyone knew each other, and where the appearance of a pumpkin could reveal its farmer. Some research made me aware of the even larger community of pumpkin farmers all over the world. The results of other national championships were publicly announced and speculations about the world championship that was to take place in October were widely discussed. I am still in awe of this formally undiscovered worldwide pumpkin society.

Another hidden community can be described as a kind of pop-up community. Did you ever look at a choir performing? If so, did you ever notice something peculiar? When I went to listen to a choir last holiday, I realized for the first time something weird was going on with choir. When the members were talking to each other before performing, all was well. These were just normal people, with individual opinions and goals. As soon as they started singing together, something shifted. Their faced instantly adopted the same expression. A kind of elevated glance revealed itself all around. At first, I thought it might have something to do with the message of their songs: it was around Christmas, so all lyrics were related to faith and hope. But when looked at recordings of other choirs, it became apparent that most choirs show this phenomenon. It’s like all members share a culture or a vision, but only show this as soon as they start singing. Now I’ve noticed this, it’s been quite hard to watch a choir performing without giggling.

Lastly, there seems to be a rather large community of people who are very interested in pottery. A while ago, I went to a fair organized by the ‘Society for Pottery from Maastricht’ (or in Dutch: Vereniging Maastrichts Aardewerk), where I discovered this whole new world. Tables filled with pottery made up the landscape of this fair. I think most people (both selling and buying pottery) were between 65 and 90 years old. This didn’t result in a less energetic atmosphere, however. The pottery fanatics were just as capable of gossip and speculation as the pumpkin farmers. I heard two elderly gentlemen talking about an identical butter dish that was priced differently at opposite tables. And at this dazzling event, it also seemed like everyone knew each other. Apart from that, the people selling pottery also were the ones most keen to buy new pottery. I think they all bought each others’ copies. I quite wonder what will happen when in a few decades most of these fanatics are gone. Who will buy all these things? Will they be stalled in attics of descendants? Or will the new generation of elderly people experience a spontaneous attraction to pottery? As a start to solving this problem, I bought a squirrel-shaped pudding mould, and I can tell you it was the utter climax of Christmas dinner!

To conclude, I’d like to advise all of you to keep your eyes open for these spontaneous, enormous and cozy gatherings. I very much like the fact that personal interests, no matter how abnormal, can be global and intimate at the same time. I will at least keep reminding myself that there are many different things to love – and, that in loving something, you are never alone.


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