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The dates for Carnival and Valentine's Day sometimes coincide. This was also the case in 1999. Although I had not lived in Brabant since 1997, but in Rotterdam (before returning to the Province of Brabant last year), I gladly visited Breda to celebrate Carnival with my friends and family.

by Rick van der Made - 29 February 2020

length: 4 min. Printer Friendly Page  
Matters of the Heart – My Secret Valentine

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar
length: 4 minuten

On the Monday of the carnival celebrations, braving the cold and watching the big parade near the Venise Bar while drinking beers, was - and is - simply fun.

Going back to Breda also meant seeing my former students again. From 1992 to 1997 I was a secondary school teacher in Breda. It was on February 14, 1995 that I walked into the teachers’ room late afternoon, and quickly emptied my mailbox before going home. In addition to a timetable and other educational information, the mailbox held a white envelope. I opened it. Inside was a beautiful Valentine’s card. Anonymously, of course. In those days, however, in the Netherlands Valentine’s Day was not yet the (marketing) happening it is now, and Valentine’s cards and expressions were the exception rather than the rule. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised by the card. I had no idea who sent me the card.

Back to Monday, February 15, 1999. Outside and in front of the Venise Bar, it was cold, dry and carnivalesque. Occasionally my friends and I went into the pub to get more beer. Inside, it was warm, wet from the condensation and spilled beers. Going back outside in a festive “polonaise,” someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and looked into the face of a pirate with the face of my former pupil Emiel. I had taught him French at a secondary school for some years, and he was a student in Utrecht now. On the evening of his graduation ceremony - and as far as I remenber as the only male student ever - he had given me three kisses on the cheek.

It was a nice, small school where I taught. I pretty much knew all the students, and as a teacher I had never made a big secret of the fact that I’m gay. The advantage of this was that students who struggled with their coming out usually found it easy to consult me and ask me questions on the subject. Emiel was one of them. We had always gotten along splendidly, and it was great to see him again. The feeling was mutual. We walked outside to catch up.

After Emiel and I had been talking for about ten minutes, a carnival cart passed. Clearly, the theme was Valentine’s Day and love. Large hearts were attached to the float and the people on it wore shirts with hearts on it. “Four years ago, there was an anonymous Valentine’s card in my mail box,” I told Emiel, waving at the people on the float. “Did you ever find out who sent it?” “No, but I never put much effort into it.” “Perhaps it was your colleague Peter.” We both laughed. Peter also taught French, almost the age to stop working and retire, had three children, was happily married and straight.

We continued to watch the parade. After the last float my friends came to get me to go to another pub. I asked Emiel whether he would like to join us. Emiel said he wanted to eat something first. We said our goodbyes. “See you at the next edition!” I called after him. It was the pre-cell phones and pre-social media years. In those prehistoric years you had to have pen and paper with you to exchange details. No one would be carrying these at a Carnival.

When I arrived at the Grote Markt, I was tapped on my shoulder again. I turned around and stared into Emiel’s pirate face again. “Are you tagging along anyway?” I asked. “No,” Emiel said. “I just wanted to tell you that I was the one who put the Valentine’s card in your mailbox.” I stared at him in amazement. Emiel grinned a little sheepishly, shrugged, turned around and walked away from me.

My friends had already noticed my absence and came looking for me. Emiel had disappeared into the crowd. I kept staring for a moment at the point where Emiel had disappeared into the crowd, then turned around and followed my friends to the next bar.

I never met Emiel again. Neither that evening, nor afterwards, nor years later on Hyves, Facebook or Instagram. After that Carnival parade, he disappeared into anonymity forever. Just like a Valentine’s card.

This year again, I will probably go for a beer at the Venise Bar with friends during the Big Parade. Usually I always see someone dressed as a pirate passing by. This, of course, makes me think of my former student Emiel who should now be around forty-two years of age, and to the only anonymous Valentine’s card I have ever received in my life - twenty-five years ago.

I hope you’ve experienced a beautiful month of February, with much love on Valentine’s Day and lots of fun at the carnival.



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