Mob Attack at Carnival

Lucinda Palme

Mob Attack at Carnival

On the last Saturday of May, a relatively no-go area turns to let’s-go-area in Gothenburg: annual Hammarkullen’s carnival. The crowd is in constant motion. The music is audible, all over and it follows Neo Sem-Sandberg, wherever he goes.

Neo is thrilled.

There is a mixture of people unlike anywhere else in the city: women in black robes from head to toes, ladies in skimpy shorts and sleeveless vests, girls in traditional attires he had never seen before; men in Arabian outfits, boys in loose garments on their limbs and arms, boys in sub-Saharan shirts, men in Hawaii shirts and slippers.

Questions arise: Are men faster to adapt quicker in a new culture? Or, women are slow to adapt to local attire, or are they expected to wear the attire of their culture?

The time approaches for the highlight of the carnival: a procession of unit after unit singing and dancing with African and South American roots proceeds, almost endlessly. Neo finds a vantage point, and stands to see, and to film. He photographs and films. He wants to see the procession again, and he knows the track of the procession – on the pathways and tarmac roads girding around and along the high-rise buildings.

Neo notices a Chilean food stall, and decides to buy a meal. He knows a Gothenburger whose parents were from Chile but he carried no trace of cultural heritage saving for chiselled facial features and jet-black hair. Neo asks the woman with unpainted hair for what he should buy for a taste of Chilean food. He instantly admires her vivacity and energy. She hands him the corn casserole dish in a wrap. Touched by Neo’s approach, she also hands him a piece of a Chilean cake. Neo profusely thanks her.

With the camera dangling on his chest, and the food in one hand, he reconnoitres the area, and inches to a bench. He sits, unwarps his meal, takes a bite. On to his left, he notices mannequins in one of the stalls. He takes a photograph. He waits but takes a bite of the food. He sees passers-by passing in succession. He wants to capture the limbs of mannequins and the limbs of passers-by. He takes three dozen photographs in quick succession.

Neo wants to be a fashion photographer. He is in the process of identifying a project for a portfolio.

After taking photographs, he eases back on to the bench, and takes another bite. He notices a boy watching him. Neo smiles: splashes a smile to the boy.

“Show me the photographs,” the boy demands.

Neo is surprised at the pitch of his voice, but answers, “Why should I show you, but I can show you, if you want.”

“You are taking photographs of girls,” the boy blames.

“Which girl…?” Neo asks.

The boys accuses, “Thief…Robber…F….”

The boy’s mate joins, and they talk to each other. A just-now-arrived boy states, “You are taking photographs of girls, here, our mothers and sisters, you mother f….”

Neo is aghast. As he thinks what to say, three more boys arrive. The gang chats. One in the gang says to Neo, “Show me the photographs, you have taken, one by one, you …,” and he spits out unwanted to hear words.

Neo is infuriated.  He says, “Listen, don’t talk to me like …”

Few more boys arrive, and they join their mates. They chat. Each one knowing ‘the story of taking photographs’ spits a swear word at Neo.

Neo gets up to walk away.

A young man passes by with two girls in tow. He notices the gang and Neo. The boys rush to the young man, and narrate to him quickly, volubly, in unison.

Neo senses that he should leave the place, he stands up and walks, slowly towards an exit. But the young man orders, “Give me the camera.”

“Why,” Neo wants to know.

The camera is snatched from Neo. The gang watches the photographs he has taken today. More than one thousand photos. They are thrilled to see the photos, collectively.

The young man observes, “You are taking photos of sisters and mothers, you mother f…”

Neo says, “What?”

A boy utters another swear word at Neo, and kicks Neo. Another boy, imitates. And another one…and another one. It is a mob. Neo is in the middle of the mob. A volunteer of the carnival notices the mob in motion: action: attacking a photographer.

The volunteer whistles.

The mobs waits for the police to arrive but continues to extract fun with each kick, and each swear word aired at Neo.

—Lucinda Palme