Thursday, November 30, 2006

Carnivals in Canary Islands

Last February, I traveled to Canary Islands during a Carnival festival.

“Visit us in February,” Manoj, my cousin had invited me, when I had expressed my desire to visit him. “During this month, we have Carnivals in Tenerife. It is the second best in the world, second to the Carnivals in Brazil. I promise you will really have a very good time.”

Indeed, it was fun!

Carnivals in Tenerife are ten-day events, celebrated each year, during the second week of February. Declared officially as being of ‘International tourist interest’, Carnivals in Tenerife are widely accepted as the best in Europe. The preparations for the carnivals are diligently done many months in advance. Every year a different theme is selected, which becomes the focus for decorating the stage and for performances by the groups. (For example, during my visit, the theme selected was the ‘Roman Era’. A big stage was set up in the centre of the town with huge Roman style pillars and statues, all in white.) Few months before the event, scores of carnival groups start their nightly rehearsals, majority of the groups and parades are sponsored by their local town hall and corporate companies. People get busy designing innovative costumes.

All streets are lit up with colored lights forming many intricate designs; the sites for refreshment kiosks are auctioned off in advance by the town hall. Security is posted at every junction.

Carnivals are inaugurated with a grand stage show. Manoj had booked our tickets in advance to secure the front seats. There were different groups of dancers who performed with much grace and dignity. Then, there were group of singers called ‘Murgas’ who sang topical and satirical lyrics angled towards the political and social themes.

The star attraction of the show was the election of the carnival queen, adult and juvenile. A fancy dress show is organized and sponsored by the state, with the help of some successful commercial sectors. Participants are dressed from head to toe, in long and flowing costumes that are lavish beyond belief. These are handmade garments, tailored in intricate designs made with sequins, beads and feathers, many of long flowing gowns are fitted with hinges to enable the wearer to pass through the stage without mishap. The show is very spectacular and entertaining. I was very amazed to watch them move so gracefully, wrapped in such a huge and glittering costume! There were more than twenty participants, all dressed to perfection. The carnival queen is selected on grades for her beauty, grace and creativity of the costume.

During Carnival season, the Canarians may show lethargy at work during day time, but late night, they become very active.

“We must leave by 10pm” announced Manoj, “don’t cook dinner, there is delicious food selling down at the refreshment stalls.”

‘So late! What an odd hour to go outdoors!’ I wondered.

But Manoj assured me that I would not be sleepy.

At 11pm, we left the house.

Manoj and his friends were dressed in the most unusual costumes. I suppressed my shock as I stared at them; he and his friends were all dressed up as women, with mini-skirts and black stockings, high heels and fancy purses, long beautiful colored wigs and perfect make-up. If it wasn’t for their moustaches and their rough green cheeks, I would never have guessed their gender!

We waded through the crowded streets, balancing a glass of drink, munching the delicacies, dancing at the rhythm of the blaring music, and moving from one street to another. Every street had their own selection of music, their own kiosk of drinks and refreshments. I surveyed the people around me. As I moved to the rhythm of the music, I met many Charlie Chaplins, Micheal Jacksons, Fidel Castors, Hitlers and many more known personalities. Then there were sheiks, priests, monks and beggars, and there were families ofDisney characters including Snow-Whites, Goofys, Mickeys and bears.

I paused to admire an old woman, who was balancing a crooked stick and a glass of beer in one hand and vigorously fanning herself with her other hand, she moved so gracefully, shaking her hip and defying the laws of gravity, her companion was a big fat woman with two huge pig-tails, she was dressed in bright pink pajamas, with pacifiers hanging down her neck.

Ear-splitting music, dancing crowd, smelly atmosphere, sensual, vibrant, crowded streets, aggressive, gaudy, magical moments. Carnivals are all these things to those people who are in such a festive mood.

Thus, we passed the next ten days, eating, walking, and dancing, all night long through the crowded and noisy streets and dozing during day time.

The last day of the carnival is celebrated with the fiesta called ‘Entierro de la Sardina’ (Burial of the Sardine)’. This is to celebrate a farewell to carnivals in a unique style. There is a giant procession symbolizing the burial of a crowned hand-made sardine. On this day, a model of sardine of monstrous proportion, made of paper and decorated with glitter, is carried down the streets, with ‘tongue-in cheek’ procession of wailing widows following behind the model. A sardine is carried in a huge coffin through the streets of town until reaching the appointed ‘burial’ site, where the sardine is either burnt or, in some cases along the coast, thrown into the sea. In some communities, the sardine is even a large float, big enough to provide a nice spectacle when burned.

Following the coffin of sardine, the procession was led by women dressed up as priest and several alter boys. Manoj and his friend, like the rest of men, were dressed up as the widows of a sardine, in black dresses and mourning veils with outrageous make-up. They walked behind the huge sardine, beating their cheat, wailing and sniffing, some of them mock-fainting on their companion’s shoulder for comfort, while other lying double bend on the ground, some consoling, while others sympathizes, some screaming, some howling, some lay silently into dark black coffins. The priest would swing a fake sensor as in real funeral procession. Thus they paraded till they reached the end of the street to a vast open ground. Here, the sardine was finally burnt, followed by display of fire works.

The displays were everything we expected. Very loud and spectacular, resulting in lots of ‘Ooohhs’ and ‘Aaahhs’

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