Castillo San Marcos

Castillo San Marcos
13th-century castle, El Puerto de Santa Maria. That WAS our house to the left and behind the tree!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

¡CARNAVAL en España!

Captivating Cádiz during Carnaval
As luck would have it, Carnaval here, while once a religious holiday ending in a wild all-night party the night before the beginning of Lent, is now a secular event lasting—in Cádiz at least—the entire month of February and into March, making me NOT late in posting about it!  Similar to Carnaval in Rio and Venice, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and Fasching in Germany, Carnaval in Cádiz is as big as it gets in Spain.  People flood in from far and near into this quasi-island city, with the biggest, most raucous party occurring the Saturday before Lent.   Over the centuries, various kings, queens and governments, including fascist Franco, tried to prohibit Carnaval.  But in Cádiz, the populace paid no mind, continuing the tradition.
Cádiz all dressed up for Carnaval

Ready to get on the ferry and party!

But let me start at the beginning.  During the first two weeks of February, the coros and comparsas (singing groups) compete in an elimination series in Cádiz’s main theater.  This televised event is watched closely by Carnaval aficionados, and the songs sung are intensely local:  Even people from Cádiz sometimes do not get the jokes!  For an outsider like me, still working on my Spanish, I was pleased when I understood the main theme of the couplet.  Not to worry; the songs themselves are sung with such gusto, flamboyancy, and expression that it’s impossible not to be amused. 

So:  singing groups comprise the main attraction of Carnaval, at least for me.  Let us not forget the main raison d’etre of Carnaval, to provide a little moderation to moderation, in other words, to let your hair down for a night (or two or three or ten, as is the case here).  Costumes range from the elaborate to the makeshift, but are always humorous, from diving suits complete with fish attached to the shoulders, to purple top hats, frocks, tails, and frilly shirts, to monks in sunglasses, to a whole group of Jesuses, to a band of jamónes in black hats.  Each group has a whole series of songs to sing to the crowd, from an introduction to a potpourri.
Divers prepare to sing

Hunters with VERY poor vision
Oh, what jokes you can make being monks!

Our friends Conchi and Luis are veteran Carnaval-goers, having lived in Cádiz for a number of years before they bought their pink palace, La Casa Rosa, in Puerto.  Luis sang us some of the couplets from his cuartet, explaining the jokes and off-color humor to us non-initiates.  There are two kinds of groups singing in Cádiz, the ones that have been received government permission, and the ilegales.  At first I was mystified by a huge printed, beer-sponsored (Cruzcampo, of course, our favorite) placard that read:  Por los ilegales, que hacen único nuestro carnaval.  Illegals?  Here?  In Cádiz?  Where were they immigrating from?  It took some explanation to understand that the ilegales were the chirigotas, the non-government-groups that took to the streets anyway to sing and strut their stuff.  Luis’s group was this kind of chirigota, dressed up as 70’s swingers.  In a tiny alley so packed with merrymakers that no one could get through, Luis and his amigos entertained a receptive audience.
Jaime, son of Conchi and Luis, starting his singing career

And Cádiz was FULL—I mean PACKED—with these groups, ranging anywhere from a cuartet  of 4, to groups of 20 or more, complete with mobile drums, stand-up bass, and the obligatory guitars and kazoos.  This is even more impressive when you actually listen to them.  On average, the singing was—GREAT.  These folks had practiced for ages, but not only that, they had written their own lyrics, made their own jokes, and converted pop songs to the tune of 20 or more couplets per group.  Not only that, but there were all ages represented, some groups younger, some older, some completely mixed with old and young singers, but all singing their hearts out on the streets, in close quarters, and with such humor and goodwill among the crowds that ringed each group that I couldn’t help but be enchanted by it all.  We stayed all day and long into the evening, wandering from tapas bar to café, cheering on the cantantes, sipping sherry and Cruz Campo, and hopping on the last ferry back to Puerto that night.
Clowns of every age, size, and shape

Puerto had a Carnaval all its own the following weekend.   While only one weekend long—Friday night, all day Saturday, and Sunday during the day—Puerto’s carnaval had its own charm, the main one being that it was three blocks away in the main pedestrian street.  Stages had been set up for Puerto’s local chirigotas and the ilegales from Cádiz who had come over, and I, armed with my friend Monse, her sister Ana and their friend Rosa, ventured out at the early hour of 10:30 pm.  
How can you resist singing ladybugs?

Nevertheless, the streets were packed.  While Cádiz has the reputation of the most refined and elegant population in the area, Puerto is more working-class and traditional, and it was seen in the carnaval.  Not nearly as cleanly organized as Cádiz, Puerto’s stages were packed with groups singing and drinking in turn, various cameo performances by what seemed like random people from the audience joining them, and an overall good-natured let’s-have-a-great-time attitude.  Fascinating to me was the vast range of ages:  teens were out in force, in both their own costumed gangs of gangly legs, giggling whispers, and secret jokes; a huge middle-aged crowd like us; grandmas and grandpas with canes and walkers and even wheelchairs; 20-somethings hanging casually at the bars; mothers and fathers pushing baby strollers and holding small children.  And in the midst of everything the chirigotas, often comprised of all ages, from children of 8 or 9 to what were clearly “old guys,” all decked out in matching costumes (my personal favorites being the Pigs, since the jokes tended to be vulgar but non-political (imagine all the funny porker jokes) and easily understood due to ample gestures). At 4 am, when we finally headed home, the streets and bars were still rocking.
Even the Pope gets into the action!

And so my new goal is born:  to be like my friends Conchi and Luis and sing in a chirigota ilegal  before I return home to the States!
My friend Conchi, veteran chirigota singer!

1 comment:

  1. Let's plan on Carnival 2013!! I'm going as a large ham. What fun you are having and I"m so jealous. Keep at it with that camera. The pictures are fabulous. And how did you learn to embed video? I am so lame. Love you guys. Miss you.


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