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Monday, February 24, 2014

Mardi Gras and Carnival!

Carnival is a festive season culminating in Mardi Gras which means "Fat Tuesday" It comes from a French word and tradition where people celebrated and had a wild and scandalous time, eating and drinking to excess right before a day called "Ash Wednesday" which started a period called "Lent" where they had to reign themselves in and act pious, giving up worldly comforts and fast for their church.

The State of Louisiana in the USA was once a French territory before being sold to the USA in 1803. It became a state on April 30th, 1812. Its largest city is New Orleans, so it is no wonder that Fat Tuesday has become synonymous with that city and now regarded as the "Mardi Gras Capital" of the USA.

Today the Carnival season is celebrated world wide, as an example, Trinidad and Tobago, 2 ex-french colonies hold notable carnival celebrations. There are usually 2 types of parades held during carnival season. One is called Desfile de Carnival / the Carnival parade itself (the one with the Samba dancers and half naked women) and the Desfile de llamadas or "calls parade" a way that past slaves called to each other to come and gather together, they then relieved their heritage through drums, songs and story telling. Today the various schools of dance and drummers and literal flag/banner wavers will march to show off their students, that are being taught these traditional dances and music.  As a country, Brazil has the "biggest" carnival in the world and perhaps the most known for it's famous Mardi Gras parade with its scantily clad beautiful women and goulish face painted people in costume marching down the main Boulevards in Rio de Janeiro.

However, it is said that Uruguay has the "longest" Carnival celebration in the world lasting some 40 days! January 23rd there was a Carnival Parade in Montevideo and on Thursday February 6th and Friday, February 7th there was the Llamada or "call" Parades.

Having the longest carnival in the world doesn't mean if you go to the Capital city of Montevideo, that each night for 40 days there is a parade. Rather, it means that after the 3 parades are held in MVD along with the partying in the streets, the little towns throughout the country will also follow suit and have a combined parade for 1 night. The various towns respectively on different weekends or nights will hold their own individual parade. Their parade consists of the carnival parade (the women and costumes) and the groups of llamadas or callers (the drummers) marching on the same night. During carnival season there are also Murgas or musical groups in costumes, commenting on politics or social events throughout the city using song and satire.

For almost 6 years, I have avoided the wild night and I have not gone into the capital, MVD to see the parade. I like parades and costumes but the idea of a large drunken crowd and atmosphere has kept me away. The idea of being wild before being good also leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

I admit though, that I have been to a little museum in Montevideo that housed some costumes from former parades and I found that interesting.

Since I do like to blog about what's happening in Uruguay, I finally went to a smaller town to see one of their echo parades. February 21st, a Friday, not a Tuesday, I went to the city of Canelones in the department (county of) Canelones (in which I live in) to see their little parade. The city had big speakers wired up to buildings along the parade route.

Yeah, there was drinking in the streets and a crowd but it was tiny and the people were polite. We all lined up along the main plaza's square (every town has one with a large church). Some wooden chairs were brought out by the city for front row seats, the rest of the attendees stood or brought their own chairs.

I've seen photos of the Montevideo parade and this Canelones one could never compare to that one, it was rather sad in comparison but the people had fun. Hawkers sold "silly string" in cans to encourage spraying on each other. The children were respectful of the spectators but instead harassed the marching parade people with the stuff. I felt sorry for the parade "Princesses" (young beauties chosen) who rode in a car waving to the crowds. They smiled and waved but the children were merciless as they bombarded them. The children in attendance also tended to wander into the parade path but it was generally a well behaved crowd in Canelones.

Some little nearby towns were also represented in this parade like Santa Lucia. Some cities earlier in the month had to postpone or outright cancel their parades because of the extremely bad weather rain wise that Uruguay has been experiencing this year but tonight it was clear and warm.

Every carnival parade has a couple dressed up as an old Ma and Pa. He wears a stove type top hat (think Abraham lincoln hat). In the past they have been in black face, these represent the Patrons of the parade. There were several of these couples each representing their cities' groups.

Most carnival parades also have the Samba dancers, drummers and flag wavers as a common feature.

The schools of dancers sometimes start them out very young. In the crowds I saw young six and seven year old girls swinging their hips around in Salsa and Samba dance. I'll keep my opinions to myself on that. I will admit that I really do appreciate dance forms though. One of my favorite TV shows is "So you think you can dance?" I've enjoyed learning about the different forms and styles of dance through that TV show. I love hip-hop and I know what Krumping is, etc... but the lack of clothes on most of the carnival dancers really reminds me that the purpose of this carnival atmosphere is to celebrate the lack of inhibitions. I didn't include any of those pictures in this post. Just the medium clad ones like bathing suit or bikini style, I can live with that. I'm talking about thong and less for young girls that I cringed at.

 I have included instead some of the colorful costumes worn by the rest of the parade participants.

Sorry that most of these pictures are blurry. What with the crowds walking by and the dancers swirling around right when I wanted to take a shot, I had trouble focusing.

In addition to the flag wavers, dancers and drummers there were a variety of whatever they could think up as acts and floats of some sort or another. Remember, this is not the Capital city parade but little old Canelones. In addition to some of the Canelones floats, I also thought you'd get a blast (ha ha) out of the speaker systems that insured you could hear certain of the groups music. Trucks would follow some groups with their speakers mounted on them.

Well, I can now say, that I have seen a carnival parade, at least on a small scale. I will admit that I don't need to see another one but I do get why the season is so popular for others. It's a chance to go wild and crazy and not be judged because everyone else is doing it too. I think I'll continue to pass on the concept and walk on the less wild side and more on the straight and narrow path but there is a part of the season that I found interesting and enjoyable and that is the Murgas groups that compete during this time. I saw some groups and I will make that my next post.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sand Castles!

If you read my last post, you'll remember that we just had a really bad freak wind storm slam into our neighborhood, Thursday night, bringing havoc. My electricity and phone were cut off until the next day Friday 1:30 Pm. Others got their power on much later, about 3:30. Friday was still rainy and windy and so no repairs could be expected that day. Saturday, was the first day that I could get my solar hot water heater repaired. The man said he would show up at 4PM that evening to install the 4 new solar tubes.

Saturday morning, January 25th. after making my phone call to the solar guy, I was thinking about all of the debris in my neighborhood and wondering if the fallen trees blocking my street would be removed in time to allow the repair man to travel up it. I decided to wash the breakfast dishes. I like having a window above my kitchen sink so that I can look out at the world while washing the dishes. My view through the kitchen window is extra special since I can see the water and the beach through it.

Thinking about the fallen trees, I noticed through my window a large group of people on the beach working in unison and standing in a single file, passing black buckets of sand to each other, fireman style. I wondered if some flooding had occurred and whether they were filling sand bags to shore up some river bank? So I decided to grab my camera and I went down to investigate. Imagine my surprise to see some new flags and banners erected notifying everyone that the First Sand Castle Festival for Marindía was being held!

The group of people were in fact passing sand buckets to each other, not for a disaster but for the sand works. So in the midst of a storm cleanup, the community went ahead and had some preplanned fun.
I now used my camera to take photos of the work. I realized that, it might be better to come back later in the day to see some of the finished projects, so I did just that.

Everyone was welcomed to join in from Professionals down to children. They even had white printed Tee-shirts for the participants to wear to commemorate the date.

I was impressed with the variety of sand art, not only were there castles but also animals, sea life and well, I'll just have to show you what there was. The above picture is of José and his Dolphin sand creation. He said that this was the very first time he has ever done a sand piece. So the first sand festival meets it's first time ever participant. I was impressed with the scale of his piece.

Next, I saw a professional piece. Louis and his partner Matheo did an ambitious piece from a Greek mythology. The Titan "Prometheus" is chained to the ground in perpetual torment while an eagle eats his liver (over and over again). Well wow, what a subject. Since we were speaking in Spanish, I didn't have the wherefore all to ask why they came up with that subject. The last photo of the 4, shows a chain he sculpted out of sand on the wrist.

I am glad that I saw the Prometheus piece and the above "Otter", by Alejandro Arce, when I did because some neighborhood dogs ran by and jumped into them later. A teenage girl had brought them down unleashed. I actually recognized the dogs and tried with several others to catch them but the pup got away. I told the girl (whom I didn't recognized) later as she was walking by my house that the sand artists were irritated with her dogs. She asked why.  I explained how they were ruining the pieces, she just shrugged. She was clueless. I think she was just a visiter for the summer because the adult owners of the dogs are real sweeties and as nice as can be, they wouldn't have allowed the dogs to do that.

I think this next photo is of an "Aardvark", an African mammal that eats ants. The tail was well done in my opinion. Looking up the beach in these photos you can also see how low key this Sand Castle event was. It was spread out with no set rules.

The above sand "Sea monster" was really cool! It's tentacles were sticking up from the sand quite away, aways from it. Behind the monster there was a fat bosomed women being captured by a rear tentacle. I choose that photo of the lady instead of a closeup because in the background you can see my house and 2 of my next door neighbors' houses from this beach.

For this next piece of sand art, I didn't get a chance to meet the artist but his mother ( in a red coat) was sanding guard over her son's creation. She said his name was Isaac. He had done a "Sea turtle" nesting on land. What was so unique about that peace was the back of the turtle laying eggs. It showed the eggs coming out. Wow, how graphic and detailed!

The next very professional endeavor was by a deaf couple. I have several friends who are studying sign language. From them I have learned that sign language in Spanish is different from American sign language ASL. When I was a teen, I tried learning a little bit but I'm not very coordinated and I don't seem to be that great at foreign languages. So I left the couple in peace knowing that I couldn't really say anything but I smiled a lot. I don't know what their theme was about? Two sand people looked to be making out or having sex while another sand person was nearby. It seemed to be an epic like scene from the east or India, maybe some karmasutra poses? The 3rd sand person had octopus tentacle like arms. There should have been signs for all of the participants with the name of their creations and their own names. Just a suggestion.

Next, I saw some faces! The first surprised me, it was the face of "George Washington", then I saw a creepy "Skull", then a "Head hunter" type face with bone and then an "Artistic funky face".

One of the most fitting sand sculptures for Uruguay, is one that I almost walked right past. It wasn't until I went by it again for a second time that the light bulb went on in my head. I took another look at it and then I clearly saw it, for what it was, a "Hot water thermos and Mate set". The sand gourd cup was filled with sand yerba. How clever! Scrolled in the sand was a title. "Made in Uruguay". The "Pyramid and Sphinx" was cute and clever. I saw on a Facebook site that I missed seeing a tennis shoe and another great sand castle. The "Dinosaur" reminded me that kids were encouraged to participate and create something too.

Since this was all done by the sea, of course, some "Star fish" and sea creatures were represented too.
An "Octopus", another "Turtle" and a "Gecko". I then went home and my solar heater was fixed.

The next day Sunday, I was again looking out through my kitchen window (snooping), and I saw a group of people seemingly bowing to the sea and then raising their hands toward the sky in praise. Well, I grabbed my binoculars this time and saw that it was instead a yoga class being taught at the beach (around 10am.) So I waddled back down to the beach and found out that the Sand Castle event was going on for a second day! It was held January 25th and 26th; Saturday and Sunday. That's why I have included so many photos in this post.  I was then beckconed by some neighbors from my very street to see what my street's neighbors had made.  Two houses had gotten together to work on this. They let me stand inside the circle and take the picture of what they called the "Symbol of Marindía", "SpongeBob SquarePants". The little spongy details on his body where amazing. He looked great!

Since it was getting close to lunchtime, which is considered a very important meal here. Businesses all close for siesta time from 12:30pm to about 3:30. The SpongeBob group decided to go home. I was then happily invited to travel with them (since we live on the same street) and I was invited to one house for an Asado/BBQ. We had Beef, Pork and sausages, bread, salad and ice cream for dessert. My choice of wine, whisky or beer or coke. I had a beer! Cristina whose house I went to is one of my summer and holidays only neighbors, so it was nice getting to visit with them.

In looking back, everyone seemed to be having a great time at the beach. Not everyones castle or creation was professional or noteworthy, they just went for it. If there is a 2nd; Sand castle event next year, I will seriously think about trying to make something. I don't know what it will be but I have a year to practice. Meanwhile, I will continue to be noisy and keep looking out of my kitchen window. Who knows what I'll see next!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

From Music to Disaster!

Well, I feel like I'm playing catchup with my January posts. The last few weeks of January sure were eventful. January was in the throngs of summer with hot days and fun filled nights. It actually had been too hot what with the temperature in the the high 90's and the nights in the 80"s

January 16th, a Thursday night, saw the first full moon concert held in El Fortin de Santa Rosa
January 17th, on Friday was the "White Night" event in La Floresta.

January 18th, Saturday, I heard that a music concert was to be held at the beach parking lot near my house. I have my congregational meetings on Saturday nights instead of Sunday. After coming home that night, I ate dinner and then I did something that I should do, more often. Because there weren't any mosquitos out that night I went out to my terrace with a Rum (Ron in español) and coke in hand and my now 3 dogs in tow to stand guard for me, I went out to enjoy the warm night. I was happy that I could hear the promised music concert, so clearly, coming up from the beach. Concerts here usually start with the most well known bands then move on to the lesser known and in need of more practice ones. It was true that some trees were blocking my view of the bands but I had the best of both worlds, no crowds and my bathroom just inside of my house should I need it. I stayed outside all night with my feet up listening to the beach bands play. Little did I know, how much that respite would mean, or how things were about to change.

January 23rd, Thursday I had my congregational meeting. The night was somewhat clear. After the meeting I came home and I had dinner and dessert, then I let the dogs out to pee and poop for the night. Right after that, it started to rain. Then the winds started to blow and blow and blow. I was glad that the dogs were already inside for the night. Then it struck! The winds started to slam into our neighborhood. Coming up from the water, Southward and blowing North inland, the force was intense and loud. Nathan, my cat ran to my bedroom door and when I opened it he ran under my bed. That is something he has never done before. He is no scare-dy cat but is normally quite fearless. Then the electricity went out in the neighborhood and the telephone service. I went to bed.

January 24th, Friday, we were without power and phone until 1:30 PM. Others toward Atlántida didn't get theirs turned on until 3:30 PM.  When I went outside. I saw that my front yard dog house had been blown out from its corner and was now on my front steps.

My planter, filled with bamboo, had fallen over (it was a little top heavy in design). It had stood upright however, through other wind storms. Surprisingly the ceramic cup it fell onto remained unbroken but the saucer under it broke instead. My heavy wooden patio furniture had been blown as a group (they are chained together for security reasons) across the entire patio and they were now up against my shutters. I am so thankful that I have heavy locked shutters covering my huge picture windows, otherwise the furniture corners would have broken my window.

Those things were the things moved by the wind, they were not damaged. The only real damage that occurred was to my solar hot water heater. I lost 4 tubes.

Since I didn't have power or phone and it was lightly raining, I decided to wait until Saturday to call around for a person to fix my solar heater and replace the tubes.

I was very fortunate that I didn't sustain more damage. The reason for that was that I had already cut down all of my dangerous trees and had them hauled away last year at great expense. Now I can sleep like a baby during any wind storms unlike before the tree removals.

Friday morning, I went out into the neighborhood to see what was what. The neighborhood didn't escape the storm as unscathed as I did.

My street entrance was now blocked from 4 fallen trees lying across it. The 5th tree had fallen away from the street.

My neighbor up the street had a tree now leaning just on the edge of his roof. It amazingly didn't really damage the roof itself.

Around the corner gates were smashed. Fallen trees were everywhere.

Last year, one corner lot on Avenida del Mar had 19 trees fall, well this storm blew the rest down. I guess that corner is a terrible wind catcher!

Going past my few blocks, I started to see some heavier damage towards Salinas but still in my barrio of Marindia.

The worst damage by far was captured in the photos below by a person posting on Facebook to the Balneario Marindia site. These photos may have been taken by Maria Cristina Franco because they said "with Maria" and there were no people in the photos. I am just trying to give credit were credit is due.

The middle picture of a wooden cabin style home shows a house that used to be 1 1/2 stores high having an attic bedroom and window, now it was reduced to only 1 story. The last photo is of an interesting garage in my neighborhood. Part of the main house has the same odd design as the garage. These are all from my barrio of Marindia. These photos are near the highway by the Estorill store.

Amazingly, the power got turned on very promptly as already mentioned, by the next day.

The work of cleaning up the neighborhood went about orderly. It is still going on. The air is scented with pine bark and needles. The sound of chains saws fill your ears. Life goes on without grumbling.

The weather is now overcast and the days are cool but humid. Who knew that when I was outside enjoying music from my terrace on a hot summer night a week ago that things would change so quickly. From music to disaster what a difference a week makes.