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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.


Anonymous said...

The old man and the old woman are part of the "comparsa de negros y lubolos". Comparsa is the whole group, negros are negros, and lubolos are white people with the face painted in black. And all parade together in the same comparsa or group.The drummers of the comparsa play a rythm called candombe. The rythm and the drums themselves were brought by the african slaves. The old man is called "gramillero", grama or gramilla means grass, and the old man carries a suitcase full of grass, it is medicinal grass. So the old man represents the old healer or tribal doctor from the old times in Africa. The old woman is like the big respected grandmother, the old wise woman. Is called "mama vieja", old mom.And somehow, like old drum telegraph in Africa, drummers are calling their own ancestors from the night of the times. They lost their the freedom, the religion, the names, their families. But they remembered,adn were allowed to gather outside the walls of Montevideo to play their drums. This is the origin of candombe and comparsas, the incorporation to carnival came much later in time. Sorry for the long comment...

Denise said...

Thank you! It was hard for me to find out any real information on them and why some were in black face while others were not, I appreciate your explanation very much!!!