Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Carnival wrap-up

2/27 – 3/2/06

I really needed a rest on Friday after all the excitement, but instead I did an interview of my old friend David, then some grocery shopping, and finally attended a street party in the La Joya neighborhood. La Joya is the source of one of the two original styles of Santiago lechon masks, and also has a reputation for being tough. Two local 10-year-old boys tried to prove this correct to me by telling me about knives and tattoos they planned on getting. My palos-playing friends were performing there along with a son and salsa group. I danced a fair amount, and would have danced more, but the only available son partners were the neighborhood drunkards, and you can only go so far with them. But dancing palos sure gives you a workout. The palos group wanted me to join them for their next gig on the following evening, too, but I decided I’d better rest up for the big parade on Sunday. Plus, we had another introductory barrio parade Saturday afternoon.

I spent Saturday morning gluing more mirrors and buttons on my costume. In the afternoon, we all met up at Tonito’s aunt’s house, since she lives in the barrio in question: Ensanche Libertad. As usual, though, there was a lot of waiting entailed before the parade would begin. Plenty of time for me to hang out with the aunt in her kitchen, drink coffee and eat crackers. Just as well, I thought; I need some energy for another long, long walk with lots of dancing. I was wrong, though: this parade was abnormally short. We didn’t have our disco lite this time, so we had to dance to the music of others, and I only just had time to work up a little bit of thirst before we were done already and back where we’d started! The parade was more entertaining for me than some of the past ones, though, since we were just in front of a comparsa (a carnival group with some sort of theatrical shtick) that was a huge hit with the crowd, getting first screams and then cacophonous laughter on every block. Representing the Drug Enforcement Agency, they were wearing sunglasses and flak jackets with DEA printed on the back and carrying submachine guns made of painted wood. They’d all ride around in this big black Pathfinder, honking like crazy, and when they got to an intersection they’d screech to a halt and all pile out. Then they’d run around and find some unsuspecting guy in the crowd to “arrest” and throw in the back of the car, only to let him out again at the next stop. They even had a guy with a TV camera for them to stick their hands in front of.

Anyway, once we came to the premature end of our walk, all the lechon groups gathered around in a circle at one intersection. There was a photographer on top of one of the buildings on the corner there snapping our pictures, and an emcee making announcements. The barrio organization that had gotten this little event together gave certificates of recognition and a shout-out to each group, at which point the relevant lechones would run/dance/whip around in a circle for a minute. This was a nice touch, but while we made our circle, Tonito got a little too whip-happy and ended up whipping one of the horns right off Betania’s mask. That sort of put an end to the party, though not to the rum. Betania headed straight to the mask-makers as soon as we managed to strip off our costumes, in order to be ready for the Big Day.

Finally we made it to the last Sunday – the big, official parade. Unfortunately, I didn’t sleep well and got up feeling kind of disgusting. I tried to rest a bit more before leaving but Betania had told me to be there around 1:00 in order to leave at 2: today, instead of leaving on foot from the house, we had a bus to take us down to the monument area, where the parade was to start. So I got there around 1:20, and absolutely no one was there except for one Confraterno gluing things onto his son’s unfinished costume. I sat there for a while . . . then a while longer . . . getting more and more sleepy, and no one else showed up. I got tired of this after about an hour and a half so decided to run home for a quick nap. I did and an hour later returned just in time for the bus.

Down in a parking lot behind the monument, we got suited up, took a picture, and – surprise, surprise – stood around for a long time. I wished I had my camera to take picture of the even more luxurious costumes that had come out for this, the day of judgment, but there wasn’t any way to carry it and be a lechon at the same time. There were some great ones, though: one group seemed to have taken feathers as their unifying theme, so one had his horns completely wrapped barber-pole style in many colors of feather boas, while another had ostrich feathers in fluorescent colors tied to his, and a third had boas running down the sides of his costume as accents. Eventually, we got lined up behind our new and improved disco lite (no rusty pick-ups in the final parade, especially since the Federation money finally came through) and stood around some more. And then we got moving.

Today being the final parade, we had few opportunities to remove our masks for a breather, and combined with the obligation to keep dancing and the intense sun this made for an extremely sweaty afternoon. (At the end, when I did take my mask off and hand it to one of the security, he asked me, “did you pour water on this?”) There were points I thought I couldn’t keep going – in fact, our youngest member had to rest for a bit, and I saw another kid collapsed from the heat being carried out at one point – but the crowd’s excitement kept our feet moving. Also, there were tons of little kids there that wanted to touch you and shake your hand, and people with cameras who wanted to take your picture. I finally felt I had the hang of the lechon’s characteristic dance movements and the clown spirit a lechon should have. When we reached the end of the route, the underpass to Las Hermanas Mirabal avenue, I danced around lechon-style with Polanquito for a bit and Betania commented that we moved just alike. I took this as a compliment, considering Polanquito’s 60-some years of lechon experience.

Our job well done, we celebrated once again with beer and bachata, and then I took off for a hard-earned dinner. Still, the next day it was clear that I’d lost some weight. Being a lechon is hard work! Say, this could be the next fad diet…

After carnival, most anything is a let-down. But I tried to keep the excitement alive by going to see “Walk the Line” (a.k.a. “Johnny & June: Pasion y locura”), which I enjoyed very much. I left the theater just in time to catch the fireworks display in celebration of Dominican Independence Day, which put a nice end to a lazy Monday (by force – everything was closed, and Rafaelito cancelled class again because he had to go to Puerto Plata for the 3rd anniversary of his mother’s death). Both Tuesday and Thursday were spent in the exciting pursuit of writing grant applications and catching up on email. Which leaves Wednesday, most of which was spent chatting with other típico-heads at Rafaelito’s house; briefly rehearsing a couple of tunes for my upcoming TV performance, and interviewing a Robalagallina about his experiences as a carnival transvestite. And that takes me up to the present, which finds me watching American Idol with Spanish subtitles, interspersed with music videos, one of which is from a Shah Rukh Khan Hindi film. That was unexpected!

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