The next day was a holiday, Juan Pablo Duarte day, so there wasn’t much to be done but sleep in and do laundry. But after making a bunch of phone calls arranging appointments for the week, I decide to go visit my carnival group in the afternoon.
I find Betania at her sewing machine, sewing gold borders onto diamonds made of sequiny fabric, and the whole conjunction onto a foundation made of neon orange satin. This year things have changed, she says, and we can only go out in old costumes for one week. Thus my hopes of getting out of investing in a new one (I’m a bit broke myself) and revamping last year’s are dashed. Her daughter Katiry is going to dress up for the first time in my memory, although she tells me she did so the year before I joined, as well as her new boyfriend. Another teenage girl is joining as well, so our group seems to be becoming female-dominated, perhaps the only one to be so.
The sad part is that Tonito, who is probably our best lechon – a good dancer, enthusiastic, strong, and good with the whip – is not dressing up this year because of his own economic situation, he says. But it seems to be more than that, some internal politics perhaps. He refuses even to go out the first week in an old costume. Maurice suggests accidentally buying too much fabric when I go to buy the sequins for my own costume, but I’m not sure even this measure will solve the impasse.
After a conversation with Betania, I then head over to Tonito’s, where a surprise was in store: the streets had been paved in the entire barrio! This is really incredible, because I can never forget my poor little car getting entirely flooded there in the rain and mud one time, and all of us having to join together to bail it out and get the mud off the rugs. My own carnival finances seem to be in order, we find after going over the numbers for the money I sent versus the money spent on getting my mask made and my new costume cut out (I’d forgot we’d even done this last year). When I give out my meager gifts this year – since most of them were in the lost back – I accidentally incite a small riot among the neighborhood kids over the sharing of the Haribo gummies.
Tonito gives me a ride home in his newish car, the apparent cause of the current economic difficulties, and introduces me to the Yaroa, a related or possibly antecedent concept to the Naboa, only made of potato and more expensive. We didn’t stop to try it yet, though.
On Tuesday it was back to the grindstone. The rest of the week continued in mostly the same way: visits to the library at the Centro Leon to read about carnival or listen to recordings, meetings with various personnel at the Centro Leon about ethnomusicological projects in the works, phone calls to set up interviews or invite people to my upcoming program. On the dance front, I interviewed two well-regarded merengue típico dancers, and on the carnival front, I bought fabric for my costume and attended the MOSACA meeting – the organization to which my group of lechones, Los Confraternos, belong. There I saw many of the usual suspects I knew from past years of carnival: delegates from Los Reyes and Los Comanches, the strange woman with too much makeup who dresses up as the bear Nicolas Den-Den, Angelo the mask-maker, and Polanquito, the 70+ bundle of energy. I invited him to participate in my program as a representative lechon and he acquiesced. I just hope he remembers since he apparently has no phone and never even stays in one place, so can’t be reached by phone or even sought out, unless he’s wanting to be found.
So on and so on until Saturday, when I took a break from the Mediateca in order to work on my costume. All afternoon, poor Tonito helped me iron backing onto shiny sequined fabric and cut it into the squares and triangles demanded by my design, which I based on a Cuban abakua dancer’s costume. Then again on Sunday, more of the same, as the tailor asked us to stick all the pieces of the design on the costume before giving it to him. it turned out to be just as well to have something to do: it was pouring rain all morning and the early afternoon, so many groups had decided not to go out at all, and my plans to meet with and film the group Los Reyes thus fell through. After delivering the pieces of my costume to the tailor I went over to Betanias’ to find out if the Confraternos were going out. They said they were since the “Disco Lite” (truck stacked full of enormous speakers) was already there, but were just going to wait til the rain let up a bit. Eventually, surprisingly, it actually did for a while. Instead of costumes, we wore our official group t-shirts (sponsored by Tucan paints).
This year is supposed to have a “new concept” of carnival, combining the now-vanished tradition of lechones gathering in parks with the new tradition of the parade. They have deteremined that there will be nine carnival “zones” in which lechones from different barrios will do some merry-making before joining the route, which, they say, will include Calle El Sol, the old route, with Las Carreras, the new one. It seemed an interesting idea, but this week, at least, it didn’t happen – maybe because of the rain, maybe because of habit. This week it was the usual – out from our homebase in Pueblo Nuevo, down to Las Hermanas Mirabal, under the bridge to Las Carreras, up to the monument and a U-turn to go back down the other lane (strangely, we did follow traffic directions and stay to the right). On the way, whenever we got stuck, I filmed neighboring lechones or the many groups of small, unaccompanied boys with whips who were trying out their moves along the way. They were pretty good – but where were their parents?? On the other end of the scale was an adorable little girl in a lechon outfit, gripping her cowboy-hatted father tightly by the hand at all times. Her father was happy when I wanted to take her picture, but she wasn’t. On the way back, I stopped to buy a whip and some very stinky bladders for next week’s event, forcing my entire group and our Disco Lite to stop in an underpass for 15 minutes while a kid ran to get my order for me. Then I was stuck with the stink all the way home. At least I also had the Disco Lite.