An odd thing was happening as I wended my reluctant way to work in the early morning sunshine today. As I prepared to face the working day, pirates, can-can dancers, vampires, ghouls and karate kids were slouching they way back to their beds……it’s Carnaval! In Los Cristianos the deserted streets gave off the feeling of a ghost town, the air was tranquil like when the first snow blankets the ground in Northern climes and muffles noise. It seemed like the whole world was in Santa Cruz for Fat Tuesday and the big parade.
Oddly, I struggled to find anything on YouTube which really conveyed anything like the atmosphere. This is the nearest I came, and you have to wade through some boring stuff too. It is shows how tv stations around Spain reported on this fantastic event last year.
Talk about Carnaval? Where to start? It’s a whole world, a magic that consumes your life for weeks, no, for months before your big day. What people see has been planned, practised, dressed, worried over and dreamed about for months, maybe even years before the finished display is seen on the streets.
Carnaval in Tenerife is reputed to be the second biggest in the world, the first being in Rio de Janeiro of course. It begins, well, it begins months before in the designing and planning. As soon as one year ends the planning begins for the next. The highlight for tv viewers is the election of the Carnaval Queen, which takes place around five days before Fat Tuesday. The “dresses” get more complicated, more glamorous and more imaginative by the year. Today they resemble a piece of architecture more than a dress, but the contestants for the honor of being Queen of the Carnaval have to tow, drag and dance their way fairly freely around a stage in order to be considered for the prize. This is a link to the fotos of this year’s winner in one of the local papers.
The hardest part of Carnaval for non-Latin people to understand are the Murgas. Musical groups,choirs I suppose you could say, mostly they are accompanied just by drums and the what look like the toy trumpets they tote, which sound like a paper and comb. Their costumes are almost always a riot of color, and their songs satirical and often, by today’s standards, both can be politically incorrect. Even after all these years, they are still a mystery to me. Here’s a sample from YouTube:
More familiar to outsiders are the comparsas, the very glam salsa troups, as famous for the scanty attire as for the dance :=) During the weeks prior to the whole party spilling out onto the streets, every theater and exhibition hall or indoor public space rings to the sounds and sights of competitions between these groups. These days every step and note is recorded by local tv, so every part of the island, or indeed, the archipelago can share the excitement.
For most people, though, Carnaval takes off on the Friday before Fat Tuesday, when the dancers, singers and revellers take over the streets for the next week. You’ve all seen that on tv or in movies, it’s parades and partying all night, crawling into bed at dawn, and waking at lunchtime to start all over again for a whole week….for those with the stamina! It is a feast of color and music and movement. It is remarkable for its good nature and lack of crime. Of course, there is crime, but nothing like the level you might expect of that you hear of in other places.