May 02, 2007


Carnaval, a.k.a. Carnival or Mardi Gras, is celebrated worldwide every February. The biggest Carnival in the world is in Rio de Janeiro; second biggest in New Orleans; and third in Mazatlan, Mexico, just 10 hours south of us. We had hoped to go to Mazatlan for a long, four-day weekend that we supposedly had off from school. “Carnival Break.” Students thought we had off, teachers thought we had off, administrators thought we had off. It was in the school calendar since August. But at 3 p.m. Friday, the owner of our school cancelled the 4-day Carnival weekend, putting the brakes on our weekend in Mazatlan. Middle school and high school students actually had classes on Monday and Tuesday. The owner said it was dictated by the Ministry of Education, but it was interesting to learn over the course of the weekend that not one other school in Guaymas was open. Only ours.While it doesn’t quite compare to Mazatlan, Carnival in Guaymas is still very big. I don’t know how big, but it’s big. And fun. And bright. And loud. The picture here is of us with Christian, another elementary teacher at our school.Carnival originated in ancient Rome as a wild pagan celebration to the gods Bacchus, Saturn, and Pan. As with many pagan holidays, including Christmas and Easter, when the Christians came knocking, the people were loath to give their holidays up. So they were incorporated into the Catholic tradition and mark the few days before Lent. The name Carnival originates from the Italian “carnevale” which means something like ‘the meat goes’ since after Carnival, Catholics give up meat for Lent.In Guaymas, the first public Carnival began in 1888. The elite were a well-travelled groupd who had seen Carnival celebrations in Europe. They decided to start one in Guaymas, and originally it was only celebrated among the upper classes. This is all according to a Guaymas poet named Alfonso Iberri who published a book in 1951 titled “El Viejo Guaymas,” or Old Guaymas. Iberri is also the name of one of Natalie’s second graders. They were one of the families who built Guaymas’ port.
So, the rich people held a Carnival in 1888. They crowned a king and queen, and a court, who were presented in a parade. (The court included a woman named Mercedes Espriu, an ancestor of another of Natalie’s students). At night, they had a dance. At left is this year's "court."At first, only rich people could participate in Carnival. For decades, townspeople could only watch the parade and they were forbidden to wear masks and disguises. In the 19-teens, things changed. Revolution hit Mexico. The town’s economy suffered, and Carnival was seen as a way to aleviate the suffering. The town’s numerous social clubs kept Carnival alive by each nominating a different candidate for queen. Whichever social club raised more money for the town had their candidate crowned queen of Carnival.
In the 1930s, transexuals, transvestites andhomosexuals began to use the Carnival’s masks and disguises to their advantage, appearing in public in drag. This still lends to a common belief in Guaymas that Carnival is full of “jotos,” or homosexuals, a comment we heard over and over again when we asked local people and co-workers about Carnival. Eventually the city embraced it, and now they crown a queer queen who rides in the parade as well. This year, they were Los Apaches.In the 60s and 70s, Carnival became much more widely attended, and the city invited Guaymas’ sister cities in the U.S. – Pasadena, CA and Mesa, AZ – to participate. Over the 119 years that Carnival has been celebrated in Guaymas, it has grown to encompass not only the main Plaza de los Tres Presidentes, which houses four stages as well as a rollercoaster, rides, games, food, beer, etc … but also several city blocks around the plaza, where we counted two more stages, lots of beer tents and port-o-potties, and tons of cheap stuff for sale. No masks, though. Natalie was disappointed about that part. Masks were outlawed in the 70s because some violence had occurred under cover of anonymity.That’s a lot of history. For our part, we went to Carnival four times – well, three for Natalie, four for Brady. Friday night we went by ourselves and saw the king and queen and their court, watched some pretty good music, snapped a picture on the street with the Carnival queen, and Brady bought a “Nacho Libre” mask (yes, Nick, you can borrow it). Saturday during the day we went to watch the parade and ran into another teacher and her family, who had come at 6 a.m. and dropped off their truck in a prime viewing spot. So we got to watch the parade while standing up high on the back of a crowded but fun and lively pickup. Saturday night, Natalie stayed home to try to win a war against strep throat, and Brady went out with some fellow teachers. He rode some rides, including the Kamikaze, which goes not only all around and upside down, but is also enclosed and cramped and allows little fresh air to circulate – so we renamed it the Vomitaze, and Natalie decided to avoid it when they returned on Monday.
Monday night was the most fun. We went out with two other teachers around our age, Christian (a woman) and Ray (a man), and rode some rides (all except Brady), drank some beer, and danced in the street while listening to a popular Banda band named Laberinto (not the same band as pictured left...the band at left is sort of banda... but sort of not). Banda is a type of music that is pervasive in northern Mexico. It is the music of “the people,” and more specifically, the Mexican cowboy, or vaquero. Think country/Mexican/machismo/big band, with lots of horns, even clarinets, and add to it hot, scantily clad women a la American gangsta rap. We learned the proper way to dance to Banda, and danced a lot, so much so that the soles of Natalie’s shoes broke in half (it didn’t help that there were rocks and glass all over the street). And … Natalie littered, like a true Mexican. She finished a can of beer, and dropped it on the ground, just like everyone else. It was hard to do. She could feel her Dad's disapproval from 4,000 miles way. And she doesn’t plan to make a habit of it. And she wishes more Mexicans would search out a trash can when they have something they feel like throwing on the ground. But at Carnival, there are very few trash cans, because most of the trash is beer cans, and there are people (very poor people) walking around with bags who pick up the cans because they can get deposit money for them. So it’s like charity. And everyone does it. And it was just that one time, at Carnival. After she did it, our group (which had grown from the four of us to include Ray’s brother, his brother’s girlfriend, her friends, and five or six random people who we ended up dancing in a circle with) applauded her with hugs and slaps on the back and shouts of “pura mexicana!” And someone picked up the can and put it in a bag full of cans within five minutes. Then Ray taught Brady how to scream and yell, loud, like a puro mexicano – think Speedy Gonzales screaming in joy – and the night was complete.We had a really great time Monday night, and it proved the point that Carnival is a time to escape from the daily grind, from reality, from the same ol’ same ol’. A place to let go of inhibitions and party in the street and dance and scream and throw trash on the ground and make new friends. A place and time to “bring your other self,” as the banners around Guaymas advertising Carnival read for several weeks leading up to the big event.After dancing to Banda in the street, breaking a pair of shoes, riding some rides, eating churros (like donuts, but better), yelling, drinking, and littering, we headed to Doney’s, an all-night diner of sorts that specializes in carne asada, a.k.a. grilled steak, any way you like it, in tacos, burros, potatoes…. Then we went home. We planned to go out the next night with another couple from school to see yet another Banda group (which would have been our third Banda encounter at Carnival, and too-many-too-count since we’ve been living in Mexico), but we tried to get a nap in before going out, and that never goes the way you plan it. We ended up never getting out of bed. For pics, click here

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