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We’ve barely packed away our wings and wands, our bunny ears and tails, (depending on what type of party you go to), when it’s time to dust them off again. Easter is crazy early this year and there is a clever calculation back from Easter to carnival. Not sure of the details. Pretty sure it’s a Catholic thing, though the way it is marked these days doesn’t seem very Catholic to me, although ‘when in Rome’ does spring to mind. Rio grabs the carnival global press but in villages and towns across the Spanish peninsular and on its islands, the preparation and participation is as intense as anything on the Cococabana. You can only imagine how Ibiza embraces the tradition.
It is a time of year that makes me feel particularly British. I am not a great dresser-upper. It’s a usual combo of vanity/self-consciousness/not being able to suspend reality, compounded by that fact that fancy dress fabrics are itchy, uncomfortable and flammable and wearing coloured tights and a painted cardboard box has simply never appealed. We all had to do it as kids and everyone had a mis-guided exhibitionist friend who threw their pimps and prostitutes’ party for their 21st, but by the time real adulthood hit, these occasions were thankfully distant memories. Then I moved to Ibiza and it’s all back again. Of course children form the centre-piece of the February weekend of parades, the colourful, joyful spectacles that traverse the island and invade every town; groups from schools and dance groups crowd the floats, but many, many local adults dress up and join in. Not just the am-dram types, the frustrated performers who want a bit of limelight, not just the community youth leaders spurring on their charges but ordinary folk: the woman who works in the bank, the local electrician, the man from the council office. They participate effortlessly and dutifully, as though it is in their DNA. There isn’t even much alcohol involved. Nothing makes me conform to my repressed, stiff upper lip, British stereotype than this kind of spirited display.
I have just received another photograph by whatsapp from my beautiful, cool, surf chick of an au pair. It is the third in a series sent from her Carnival-tastic home town of Vila Nova, outside of Barcelona. In the first she was a pot of organic, low fat yoghurt, in the second she was a furry snowman-like character from Frozen and in this last one some kind of sexy, red lipsticked, pagan type woman with roses in her hair. I have no words. This nearly 30 years old has impeccable taste in all her life decisions. It is irrestibly charming but I just-do-not-get-it. I think I need a few more Spanish years before the pageantry enters my blood. When I think of the Spanish word Carnaval, I have to wonder if it connects to the word ‘carnal’, meaning ‘of the flesh’…
This year we decided to roll a little differently and we took the kids and their friends to a special Carnival showing of Singalong Grease. This was Grease dubbed into Spanish, the songs left in their original English, with Spanish sub-titles. The film started and me and my friend are giggling from the get go. First because Danny Zucko sounded like Spanish Mickey Mouse. The opening exchanges, Danny playing it cool for his mates, the scatty office secretary losing the new timetables, so many laugh out loud lines, but in this showing – total silence. We watch, listening to Micky Zucko and a Rizzo sounding like her hispanic grandmother and then we hear the opening bars of Summer Lovin’. The crowd stand and immediately they are flawlessly and fluently singing and dancing to every beat. We even all share that last exaggerated ‘oh’ before falsetto-ing ourselves together to the end.
The American characterisations, humour and mannerisms may not translate but the iconic songs, their infectiousness, how they make us move and feel and tug at distant memories, this is what we share. And this is the essence of Carnival. This is why Ibiza, the island of music does Carnival so very well. The penny has just dropped that in the UK we mark the same moment, the period before Easter, with Shrove Tuesday, with a pancake. Usually eaten with lemon and sugar. Not even chocolate and cream but lemon (a fruit) and sugar (don’t get me started). Some people even dare to offer them savoury. How magnificently Anglo-Saxon. No three day blow out in outlandish costume, festivities for all generations with non-stop music. Just a humble mixing of egg, flour and milk. Now there’s another reason to let go and love Ibiza.
Here is the website for singalong events in Ibiza. Mercé, who runs them, is delightful with such a beautiful singing voice. The Rocky Horror Picture Show is coming up. Such fun, you have to go!