Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Oh Carnival

Carnival is the most organized country-wide party conceivable. They’ve sold out of some costumes already (the cheapest, and skimpiest, ones) and Carnival isn’t even until late February. Rebekkah, a Trini teacher, was going to buy her costume and asked me if I wanted to go along. I didn’t have any idea what I was getting into, but on the way over, she explained. You can’t really just show up on the streets. You sign up with a “band” and you “play” with the band for Carnival. You don’t play music—the band is just a group of people all in the parade together wearing costumes of a similar theme. There are different sections of the band and they wear different colored costumes, but the whole band follows one theme. Playing means doing this quick-step shuffle in a parade, drinking in the hot sun, and getting judged for your enthusiasm, costumes, and dancing throughout the 48 hours of Carnival. Before all of that even starts, though, at 3 AM Sunday night/Monday morning (the Monday before Fat Tuesday before Ash Wednesday), J’ouvert (French for “I play”) is celebrated to represent the lower classes reclaiming the streets. It involves people wearing raggedy clothes and slinging mud, chocolate, oil, and paint at each other, drumming (banned during slave times), making noise to chase away the evil spirits, and sometimes wearing diapers and doing political satires. So J’ouvert is merely the pre-func; after daybreak Monday morning, you go home, shower, get into your real costume and immediately start playing in Carnival until Tuesday at midnight, when everything stops: it’s Ash Wednesday.
I guess one of the funny parts is taking a taxi in your costume, or at least until you get to your band’s muster point (at which point it might start to feel normal for you to be dressed in a sparkly bikini because everyone else is probably in something smaller). And the women wear panty-hose…which can only be, considering the shuffling for 48 hours in an itchy, sparkly bikini with a headdress in the hot and humid Caribbean, that last bonus step needed to reach true agony. I looked at Rebekkah, thinking she was joking about the panty-hose—do they still sell that stuff?—and she said that it’s to protect you from the guys who try to grab you…like panty-hose is made of gortex or something.

So we get to the Warehouse and every single inch of three walls are covered with maniquinned bikinis, all unique in color and design, but similar in that some have beads hanging down from the top, some have beads hanging down from the bottom, some are pink, some are gold, some have wings, some have bracelets. On the fourth wall are rows of photographs of people modeling the costumes, men and women, so you can see how coordinated you are expected to be with your mate (and you can see that ladies do wear hose, and, heels). Reflecting none of the imaginative torment visible in the female costumes, the guys wear shorts. But, interestingly enough, some have full chest plates, some have swords, some have daggers, some have hats with fabric like a head-cape off the back, and some have piles of beaded necklaces.
I had seen pictures before but, as my mind works in a more abstract way, I had never really considered that to participate in Carnival, I would have to put on one of these bikinis. Most of me rebelled instantly upon this realization and I just didn’t think there was going to be any budging. But we admired each outfit (they actually are very pretty, not itchy at all) watched other, older women (and I mean, older women like my grandma, not just a catchall group of “older women”), all giggling and jovial, pick out their costumes. Gradually, picking one out to wear for my first Carnival started to feel as normal as picking out a tomato—which one is the prettiest? And that’s when I started to get excited. So I asked if I could try one on, which immediately labeled me as a first-timer. All the ladies giggled and I’m sure my face was red as they led me back to a curtained “room” with a mirror. And, well, okay: me in beads and tan lines. Luckily the ladies were there to remind me that the one I was trying on was a sample size (size 1) and that mine would actually cover my chest because it would be measured to fit me. The whole experience was not entirely unlike wedding dress shopping—the same sort of: No, I could never, well, wait, now, that’s really pretty…actually, I love that. Rebekkah then said that it was fun to all get the same outfit so we can all cross the stages together since we’re in the same colors, and as she is beautifully olive-complexioned, she picked out this gold number with wine touches. My bright blue didn’t go over well with her. We checked out the guys’ costumes, and the matching one to the gold/wine (which is called Arabyan, by the way), had a little vest (think keebler elf) and a fez. I’m sure if Aaron would have been there, he would have opted for one with a sword, but as he was home getting our phone guys wasted, he’s getting the fez.
And at that point we reached the second major pitfall to wearing a glittering bikini in February in Trinidad: the price is outrageous. You are paying for more than the weightless good I tried on, you also pay for food and drink for two days, the DJ and the steel pan bands, the wee-wee truck that follows behind your band (that’s what they call it), and security (which is essential for we European-looking folk, we’ve been told repeatedly). Yet, again, the experience echoed wedding dress shopping. Mine cost 1800 TT, which equals out to be about $300 US. Aaron’s cost 1500 TT, which is about $250 US. But, you know, I’ll totally get my money’s worth because there’s an open bar…so I bought them.

The one on the right is mine. And that'll be Aaron in the middle.

1 comment:

jenbaum said...

I think I just felt your experience! I started reading with horror at the thought of parading in the practically bare.... then, as you got excited, I got excited and was wishing I could partake in the festivities! I hope you share pictures to continue motivating me! Maybe I will meet you there NEXT year! :)