Sunday, February 22, 2009

Prepping for Carnival

It’s impossible to see everything that is happening this week, but we try. Here is what we have to choose between:
  • Junior Queens, Queens, Junior Kings, and Kings Costume Semi-Finals (so total: 4 different events)
  • Junior Queens, Queens, Junior Kings, and Kings Costume Finals (total: 8)
  • Steel Pan small, medium, and large bands Semi-Finals (11)
  • Steel Pan small, medium, and large bands Finals (14)
  • Calypso Monarch Finals (15)
  • Soca Monarch Finals (16)
  • Nightly fetes, sometimes two or three to choose between, that start around 11 PM and go to 3 or 4. We’ve been going to these previous weekends. These are huge dance parties, sometimes they include food and drinks, sometimes you can bring your own cooler. Plus, the artists use these are opportunities to teach everyone their new soca songs to pump people up for Carnival. Each year the most popular chipping song is chosen as the Road March. Chipping is what you do during the Carnival Parade, basically rhythmic walking. Some of my favorites are Heavy T Bumper (Heavy Ts are the trucks in T&T. Bumpers are bums.) and Push yur Bumper (to wine, Trini style, you push your bumper up against someone else). (23)
  • Kiddie Carnival—there’s about four or five different major ones through different parts of the city. (24 total events!)

The city is transforming. Huge colorful banners, in the competing cell phone company’s colors of red and green, cross the streets, high in the air: Respect da Women!, Be Safe!, Stay Togetha!, Tink Before You Act!.
The Queen’s Park Savannah, Port-of-Spain’s Central Park, were we play pick up ultimate Frisbee every Thursday, has grown an enormous stage and dozens of brightly colored wooden stalls to sell food—roti, corn soup, cow heel soup, mussels, curry crab, but, mostly rum. The sidewalk surrounding the park is constantly full of people, at least three across, walking or running to get in shape for Carnival. There are many elements to Carnival. The bikini is just the one that has consumed my thinking lately, but all of them together help to craft Trinidad’s national identity. Rare is it for any country to stop any form of business or work for two whole days and spend it walking around the capital city. The say the stores, including banks and groceries, are open, but nobody comes to work, so don’t expect them to open the doors.
Every shop and restaurant front on the main streets has developed iron gates over their glass windows. We asked someone if it really got that rowdy and they said: “You never know who’s going to throw a bottle. That can do a lot of damage.”
Our school has been decorated with sparkly Carnival costumes, which means it looks like someone has gone around stapling sequined bras and bikinis in every open space. It’s a funny juxtaposition considering our school’s dress code is pretty strict. Our friends who don’t teach us asked if the kids were having trouble focusing. It’s more that I’m having trouble focusing; there’s so much to do every night. Carnival is a fun time for little kids, because the Kiddie’s Carnival is an important part, where the kids dress up in fantastical costumes and parade around a few different times throughout the Carnival season. It’s also a fun time for adults once you’re 18 because you play in the Mas (Masquerade) Bands. But for kids between 11 and 18, it’s boring. One girl, when we were talking about it in class, said she hates it because she has to take care of her parents because they’re too exhausted to do anything when they get home. She has to cook meals and make sure they’ve showered and gotten into bed. In other words, my students will be watching a lot of TV over the next week.
We have a regular school day, including our after-school ultimate Frisbee club. The Junior Queens and Kings Costume Semi-finals are tonight at the stage in the Savannah, so we head over after our 6 o’clock yoga class. We pay $200TT, about $40 US, to enter. There are about 100 people there, mostly an older crowd, and open seats down in front. Turns out we are sitting very close to the judges. Aaron wiggles, trying to fit his head into the TV screen documenting the judges’ reactions. In front of us is the stage, a ledge in front of the stage, media photographers standing on the ledge, and a large sign hanging off of the ledge. When the first costumed contestant comes on, I get excited. I go up to see if I can join them on the ledge. Being in T&T for 6 months now, I’ve learned that rules aren’t always abided or enforced. The photographers smile and help me up. I hope no one notices I don’t have a badge like theirs, although my color and the inferiority of my camera, brand new as it is, are even more obvious dead giveaways that I don’t belong. Regardless, the costumes are mesmerizing. Soca music, fast, rhythmic dance music, blasts out of the speakers and for about two hours, I stand there and snap pictures of about 40 costumes. Every few minutes, I turn to look at Aaron to give him a “Wow, can you believe that one?!” The junior queens and kings dance to the soca and show off their costumes’ assets. There is a range: some are outfits, some are 40 foot buildings. All are carried by just one person, but sometimes extra people are used as decoration to add to the presentation. Some people are on stilts, some use the aid of wheels. All are masterpieces.

Once, I got preoccupied snapping and didn’t realize how close one of the swirling costumes was getting to me and a fellow photographer saved me from getting decapitated by sharp sequins. There are a few pieces that are not like the others. One man, in the Creative Category, climbs out of a barrel and crawls into a spandex snake outfit and starts writhing on the stage for longer than any snake-man should writhe on stage. Anytime there’s a lull after that, the photographers around me yell out: “Time for another Snake in a Barrell!” Each costume comes on stage in the dark. Some have planned with this in mind and added glow in the dark fireflies or mountains of sparkle that look like enormous diamond sea creatures appearing out of the darkness. Every time as the lights flash on, and a new performance starts, I am struck by the colors, textures, creativity, and workmanship of every piece. Around 11:30, after exhausting ourselves and my camera battery, we start to head home, even though it’s tough to leave the long line of costumes yet to perform.

Another regular school day except that the afternoon is spent perfecting our costumes for Friday. We go to yoga, then I head home and fall asleep immediately. Aaron goes out with Tom to hear the Steel Pan semi-finals for small to medium bands.
Our 12 minute drive to school becomes a 45 min. drive because of people returning home from the big fete, Bacchanal Wednesday, in the morning. Otherwise, Thursday is mostly a regular school day except that for two hours in the afternoon, ISPS hosts a mini-fete in the gym with famous soca artists. Kess, an energetic and smiley performer, has been at all of the fetes we’ve gone to—he’s big time. We saw him live in our gym, very close up (it makes it easy to see when all the kids are all shorter than we are.)
There are designated times for us to go pick up our costumes, and Thursday between 1-7 is our time. We race over after school. Inside my box is a wine and gold sparkly halter bikini top, wine-colored bikini bathing suit bottom, wine and gold sparkly waistband (so, like a thick belt that velcroes around your hips. Small jewels hand down about three inches, almost covering up the bathing suit bottoms), small metal head piece (Grecian style), metals bangles to wrap around my biceps, cloth wraps with wire to wrap around my calves, about 70 wine and gold bangles to wear around my wrists, a choker necklace with jewels that hang down my chest, and plastic bands to wear all day for access to the “wee-wee truck” and the food cart. In Aaron’s box is a pair of wine colored swim trunks, a small wine colored vest, like Aladdin, a purple sash to tie around his waist, a fez with a 6 inch tassle coming off the top of it, bands with fringe to wear around his biceps, wrist guards, and a band for the food cart. We’re giddy.
We head to the Savannah to play Frisbee for an hour or so. Then we go to a hotel nearby for dinner and a fete called “Under the Trees.” I wash off in the bathroom and try to find elements of my costume I can wear to dinner. I decide on the bangles. Around 9, we finish dinner and head to the venue behind the hotel. David Rudder, a famous calypso musician, is performing. He is one of the musicians responsible for creating soca, a less-political and more-danceable off shoot of calypso. He dominated the Calypso Monarch title in the 70s. At first, his music sounds like muzac to my soca-entrusted ears, but then I realize it’s just that it’s slower, but still very good. Then, two of the most famous soca stars today come on: Machel Montano and Patrice Roberts. These are well-seasoned performers and they do whatever they can to get people to dance and laugh; a lot of jokes are told, a lot of T&T pride is shown, and a lot of old favorite songs are played. It’s not like a US concert where artists want to play their new music—these performers like playing songs that everyone sings along to and they like bringing in the classics for everyone to recognize as homage to past stars. We dance, dance, dance under the brightly lit trees and stars over our heads. The energy is palpable. At one point, I hear someone say, “Hi, Ms. Kaio” and I look and one of my student’s dad’s is standing next to me. He kisses my cheek in greeting, introduces me to his wife and then asks me how his son is doing. We’re both still dancing as I try to cut the conversation to a close. As the music ends, around 12, we head back to our car and Patrice is hovering near our car eating watermelon. We frantically search for paper and I run out to ask for her signature. Patrice Roberts, One Love!, she writes.
We see one of the security guards walking to school on our way in Friday morning. We pull over to give him a lift and he says he’s just gotten back from a fete from the night before. He hasn’t even gone home yet. We compare fete notes, and find out that when Machel and Patrice finished with us last night, they went to the fete that Ray was just coming from. We told him that we got Patrice’s autograph, but he wasn’t too impressed. It’s a small island. He told us he could have gotten that for us. We spent the morning prepping for ISPS’s Carnival. Each grade had decided on a different theme.
Ours was Sweet and Scary because some of the kids wanted to dress up like skittles and some wanted to dress up in the traditional costumes of the Blue Devils. Needless to say, there was glitter and blue paint everywhere by the time the kids were ready. Around 10, we headed out to one of the fields and started the parade. Everyone looked great in their face paint, costumes, and hats. My kids were especially crazy. I kept wanting to tell them to not put chains around their necks and pull each other around the field, but the Trini teachers convinced me that they were perfectly acting the part, so I let them be. At 11, it started to rain and our parade ended. That had been the plan until 11:30, so the director just told everyone to go home.
We had to pick up our j’ouvert bits in town—we got our new t-shirts and some red mud that looks like paint in a bottle. The idea was that we would coat ourselves in the mud before someone else got the chance. J’ouvert happens at night—one classic song goes: “We ain’t going home till the sun comes up!” Our friend, Roshan, was celebrating his birthday, so we went out with him to one of our favorite downtown spots—the cowboy themed Buckwild. We watched part of the Soca Monarch Competition on TV. FayAnn Lyons won, which is cool because females rarely win. And, she's 8 months pregnant. After that, Aaron went to Rise, another fete, until 4 AM.
We took care of last minute things such as buying enough glitter, safety pins, and Velcro to keep our money and a key hidden on us. I also got some gold spray paint to outfit my sneakers to match my sparkly bikini. Saturday night, we went to a friend’s BBQ and tried on costumes together and made adjustments. After that, Aaron went to another fete with some friends from work, Insomnia, which is well known for serving breakfast. He got home at 11 AM. He said he was lucky to be alive because he was in the VIP section by the stage. There was a fence separating the VIP from General Admission and the General Admission people were pushing the fence down to come into the VIP area. Violent wining, cops with machine guns, and water sprayed all over the electrical equipment made the night. But he said it was the best music yet.
We slept. And hung out by the pool. We briefly went to the Finals of the Kings and Queens, but, since they had started on time, which is unusual, we missed most of it. We stayed to listen to some of the Calypso Monarch Competition, but headed home early to get some sleep before our 3 AM j’ouvert start time.

Nikki and Scott

Nikki and Scott came to visit for 10 days. It was tough for us to take off time from school, so they arranged taxis to take them around the island. They brought serious binocs and impressed Aaron with their birding skills. I might have called them the Nerd Bird Herd once or twice.
It was great to have them visit, but I wish we would have been able to spend more time with them. These are Nikki's pics--beautiful, right?--of Waterloo Temple and Hanuman Murti.

Wicked in White

One of the fetes we went to: Wicked in White. It started around 12 and we got home about 4 AM. I've never felt music inside my chest quite that much. Great dancing.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Steel Pan

Steel Pan bands are gearing up for Carnival's 2009 Panarama, when bands compete for fame and glory. What's cool is that the panyards are located all over the city, so when you're driving around at night, you can hear lots of different bands. We were coming home from a hash last weekend and heard some pan, so we parked to check it out. Turns out that judges visit each one to evaluate them--these are the medium sized bands. Large crowds of people follow the judges, Pied Piper style, from panyard to panyard. So did we. The energy at these performances was outrageous and contagious.

Woodbrook Modernairs


What's not so cool is there is one by our house as well that practices Monday-Thursday from about 10P M-1AM. The same song. And our AC in our room just broke so we now sleep with our windows and doors open, so it really feels like they are practicing in our living room. Plus, the neighborhood dogs don't want to be out done, so they add their own melodies. It's quite a show.