Seriously, Carnaval?

In Practice, Presentation on March 22, 2011 at 11:06 am

Regular readers will be aware of the tendency that Tarifeños have to string a celebration out – to squeeze every last possible drop of moisture out of any opportunity that blows in on the Levante to throw a bit of a party, to flog the living shit out of a dead horse named Celebration.

After a seemingly endless Feria in September followed by very respectable turn outs for Halloween and a couple of churchified thingamibobs I didn’t understand through November and December, a determined effort to mark each of the twelve days of Christmas and the Andalucia bank holiday in February half the town, it would seem, disappears up the road to Cadiz for Carnaval in the spring when that city goes ape shit for three weekends (and the two intervening weeks).

When do these people get any work done?

When do they sleep?

Do they sleep?

We go up to Cadiz ourselves for the final weekend and return to Tarifa tired but satisfied and with something of a sense of accomplishment – we had begun looking forward to Carnaval even while still hatching our big plan back in Ireland, well over a year ago.

Winter here was supposed to be quiet but between our own early efforts to establish ourselves, the relentless learning curve we’re on and the constant stream of excuses to drink and stay up late, we’re exhausted. We have a busy time lined up from mid-April to late May with visiting relatives and a wedding in Marbella to attend so the idea that nothing special is happening between now and then is very welcome. Weekends on the roof, short walks, that kind of thing. Quiet time, reflection; you get the picture.

I should have known better.

Back in town on a sunny, lazy afternoon and recovering nicely from the mayhem of the night before we step into El Pasillo – one of our favourites – for a beer and a tapa. Pinned to the open door is a rather professional looking poster and programme for Tarifa’s own Carnaval which we assume has taken place in our absence.

Always curious about goings on in my adopted home I go closer to have a look – it seems to have been more or less identical to what takes place in Cadiz – contests between musical groups, themed performances in various locations and some organized fun for the children. Then I notice the dates.

Sweet Jesus, it’s next weekend.

And what a weekend it turns out to be. The revelries begin on Friday evening and end on Sunday night. No breaks. I’m not joking. Ok, maybe it’s relatively quiet for a couple of hours at around six each morning, but apart from that…

We just aren’t used to this. We can’t quite do it two weekends in a row. On Saturday we have a deliciously reclusive afternoon on the roof in summery weather. We wear beach clothes and barbecue some kind of fish. We are like a couple of colonialist explorers – surrounded by distant, tribal drumming. The fish is excellent.

In the evening we finally venture out. The main street is like an impossibly cheerful war zone. There is smoke and there are firecrackers and a lot of people in military uniform, albeit Napoleonic or medieval. A stage has been set up in such a way as to almost entirely obscure the church. Later, much later (two o’clock in the bloody morning) it will play host to some kind of high energy dance act while we lie in bed, wide-eyed.

In addition to the footsoldiers there are string puppets, angels, ladybirds, hippies, pimps, Tom Selleck as Magnum, clowns, devils, the Flintstones complete with car, bumble bees, belly dancers and black swans. We retreat to our monstrously noisy bedroom.

On Sunday we flee town altogether and head for Vejer. Guess what? It’s Carnaval in Vejer. For heaven’s sake! Not that it compares. Vejer is an almost drearily sleepy place and apart from spotting one or two costumes there is no evidence here of the Tarifeño appetite for a party. Exhibit A for the case that Carnaval is taking place at all is a parking ticket we receive for leaving the car on the parade route. K vows never to return.

We drive back through Zahara de los Atunes. Carnaval. Please God make it stop.

I promise myself I’ll never look at a poster in this town again – it’s just too dangerous. Then I look at one. There’s a classical guitar recital in a local church this weekend. It sounds civilised, sedate and just what the doctor ordered. Although knowing this town there’ll probably be a disco afterwards.

For a week.


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  1. I actually had to look up Santa Semana and was pleased to see its not until the end of April, I need a break!

  2. Haha, that’s awesome. Sounds like you guys have been quite busy. I particularly love that someone was dressed up as Magnum. Awesome!

  3. That my friend, is the south of Spain in a nutshell. Any excuse for a celebration will do and yes, they have stamina. Thanks for your comment on the Selene stroy, I knew you would appreciate it.

  4. Stop whining – I think you are having far too good a time!!

  5. Yeah, go Mum!! You tell him to get out there and party!!

  6. Too funny! I’d love to be there and experience it fully.

  7. Thanks Jade! If you ever get the chance I would recommend it, particularly Cadiz.

  8. Ya gotta love a place that will use any excuse for a party! Magnum PI? How do people still remember him? Is it on in reruns in Spain? Too funny.

  9. My condolences! I think it takes a life-time of training to really excel at celebrating like a Spaniard, Porteno, Latino…

  10. Some people just seem to be born knowing how to have a good time 🙂 I’d love to stop by and see the craziness, but I think we might be too old to have the stamina for a week long of partying. Hah.

  11. Would have loved to have seen the Magnum lookalike! And I’m with you on that one – when do these people go to work? Is the whole country at a standstill? 🙂

    • Some would say that to all intents and purposes, yes, it is at a standstill. Everything still seems to function though, in one way or another.

  12. Sounds like you also had reveled in debauchery! lol Love carnivals. 🙂

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