The word "carnival" might conjure up a whole slew of images depending on your experience; perhaps you imagine the tilt-a-whirl, cotton candy and a toothless pixie dust spreader....or maybe you envision scads of leggy, busty Brazilians wearing ornamented head-dresses and bejeweled thongs...or, perhaps, if you are Venetian, you might picture a mysterious and elaborate Masquerade Ball with exquisite costumery...the list goes on. Either way, it usually involves dressing up, a party, and no shortage of alcohol.
Here in the Caribbean, Carnival (pronounced car-nee-VAHL with the soft "a" drawn out) is the biggest party of the year and what may or may not surprise you is the fact that every island celebrates it in their own way, on their own time. The Carnival in Antigua is different than the one in Dominica which is different than the one in Martinique which is different from the one in Trinidad and so on. What is consistent is the fact that each carnival is steeped in traditions like parades, music, costumes, steel drum competitions and lots of parties. Each year there is a new theme and costumes are always specially made for it. When talking about Carnival, most people refer to participating as "playing". As in: "Are you 'playing' mas?" or "Do you 'play' carnival?" or "I usually 'play' the pretty mas". "Pretty Mas" or "Fancy Mas" or "Pagent Mas" is the parade/party where participants or 'players' wear beautifully elaborate (and often very small) costumes while dancing to Calypso music in the streets. It is this parade, or "mas", I am the most excited for.
Yesterday, we heard about a little shop in town that is working feverishly on finishing the "fancy mas" costumes for their particular group (multiple groups "play" and there is a competition for best costume). We decided to check it out and what we found was a humble storefront that, once inside, would bring a hands-to-the-heart inhaled gasp of joy and a single tear to they eye of any self respecting drag-queen. The smell of spray adhesive, rubber cement and hot glue filled the air. Glitter, sparkles and sequins (oh, the sequins!) were everywhere. Bolts of shiny fabric, reams of decorative edging and Vegas style accouterments covered every feasible piece of real-estate. Feathers, boas, brassieres and bustiers all sparkled in the sunlight as the modest team of people continued cutting fabric, tweaking masks and applying the finishing touches to their masterpieces. These folks had made hundreds of costume pieces.
We are looking very forward to seeing these in action on Monday. If you are curious Grenada Carnival, check out the official website for festivities, pictures and details.