Carnival in San Cristobal, Pinar del Río

By Fabiana del Valle

HAVANA TIMES – Streets have been filling with kiosks since Thursday. Carnival has begun in our town and people were going out showing off their best outfits. Savings disappeared in the hands of sellers, while children and adults moved about confused in the whirlwind.

It’s Carnival, let’s make the most of today, our problems will still be there tomorrow – we seemed to silently say.

My husband and I met with the few friends who haven’t left in the mass exodus, for the moment. We joined this pantomime – which doesn’t deserve the name, nor honors the history and tradition of this kind of celebration -, to avoid our problems for a few hours.

Carnivals began in Cuba long before 1585, during the Corpus Christ and Epiphany celebrations. Ever since then, they have been the most important popular celebrations on the island, for over a century, but they have fallen into the same indifference as everything else around us.

The main features of a carnival are parades with floats, choreographed dances between troupes, traditional popular music, the conga drummers that get the crowd dancing behind it and bring joy with their contagious rhythm. Even though I’m not a fan of these kinds of activities, a carnival without floats and troupes is just a street market laced with reggaeton.

It was a pleasant surprise to see not one, but two floats on Saturday. I took some photos and videos. The conga sounded great, and I wasn’t able to see the dance troupe that time. I’m not a fan of crowds but a friend, who is a lot taller and braver than me, passed through the crowd to record videos.

We discovered a carnival without the classic “beer on tap” and creole food in boxes that nobody buys. But there were lots of colorful stands with toys, clothes, shoes, jewelry, and other accessories. All at an exorbitant price that’d give you a heart attack.

A girl in a short blouse with her abdomen covered in a rash that looked like scabies followed me in the line for churros that made my friends laugh. We laughed at everything, even the entertainer who shouted through the loudspeaker:

Put your hands in the air if you’re drinking cold beer, put your hands in the air if you’ve applied for Parole, jump for joy! Come on, come on San Cristobal, we’re having a party!

Entertained with this game, our beers lasted a little longer, you have to make them stretch to the last drop so your wallet isn’t hit so hard. We couldn’t forget that at dawn, when the spectacle would come to an end, we’d be as poor as Cinderella.

I’ve learned to enjoy my friends’ company, no matter where we are or the resources we have.  Even though our dreams were different in the past, there is some color in the future, we had more fun with less. That’s why I’m remembering the carnivals here, years ago:

Music filling every street corner, the floats all lit up and colorful. The conga moving along the main street, with banners and streetlights, people joining the beat. My two left feet being dragged by friends to the joyful frenzy.

Read more from the diary of Fabiana del Valle here.