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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Carnival Fever

The article I wrote for Caribbean Star's in flight magazine, Altitude, was published in December. The following are photos of the magazine and the article as it appears, in addition I have also included the article for your reading pleasure.

I think it is more an homage to Carnival past, and the big stage, 2007 will see a totally different experience but elements will remain the same.

Enjoy, and I can safely say I have Carnival Fever bad bad bad!


August is not a month usually associated with Trinidad Carnival, the popular pre- Lenten festival occurs each year in either the month of February or March. However, in August several of the top Carnival Bands launch their presentation for the following year, hosting a grand fete where models display plumed and spangled costumes to a fascinated audience. Such is the enthusiasm for a chance to be part of what is billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth”; even I wanted a preview of what was to come. So on a hot balmy, night in August I made my way to the Paddock of the Queen’s Park Savannah for the launch of one of the most popular Carnival Band’s in Trinidad, Tribe. Second only to Brazil’s Carnival, Trinidad’s is unique in that any individual can purchase a costume with a Carnival Band and participate in the pageantry for the two days of the parade.

Looking at the display of costumes on stage at the Paddock, triggered memories of my Carnival experience this year, and I could not help but be overwhelmed with exhilaration, wishing it were February already. As if it were indeed Carnival Tuesday I see myself, waking early that morning unable to sleep properly from the anticipation, butterflies flutter in my stomach as I start getting ready for the big day! Before the sun rises I have transformed myself into a different individual and adopt the personality to match. The face in the mirror is not mine, embellished with flamboyant make up, jewels glitter on my eyelids, and as I slip on my skimpy costume I feel as if a different side of my persona is exposed, channeling my inner diva.

The band gets moving early on Carnival Tuesday and as the first sun rays break the horizon to the east, it is time for me to leave home. Making my way into Port of Spain, to meet the rest of the masqueraders I get glimpses of other costumed revelers in cars or walking on the streets and it fills me with pride, recognizing those who also share my love of this festival. Upon finding my band and section mates, I get my first look of everyone in full costume. Admiring the beauty of so many different faces and ethnicities I realize we are all united by the fact that we are attired the same and that in our numbers we become brothers and sisters of the same Carnival fraternity.

Throbbing soca blasts from music trucks like a battle call, mustering up the troops to rally on. Finally the band starts moving, all three thousand masqueraders with one mission, getting to the grand stage at the Savannah. Spectators already lined the streets of Port of Spain, looking at us as we pass by in a glittering cacophony of colourful beads, feathers and sequins; it is a sight to behold! Dancing through the streets, some more energetically than others, we get closer to our destination. Sometimes the paced is slowed as we navigate narrow streets, giving the dancing girl with moves like a belly dancer time to grab some unsuspecting male and bless him with a wicked wine.

Colours come to life as the sun beams down on the costumes in full glory, we are nearing the Savannah as the sun continues rising higher in the sky. Senses dulled with Johnny Walker and adrenaline coursing through the veins no one cares that it is blisteringly hot. The Savannah looms ahead, and slowly we get into our individual sections as I can see the stage in the distance, the stands on either side filled with spectators. This is what I have been waiting for. Agitation grows, as we edge nearer to the platform, on an incline I can see other masqueraders already doing that stage justice displaying the costume, as much as themselves, to the crowd, judges and television cameras. I cannot wait for my turn, my fifteen minutes of fame!

Security forms a human barrier; arms linked keeping eager masqueraders from running unto the stage before time. The female frontline divas in the most elaborate costumes are allowed on stage first, then the barrier opens and hundreds of masqueraders charge forward. This is the time when every worry, stress or misery is left behind on the dust of the Savannah floor. The euphoria of the people and music lifts body and spirit as wild, frenzied abandonment overpowers the last bit of self control and bacchanalia erupts. Too soon security starts gently ushering the masqueraders off, with some slipping past to go back and join the other section poised to come on stage.

Coming down the ramp is like coming down from your high. Faces of strangers greets you at the end of the ramp, some seeking a friend or family member while others, are looking to capture a memory, my costumed glory, in a photograph. With legs feeling like I just ran a marathon, I must press on. It is an ideal time to have a drink of some invigorating spirit; much needed fire for the body, as the day is far from over.

Partying throughout the streets of St. James and St. Clair continues for hours, the contagious music driving even the weariest masquerader to summon the energy to move their hips. As the suns sets on Carnival, the day comes to a close. The crowd thins as exhausted masqueraders bow out, leaving behind the die hard Carnival worshipers still going long after it gets dark. Soon I too am ready to say goodbye to my beloved Carnival, to find my way home. Leaving the band spent and drained from the heat and exertion of the day every muscle in body aches. But as I make my way out of Port of Spain., catching the strains of a popular soca song from a music truck that passes by, I smile to myself, wondering how many days are left until I can do it all over again!

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