Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Carnaval en Cuenca

We arrived in Gualaceo from Cuenca redy for a lively sunday market scene. Right off the bus it was clear this small town is the center for Carnaval celebrations. The main street was lined with people awaiting the parade. At 10am, the crowd was festive and giddy. Kids ran around with squirt guns, teenagers with aerosol cans of foam, and men drank beer. Balcones and rooftops were filled to capacity. Street vendors sold snacks, beer, foam spray... Friendly store owners drank bottled beer thru gapped teeth. A mechanics workshop was converted into a festive BBQ scene (check the foto). Liter bottles of beer floated in cool water while 3 generations of little ladies tended the coals, rotating by hand the chickens and ´cuy´ : guinea pig. The cuy were impaled on a thick, tapered pipe and roasted with the choicest organs preserved.
By 11am, water was flying freely from squirt guns, bottles, buckets, hoses, passing cars, storefronts, and raining down from rooftops. Adolescent boys (and grown men, too) targeted strictly the young women, who took the splashing as the flirting it was. Surprising to me, they also reacted to the aerosol foam in the face with giggles and good-hearted complaints, wiping the rainbow soap from their eyes, ears, and hair. The parade hadnt yet started, but we needed a break and escaped to the market for food, passing a pet store on the way. Hanging in the window (was this some sick joke?), the sign read ¨se vende hamster¨ (hamster for sale.)
More cuy at the market and the first really fresh broccoli we had seen in a while. By the time we walked back to town, the parade was parading. Tractors pulled floats on which danced less-than-ecstatic girls in clinging clothes, trying to smile thru the foam inviading their orifices. I joined the onlookers on the sidewalk, glaring at any grinning punk with an aerosol canister. The parade passed and then the battle was taken to the next level. Even the police in riot gear took long-distance water balloons to the faceplate. Round women in the traditional garb giggled at the scene. Each dressed nearly identical: cheap black slip on shoes, bright pink / purple / red skirts and a buttoned up sweater. Of course, they all sported the typical bowlers hats, hair falling in braids to their backs. Some, for the occassion, covered their hats in plastic bags.
I limped towards the bus station (Tamara, not feeling well, had escaped earlier) feeling amazed that people could have so much fun doing something so stupid. Maybe I was just in a bad mood from twisting my ankle, but it seemed more like a junior high free for all than a collective celebration. Id fantasized about Carnaval as community coming together in joyous release. The only necessary ingredients being positivity, water, and alcohol. But the men wetting teenage girls seemed lecherous and wasted; the dancers in the parade hot, annoyed, and bored; and the gangs of boys accosting girls with handfulls of foam ground into the face and a smack on the ass seemed close to assault. The only joy seemed to come from making someone else uncomfortable.
The next 2 days in Cuenca continued the same. All the stores were closed, the streets empty but for drunks covered in foam and flour (the poor man´s weapon.) It felt like urban warfare; constantly looking over our shoulders and up at balconies to dodge the high-velocity ´bombas´. We walked across town to the only functioning street market. On a silent street, a woman walked with her 6 yr old son. As they approached she shared a smile with Tamara. When her boy aimed the aerosol foam, Tamara sweetly said no. But with mom´s encouragement and even help in aiming, he got T, leaving a blood-red stain across her back.
Arriving at the market, among the few veggies, chickens, and pork shanks, were 3 prostitutes dripping wet and extremely drunk. Angry at something, one woman stumbled out with a crate of eggs and went ballistic. Spitting, cursing, hurling eggs without aim. We ran for cover as the drunk hooker smashed eggs over the head of a co-worker, who just sat there, not even resisting; too wasted or too fat to be bothered. Then another overweight woman in a tight outfit came to the rescue. She and the egg-thrower struggled, wrestling and smashing eggs on each other full in the face. We left then, glancing over my shoulder at the blur of nappy, wet hair, egg yolk, and disturbingly liberated cleavage: a fitting image to sum up Carnaval in Cuenca.


At 12:45 AM, Anonymous Michael Byrne said...

What a funny story P&T!! This pigs do NOT look apetizing. Did you try one? Carnaval sounded horrible, unbelieveable, facinating, entertaining, boring, other-worldly, so-this-worldly, disturbing, and enlivening. Carnaval, hhmmm. I think your true account is both more satisfying and intriguing than the romantic images I had. Sad too, though. Peace and love to you both!!


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