Did I mention that I was a very mature student at London Metropolitan University (“one of the old polytechnic colleges” as some people don’t fail to tell me – sub-text “not a proper university” sub-sub text “all the damn riff raff pretending they have got degrees). Anyway, I followed on with a Masters at snooty UCL (definitely a “proper” university) studying Spanish and Latin American Studies. Once I wrote an essay on “The Joyful Relativity of Everything…” leaning heavily on Russian Philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin who wrote tomes examining carnival, with its emphasis on the earthy and the grotesque especially as depicted in the novels of Francois Rabelais.
A little extract from my essay and then I’ll stop being teacher-y:
Carnival, for a limited period of time, expresses its hostility to anything and everything set in stone and adopts the logic of topsy turvy. Bakhtin mentions four fundamental points which define the carnivalesque
- Free and familiar contact among people
- carnivalistic mésalliances
Too true! I leave nice sleepy Cadiz for a little trip to Seville and return to not ONE day, not a “limited period of time” but TWO WEEKS of Carnival! I get off the train and I am assaulted by pulsating, vibrating, transforming crowds of people. The Feast of Fools had commenced. My terrible erudite essay comes back to me as I step around men dressed as women (wearing identical large silver slippers) women and ruffians dressed as priests and old ladies in tutus and blond wigs. Music crashes around the squares and stories told in verse or in songs escape from every orifice of previously unnoticed buildings – heavy Andalusian accents, drum like clapping, stamping feet relate the gossip of the day. Perhaps saying things like “and Don Pepe bought his house without paying the taxes and the senora said…. Tralala… boomity boom..” But this is not my party…
Rapunzal takes refuge in Tower Hamlets:
I scuttle back to my tower with a five-day plan not to emerge. The guide book says that you must join in at Carnival and then everything will be fine. But, I’m here ALONE I scream to the guide book. Am I really going to go down the street wearing a mask and a gypsy dress, tossing my grey mane like a dancing Andalusian pony?
However, there is one egg, a stale bit of jamón, a dead courgette and two squares of chocolate in the fridge so I am indeed forced back on to the street.
Everything is closed, the market, the supermercado etc and strange stalls have emerged with sea urchins, squiggling live fish, salted cod, churros, chocolate, black vendors selling bracelets, white vendors selling god knows what two for one (I’m one, I want to say, give me a two and I’ll buy your two for one). I settle down in a café with my back to the market and stare. The waiter takes an hour to take my order and never does return with the bill. I tell myself I’m not in a hurry. Well, I’m not, am I? I eat my tortillitas de camarones and go into the dark nether regions of the restaurant and press 10 Euros into the hand of the woman at the till who has an exhausted face. Fed and watered I’m feeling a little less scuttly and a little more animated. Time to take a turn around the town! I wander down to the promenade and settle for coffee by the cathedral listening to a melancholy young woman singing in a staccato voice “we will share our secrets.” It occurs to me that I can do a parallel, moderated version in this topsy turvy world of carnival. I will brave the streets disguised as a tourist and the inner Margarita will be hurtling down the very same street in a flurry of petticoats stamping feet, tossing head and shouting OLÉ.
Really! I have to get out of Cadiz – the Carnival has turned it into a daunting place. I am so grateful to JR for inviting me to stay. We have seen each other once in the last 52 years but we do share an uncle! The other person I approached who lives in Huelva and I haven’t seen since school very sensibly ignored my message!!! I don’t blame her and anyway, I hear Huelva is quite boring. And double anyway, it was her sister who was my contemporary at school!!