After eleven years living, dancing, teaching tango, and writing in Buenos Aires, I came home to L.A. in 2014, where I'm reconstructing my life.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Carnaval en Gualeguaychu 2014

The first float in O'Bahia's "Homo Ludens" or TOYS--see the acrobats twirling in the blue circles?

There's nothing like it, folks! You haven't seen everything if you haven't been to Carnaval (Carnival) in Gualeguaychu, Entre Rios, Argentina.

Maybe you think it's like a parading Las Vegas show--almost naked girls in feathers marching with the occasional float, or like in Rio de Janeiro--highly commercialized floats and feathers, or New Orleans with its jazz and black culture roots. But El Carnaval del Pais en Gualeguaychu is a unique experience and well-worth a visit.

What I love most is seeing all of those feathers bouncing and boppin' up and down, and the floats too bounce with all the dancers on them. You can't help but be happy. The head and back pieces are enormously heavy, but the dancers dance! It's amazing. Kids constantly run through the groups giving gulps of water to everyone as they dance away. It was very hot on Saturday, January 18, when we were there, but even in heavy costumes (not all are semi-naked) they danced with great energy, vigor, and personality. The people in the bleachers dance right along, often standing on their chairs. The dancers often pose for photos with the audience. It is all very infectious.

But I also love the messages and stories.

The arrival of the Conquistadores

At first glance it may appear it's all about girls and fun, but it is way more than that. Each comparsa, or club, has a theme and chances are the dark side is included. In fact, it's tradition that the devil is always a participant. The three comparsas that compete in 2012 are O'Bahia -- "Toys,"  Kamarr -- "Q.E.P.D." or R.I.P., begins with a funeral dirge for Momo, the king of fun who has been buried with dancing skeletons and zombies. Let's inter all the evil in history and bring back the joy of Carnaval! And the Papelitos--"Latidos," the rape of the Americas by Europe and the killing of the land by mechanization and commercialization--kinda heavy stuff--but so entertaining with all those feathers and dancing jaguars and trees and a ghost ship.

You are distracted by all the craziness and bodies, and then something or someone passes by and you are suddenly hit upside the heart.

The floats are gigantic, pushed by tractors, and you wonder how they can navigate the narrow path with just inches to spare on either side. The smaller "floats" are pushed by one or two people.

The Church as killjoy (pushed by one man)

2014 was our fourth time at Carnaval. Our first was in 2005, a turn-around trip in a small van (not recommended), when Ruben had a gallbladder attack on the way back to BsAs and someone else was drunk.

But the Carnaval part of the excursion was so fabulous that we made plans to go back a year or two later. This time we did it right and stayed in the loveliest place in town, next to the Rio Gualeguaychu and with the most beautiful swimming pool. You can also go in the spur of the moment and rent a room for the night from one of the many locals who hawk their homes on street corners.

La Posada del Puerto

The pretty little town full of very old buildings and 19th century architecture is a pleasant treeful and green place to walk and admire the full moon rising over the river. Even though the town hosts this extravaganza every year, there isn't a commercial atmosphere. One feels safe, as there is lots of security about, but the attitude is kind and hospitable without the drunken rudeness that often accompanies mass festivals and events. The town and the Carnaval are very family friendly.

Moon rise over the river while juggler juggles

Every Saturday in January and February, and the first Saturday in March, Carnaval takes place in the Corsodromo behind the antique railway station, with a parade of three "comparsas" (carnaval clubs) competing for the grand prize, the comparsas parade the 550 meter length of the Corsodromo for an hour each. (My advice: sit at the beginning in the first sectors to eliminate much of the waiting and to finish earlier.) It begins around ten or ten-thirty but go early and eat at one of the many parrillas on the grounds or if you sit in the Sector VIP you get table service. 

Each comparsa includes over 300 dancers, and is accompanied by 4 huge floats, a drum band (batucada) and a singing band. Each club chooses a theme and a theme song, and the theme is brought to life using the floats, costumes, decorations and songs and thousands of feathers. You can read more here.

The Batucada of Papelitos
This year my vote goes to the Papelitos for their political statement and the best batucada group of drummers and pasissta (lead dancer) ever, but I loved it all. I was going to include a video from YouTube, but a video can't begin to show the extent of the frivolity, imagination, and deep thought and talent that goes into each comparsa.

And let's not forget the incredible live bands of each comparsa with their own singers!

O'Bahia's band

No se mata la alegria, viva el carnaval
Resucita Momo y hay que festejar
No se acaba la alegria todos a cantar
bombo y serpentina que llego Kamarr!

Kamarr's band
Se oye el latir (mi grito) de esta tierra (mi sangre), 
Tierra latinoamericana  (Papelitos)

Read about our experience at Carnaval 2011 here.

Viva el Carnaval!     

1 comment:

7LiveAsia said...

Your pictures are gorgeous!Keep up the good work buddy!!!! Thank you.