before the start of the period in the Catholic calendar known
as Lent, Spain embarks on its annual silly season, the brief
flourishing of madness, licentiousness and sexual ambiguity,
the widespread loss of all sense of decorum and respect for
authority, known by all of us as Carnaval
or taking part in these goings-on, the adjective that may spring
to mind to best sum up the experience is baccanalian, and it's thought
that the Carnival has its origins in pagan winter festivals such
as the notorious Bacchanalia held in ancient Rome to celebrate
the god Bacchus.
theories exist to explain the name of the festival: it could mean
'farewell to meat' (because Lent is coming, and the eating of meat
used to be forbidden at that time); it could be interpreted as 'meat
is permitted (but not for much longer); or there may be a connection
to a Celtic goddess, Carna. Nobody knows with any certainty, but
central to Carnaval is the idea of saying goodbye, prior to a strict
time of penitence and mortification, to what were considered by
the Church to be the basest passions and pleasures of the flesh.
the period of Carnival finishes on the last day before Lent, Shrove
Tuesday, known also by its French name Mardi Gras. This means
'fat Tuesday', referring to the pork fat you would no longer be
able to consume in the period starting the next day, Ash Wednesday,
and which lasted for forty days, until Palm Sunday, the beginning
of Holy Week.
is celebrated in one way or another in many places in Spain, and
of course beyond, but the two cities most reknowned here for their
versions are Cadiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife, though Badajoz in
Extremadura also celebrates in spectacular fashion. The style of
these carnivals is one of no-expense-spared costumes, huge, noisy
street parades, and satirical songs, sung by groups of friends and
associates, poking fun at figures of authority or those in the news.
was actually banned for many years during Franco's rule, but has
enjoyed a resurgent popularity since then. Here in Nerja it now
basically takes the form of a three part drama. On the first day,
the Friday, there will be a children's fancy dress competition followed
by another contest to discover certain important figures who will
be required to take a prominent role over the rest of the carnival.
They are the 'ninfa infantil', the 'momo infantil' (a male version
of the young nymph) and the 'ninfa del carnaval', who will be queen
of the Carnival. All will wear spectacular costumes that often defy
usually is a contest to find a grown-up 'dios momo', the god of
the carnival celebrations.
first day's events draw to a close with a 'pregón', an address
given by some local worthy or celebrity, followed by a variety of
musical groups singing their self-penned satirical songs. These
groups range from the very small (the 'cuartetos') to larger groups
called 'murgas' or 'comparsas' or 'chirigotas'. The exact differences
between them vary from place to place, though in Cadiz, where there
is a month-long competition to find the best groups, the categories
are clearly defined in the rules of the organizing committee. The
groups will, of course, perform in fancy dress, and music will be
provided by a range of guitars, drums or other percussion, whistles
and kazoos. The most ambitious groups sing in three-part harmony,
and all will have been rehearsing for weeks if not months.
next day is the Carnival's centrepiece, the 'desfile' or parade,
when in the late afternoon half the population of the town turns
out to watch the other half cavort past in fancy dress. The costumes
range from the basic to the outrageous to the wonderfully imaginative.
Those in the more skimpy numbers will hope the weather isn't too
chilly, and plenty of people will have their own supply of warming
liquid refreshment to hand.
are awarded for the best large groups, small groups, and couples
in both grown-up and children's categories. To get these prizes,
however, you have to take part in the the final act of the Carnival
on the Sunday, the Entierro del Chanquete. This is a bizarre
funeral procession, featuring a pack a mourners dressed in widow's
weeds or other appropriate clothing, who weep, wail, and beat their
breasts inconsolably, sometimes even collapsing to the ground in
transports of grief. To the rear, the town band plays a weird medley
of funeral marches and jolly dance numbers. The cortège is
there to bid a riotous farewell to the Carnival. This is represented
by the corpse of a large fish, the famous Chanquete (a minuscule
creature in real life) on a bier carried by sombrely-dressed and
carry their sad burden at the head of the procession around the
town. Then, as night falls, they reach their final destination,
formally the beach next to the Balcón, now the river. There,
fuses are lit, and fireworks preceed the final explosion which blows
the fish to smithereens. Then there are prizes, music and dancing,
and that's it for another year, as everyone staggers home, nursing
blisters and wondering if they'll ever get all the make-up off.
the fish involved in the ceremony is a sardine, but nobody is really
sure why a fish should be the centrepiece of such an odd ritual,
only that it goes back a long way: Francisco Goya painted one such
'Entierro' in the early 19th century.
One word of
warning: the Carnival proceedings are notoriously unpunctual and
start times given in official literature should be seen as a very
rough guide only.
end of the month brings us a regional holiday. The 28th February
is 'El día de Andalucía' and commemorates a referendum
held on this date in 1980. The new constitution of 1978 allowed
for regions to become 'autonomous communities' if their voters so
wished. Andalusian voters were duly asked to approve the idea, which
they did, and were rewarded for their pains with an annual day's
holiday on that date.
can listen to the episode below