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The Iberian Horseshoe — A Journey

Part II. South West

Carnival & Kazoos

Steve Porter
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Early February, and the locals prepare to celebrate the end of winter. Carnival provides a bridge between Christmas and Easter, and a chance for children and adults alike, to dress up and party. Shyness and restraint play no part in the Cádiz Carnival.

In a lounge, in the block opposite ours, grown men dressed up like Duracell bunnies were drinking red wine. They were watching the cavalcade wind its way down the avenida de Andalucía. Confetti, thrown from balconies created a World Cup Final atmosphere. So out we went to follow the cavalcade into the city centre where the streets were turning into an alcohol-fuelled fiesta. I could not stay out for long. It wasn’t that I wanted to drink. I had no desire to regress. I had learned to look beyond the first drink and could see the consequences of what was likely to follow. Instead, I would be able to run along the beach the next day while the majority suffered the after-effects. But I still needed an escape route from an alcoholic atmosphere. Why don’t we offer the free seat next to us on public transport to a drunk? Partly because drunken humour is only amusing to the inebriated.

So I returned home to watch highlights on Canal Sur, the Andalusian TV station. Among the Carnival’s various entertainers were the chirigotas. The official version of events is that these groups play reed whistles and tour the town singing hilarious and topical satires. My understanding of the Andalusian dialect did not extend to topical satire and the whole thing seemed a rather male dominated event to me; mostly choirs of middle-aged men in traditional garb, something like a barbershop quartet, singing their hearts out in an attempt to win the week’s top prize. Each man was armed with a kazoo, and practically every verse of song was followed by a loud blast on this most base of instruments.

Mary and I walked along the esplanade, night after night, passing the old town’s city walls and into the barrio de Santa Cruz. This was where Laurie Lee once saw somebody howling on a rooftop. The man was pretending to be a ghost in order to scare the landlord and get the local rents reduced. Mary wondered if Juan might believe in ghosts.

“Probably not at Carnival time,” I said.

In plaza de las Flores, sand sculptors took the place of flower stalls. They had transported a ton or two of sand from the beach in order to profit from the occasion. The crowd was shouting and singing and stuffing their faces full of oysters, sea urchins and booze. It became almost impossible to walk without standing on broken bottles underfoot. The party went on for a couple of weeks and when it was all over young travellers from all over Europe were reluctant to leave. Some of them stayed on, playing penny whistles on the streets and dancing for money. Off the square I could hear the distant strains of a fiddle. Broken bottles and kazoos lay in the gutter until the cleaners came along and scrubbed away the alcohol and music.

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Copyright ©Steve Porter, 2004
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Date of publicationSeptember 2006
Collection RSSGlobal Fiction
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