Mar 1, 2017

Allegorical Chariots, Death of Bad Mood, Rebirth of Joy

It takes a long time to become young.

Pablo Picasso

Killing of the ‘Bad Mood’ by fire
This is how Campeche’s Carnival starts each year.  Killing the bad mood so joy can be born.  ‘Let the Good Times Roll.’

One of the ‘captors’ – Very scary to children along the way
Campeche’s Carnival began in 1582 making it the oldest carnival in the Americas at 435 years of age or the equivalent of about 17 generations!  Knowing that, we assumed it would be a big affair but to our surprise, and perhaps our relief, it is a smaller scale ‘local’ friendly carnival.  It is not a carnival centered on sensuality and sometimes overt sexuality, it is a carnival centered on family, giving this carnival quite a different flavor with a day dedicated to kids, teenagers, then adults, another to painting each other and pretending to have bullfights, another to getting wet, another to flowers, another for physically handicapped people, and finally one for the mentally challenged!  How cool is that!  

Except for the opening and closing parades, it is less of a participatory, people everywhere in the streets type of event, and more of an all events are in one place type of carnival, this is different from what we had seen in Mazatlán but it may make sense for walled cities with very narrow streets.  The other walled city of Merida in the Yucatán does the same.

Enjoy painting everyone as part of the Carnival. 
Fewer and fewer people attend now that they have computers and cell phones,
they prefer staying home.
So how do you kill the bad mood? 

We walked the malecón to find out.  The night is just cool enough to be quite pleasant.  We had learned that an effigy of a pirate, the representation of bad mood for a city that had been attacked by them repeatedly over their early years of history, would be marched along the road to a point where it would ultimately be burned, releasing joy.  A little macabre but certainly understandable.

Pretend bullfight after the paint-everyone-fun.  Almost like wearing a bull piñata…
As we anticipate the beginning of the procession, I watch as families with small children surround us, also waiting for the show to begin.  What we see instead of an effigy, is a ‘live’ pirate.  He is pulled against his will towards what he knows to be a bad conclusion, his death!  Instead of a using a pirate dummy, we are witnessing live theater.  A woman crying and imploring to save the pirate, the pirate desperately trying to run away, his pursuers, one with horns, the other hooded, look very mean and menacing, frightening many little ones along the way. 

Capture of the pirate or ‘Bad Mood’
At the end of a long walk, the pirate is finally forced, alive, inside a coffin that is set on fire!  Fireworks and dances cap the show in a colorful and raucous way.  Many wee ones are young enough to believe in the ‘veracity’ of the show and remain in wonder.  It’s fun to see their reactions.

Pirate fighting not to be put in the coffin
From what I read, this seems to be the only Carnival that starts with this type of event.

Pedro and Paola, the King and Queen of the 2017 Carnival
Art students at school next door to our Airbnb made this beautiful carro alegorico (float)
Very colorful float getting ready before the parade
Even here - we cannot get away from this...
Small detail on one of the floats
Another facet of this carnival, and of day to day life in this part of Mexico, is that its food, music, songs and dances are influenced by African cultures, a reference to slavery in the early days of this area’s history (see previous post).  For example, even though peanuts are native to this area, there is not much indication that they were used before the Africans adopted them, using them in stews, sauces, drinks, candies, and even mole sauces.   Watermelon and sesame seeds originated in Africa and made the trip here.  Another important food component introduced by African cooks is the famous plantain.  Lastly, starchy tropical roots such as taro, sweet potato and cassava began their history as Mexican cooking elements thanks to black influence. 

Delicious Lebanese kibbehs (called kibis here) adopted by the Mayas and sold at each street corner
Maja Blanca dessert, coconut milk based inspired from the Philippines. 
Rich and delightful especially if sprinkled with fresh cinnamon and a tad of nutmeg or anise.
 Many are made with corn or sweet potato

In the end, we are discovering more and more just how many cultural inspirations have helped shape the lives and culture of Mexicans.  In this area, we see influences from Mayas (bitter orange, achiote, chocolate, habaneros), Dutch (Edam cheese mainly with famous Queso Relleno) Lebanese (kibbeh and a hummus like dip made of pumpkin seeds instead of garbanzo beans called sikil pa’k), Caribbean and African (marimba music).  It doesn’t end there however, it seems that each new exploration brings us nice new surprises. 

Queso relleno, Edam cheese, ground meat, olives, raisins, red sauce.
Sikil P'ak, creamy pumpkin seed dip ground  by hand

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