Friday, May 1, 2009

Parade Day in St. Thomas

It's Adult Parade day and the last official day of Carnival. Remember, this is the event that can last 9-10 hours. But, that's what makes it so much fun.

The parade also marks the end of Carnival. Oh, there'll be another couple of activities, like the fireworks display, this year dedicated to President Barack Obama, but for the most part, when the parade is over, carnival is over for another year.

The images of carnival:

Happy Carnival!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A J'ouvert Story

As I'm writing this, J'ouvert (pronounced J'ou-vay) warm-up is in progress in St. Thomas. J'ouvert, a pre-dawn dance through the streets of Charlotte Amalie will begin at 4:00 am and run approximately 5-6 hours.

There is something enchanting about thousands of people pouring into the dark, early morning streets waiting for the first flatbed truck loaded with bands, and humongous speakers to weave into view.

As the trucks roll slowly by, booming some of the best road march music imaginable, fans fall in behind and in front of the one carrying their favorite band, and begin their tramp (dance). The sun rises on thousands of people jamming with abandon to pounding Calypso music. Although it can get a little risque, it is fantastic fun.

Bands play at various locations around the island leading up to J'ouvert. The partying can actually last for a couple of days straight.

My first carnival, I was working on a pretty demanding job, but still trying to make ALL the canival events. Well, I was invited to J'ouvert by someone I had just begun dating. I was really excited because this was someone I really liked a lot, plus I was looking forward to this new carnival experience that I had heard so much about.

The day of J'ouvert, I was pretty tired, so I left work early, called my date and explained that I was running on low because of all the festivities, and wanted to change our plans. Since he had to work until early evening and I wanted to take a nap, I suggested we meet at the pre-J'ouvert warm-up later on. We agreed on the time and everything was set.

I got everything ready for later, set the alarm and laid down to take my nap.

I woke up with the sun in my eyes. It took me a few minutes to wonder why the sun was up. Then, it hit me. I jumped up like a scalded cat. I believe I actually screamed. I turned the alarm off, already understanding what had happened. I had set the clock for 9am not 9pm.

I hurriedly dialed my friend, but as expected, no answer. My heart sank. I couldn't believe this had happened. Tears of frustration rolled down my cheeks as I jumped into the outfit I had planned to wear the night before all the time wondering why he hadn't called. It was then that I noticed the bed room phone was off the hook.

Can you believe that? I couldn't.

I went looking for my friend. As I reached the downtown area, J'ouvert was winding down, and sleepy eyed revelers were passing me on their way to the beach (a tradition after the tramp), or to carnival Village.

I finally found my friend at a restaurant on waterfront. I calmly explained that I had fallen asleep, and unfortunately had set the clock wrong and overslept. I apologized profusely. I mean profusely. He was extremely quiet during my explanation. Finally, I understood why he was quiet. He hadn't believed a word I had said; he thought I had intentionally stood him up.

When I didn't show up, he had tried to call me, and after prolonged busy signals the operator had told him the telephone was apparently off the hook. He had figured something more interesting had come along and I had chosen to do that, rather than be with him. There was nothing I could say to get him to believe that I really had fallen asleep, set the clock wrong, and had knocked the phone off the hook. Actually, it was hard for me to believe, and I knew it was true. He finished his breakfast, said he'd catch me later, and walked out of the restaurant.

So, that's how I missed my first J'ouvert. A sad story, huh? I still think of it today. Needless to say, my friend and I never get together after that. No trust; on his part.

I finally accepted the crazy incident by understanding that everything happens for a reason. I may never understand what the reason was, and can only hope it was worth my missing everything ... and I do mean everything!

But, life goes on, and I never missed another J'ouvert.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Carnival Village and Calypso Competition at St. Thomas Carnival

Okay, it's the last crazy, frenzied week of Carnival, and it's pretty much none stop at this point. It's just party! Party! Party! And fun! Fun! Fun! Some of the events going on now, or coming up soon are:

The Village opened yesterday amid the usual fanfare. This is where everyone hangs out between events the last week of the festival. It's open almost 24 hours a day, and is the main meet-and-greet venue of the carnival experience. Everyone walks around greeting friends, digging and dancing to the music, eating, and yes, drinking.

The Village is named each year in honor of various citizens who have made serious contributions to carnival over the years. This year it's called: "Chummy's Culinary Kitchen".

The Village is built in a parking lot and is designed in a square comprised of about 20 booths that are individually decorated and named by their owners. It is all very colorful and actually, quite historical. A winner is chosen each year based on the design.

A stage is built in the center of the Village, and the best local bands, and many visiting bands play there each evening until the wee hours of the morning. People dance on the ground around the stage.

Preparing Pates

The most important function of the Village though, is the food cooked and served at each booth. This is another place to get those traditional Virgin Islands dishes that just aren't that available throughout the year. Beverages like Maube, Soursop, Guavaberry and many others are highly anticipated. And, dishes like Kallaloo (a soup), Conch (a shell fish), crab and rice, Johnny Cakes, Pates and so much more are eagerly sought.

The village is where you go to see and be seen; it's where everyone comes to mix and mingle and get their CARNIVAL ON.

This is when local Calypsonians compete against each other for the title of King of Carnival. It's something that's taken very seriously, as carrying the title of "king" can affect your income pretty much the way an Academy Award does; as well, it raises your prestige all over the Caribbean and everywhere calypso music is played and understood.

King Kan for Plenty dressed as a woman during Calypso Tent performance

In the weeks leading up to the competition, Calypso Tents are held around the island. In the tents local Calypsonians reveal their new songs for the carnival season. Only those considered the best will continue on to the finals at Lionel Roberts stadium the last week of carnival. These guys pull out all the stops in terms of costumes, props, back-up performers, etc.

Remember, the songs are satirical, funny, and/or ribald; and usually tell stories based on local gossip, political foibles, and achievements during the past year. This is where the audience really connects with the performers.

Calypso competition is one of the most important carnival events, primarily because it's really all about music.

Next time J'ouvert.

The adventures ... and misadventures of a city slicker turned mellow islander.