I am going to work backwards to cover the missing month in my blog so we’re starting with Carnaval that was yesterday on March 5th.
Bilbao started gearing up for Carnaval last week and that is when we started hearing about it. One of my friends said that her Spanish conversation partner told her that she needs to buy a costume because everyone dresses up for Carnaval and that everyone dresses up in groups. If this seems like a convoluted way of getting information, that is because it is. Yet, this is how we almost always get information about cultural events.
Slowly, we came to learn that there are parades and/or festivals in all of the little pueblos around Bilbao as well as in Bilbao itself. On Saturday, my friends Jackie and Mae and I decided to go see what all of these weekend festivals were about so we went to the city center.
We didn’t go with costumes on because we weren’t sure how serious the locals were about their costumes. Turns out they take them very seriously. Costumes ranged from elaborate alien costumes to people who must have just taken all of the neon-colored clothing that they owned and put it on at one time. We then realized that Jackie’s conversation partner was right - we needed to dress up.
One of the curious things about the groups of people in costume here is that most people dress up in groups. And by that, I mean that they are all wearing the same costume. So if the group is going to dress up like Snow White, then the women are Snow White, the men are Snow White, and the children are Snow White. Everyone is Snow White.
Notice the quite masculine Snow White on the float
We walked from the city center along side a parade float of wild west outlaws towards Casco Viejo. There were a lot of American themed costumes. I saw groups of Native Americans, Cowboys, American football players, Yankees players and Red Sox players. In addition to that, there were a lot of Disney characters as well (although it seemed that Buzz Lightyear and Minnie Mouse are the favorites). Once we crossed the river, we realized that there were carnival-style rides. Some of the people in the group (we picked up other Deusto students as we went) went on a ride called “Ranita Show”, or “Frog Show”. I chose not to ride because I don’t trust any human-moving contraption that can be unfolded in a day.
While they waited in line, I took pictures of the panels that wrapped around the base of the ride. They each had a picture of a celebrity and a saying. Some of the sayings were pretty racially insensitive. In general, I have noticed that the Spanish have fewer qualms about expressing ideas that Americans might consider inappropriate.
Okay, so I am going to translate this (very) roughly into: “I changed from the color black riding the Frog Show”
“If you drink, don’t ride”
After the carnival ride, we walked further into Casco Viejo whose streets were packed with entire flocks of the exact same bird or gaggles of Cleopatras. We decided that it was time to get serious about our costumes for the night because it was getting late. Some people had already purchased toy swords and black masks earlier that week so when we found Zorro hats, they really completed the look. It was then about 8:30 so we headed home to change and eat dinner. At 10:00 we went to meet some friends and then headed back to Casco Viejo for a couple of hours.
The effect is kind of lost with our coats on…
Later, we went dancing at a costume party at a discoteca. One crazy thing about Spain is that people don’t even show up to dance until really late. We got there at 1:00 am and the place was empty but by the time we left at 4:45 am, it was packed.
Carnaval has been a pretty great surprise festival for me so far and I can’t be sure (because that’s just how life is in Spain right now) but I think that it will get more and more busy as the week goes on.