Carnival in Sitges







Sitges Carnival (Carnaval de Sitges)

The Catalan carnival has a stunning atmosphere, there are parades of adults and children, bed race with Little Red Riding Hoods and Sperms as participants; street disco and the burial of Sardine. Maybe you will also see Elvis selling the olives…

Ash Wednesday signifies the beginning of Lent, which ends on Holy Saturday. The days before are the last chance to eat, drink and have fun. Obviously, the Spaniards don’t miss this opportunity.

The carnival begins on Fat Tuesday (Jueves Lardero) and ends on Ash Wednesday (Miercoles de Ceniza) by the parodic burial of Sardine, symbolizing the beginning of fasting.

It is most celebrated in Catalonia, where it was forbidden during the Franco regime and so people may be trying to redeem lost years. The most amazing atmosphere is in Sitges, small city 30 km from Barcelona. I have visited it several times, on various occasions, and envied how close the local people are. They organize all their fiestas together, plan them a year in advance, meet, discuss, prepare costumes and programs, and eventually enjoy them together. Great!

The eccentric carnival of the homosexual community also contributes to the colour, in the narrow streets of the center you will see the things you have never seen and live an experience you have never lived.

The script is almost the same every year. His Majesty Carnestoltes - Carnival with his escort arrives officially to the city on Thursday night. He walks down the promenade, meets the Queens, one adult and one child.

On Friday, the Majesties visit schools, retirement and nursing homes. At dawn, they move to the Cap de la Vila Square for a concert. The audience is formed by families and groups of friends in masks who take it as a warm up before a party in a bar. In our hotel, I met a group of sexy sailors heading there; they had white caps, strong make-up with eyeliners and tight striped t-shirts. Men, but with better legs than me; feet with shiny red nails in the sandals on VERY high heels. If I put them, I would fall after two steps - but they gave me a nice smile and elegantly left the hall.

On Saturday morning, at 10, the Majesties had a planned visit to the local market.

At first, I heard the sound of a siren, then saw a police car followed by a giant truck in the form of a guitar. This time, two kings - Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley stood up on it. In their entourage, there were world-class singers, Beatles, ABBA, Kiss, Boney M, Britney Spears, Shakira, David Bowie, Mick Jagger, George Michael, Tina Turner, Marilyn Manson, Freddie Mercury and many others, all perfect. (The theme of the cortege is different every year, on my second visit the main group was dressed as the dragons).

The Kings on the elevated carts with loudspeakers entered the market hall. The brilliantly mixed music would make dancing even the dead ones; every song was a famous hit.

The singers and viewers followed Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley, all of them jumped, bounced, sang and danced! Me too! I did not know I could behave so crazy in my age! The atmosphere was amazing! We just walked up and down the stands, the singers sometimes strolled behind the counter and took pictures with the shopkeepers - those were, of course, also in masks. In the butchery, four brides worked and the pirate Johnny Depp waved at us from the grocery. The most absurd moment came when Elvis took a microphone and swinging his pelvis, tried to sell olives... Michael Jackson did not show up the business spirit; chewing the sausage somebody gave him, he just watched his rival. :)

The music mix contained short fragments of the participants’ hits, to which they jumped to the center of the circle and imitated their singer. While they sang, everyone freestyle danced - it was fun to see Prince do a breakdance or Cher bouncing with Marilyn Manson. I was totally enchanted by the mood; it was like being at disco and having sixteen again.

At noon, the bed race started in the curved narrow streets. Competitors must be at least five; one sitting, others running away and pushing atypical means of transport. Points are won not only for speed, but also for masks. The cooks rode a pot with a spaghetti baby, the cop followed prisoners, and the hens managed during the run even to distribute their eggs. Also the nice Amors competed, the handsome Little Red Riding Hoods, toothy angels, cannibals, sperms and the unshaven "ladies," boys in women swimsuits with black cotton wool in the crochet. The beds came down the hills, one after another, eventually a royal escort arrived. We danced with it to the square where the prizes were handed over, and where some contestants broke their beds ritually.

Then, people went for lunch at the restaurants, for a walk along the seashore or to take a nap before night-lifing.

The evening started with the performance of a 150-member Sitges percussion band, Markatú, drumming in the center. It is not my favorite "discipline" but for the first time I understood its force.

Imagine a mass of people, each one carrying a percussion, a tambourine, a drum big as a boiler or special "drumsticks". The leader walks on the forehead, turns to the group and gives the rhythm. Whether you want it or not, it is so contagious you will soon swing in a rhythm with them. The musicians move slowly, beating soulfully their instruments, some with a smile for the public and some with closed eyes and clenched teeth. The rhythm is accelerating, the noise is getting stronger, and although at first seems like a chaos, suddenly you will recognize the compositions. The highlight is when the drummer throws a massive drum over his head, holding it with one hand and beating it with the second one as if in a trance...

The Kings and Queens fulfilled other duties, dancing around shops, bars and discos. We also tried to find a place to get a drink. The small center is full of pubs, but locals and tourists from all over the world had filled everything up, it was mission impossible.

We literally thrusted our way through the crowds in masks, along with the complete Addams family, Cinderella, group of candlesticks and Dalmatian dogs. Around the "men's" bars, men of different age and weight categories were standing, wearing both men's and women's lingerie. The dandified transvestites with imperial gestures posed for photographs proudly showing their perfect legs on the twelve-centimeters needle heels. Things that should remain hidden had been freely exhibited here. The semi-naked anorectic youngster was covered only by a "case", tied with a bow on the back. The man, dressed as a bishop, had a hole in the back of his soutane and was constantly leaning to make clear that he had left his briefs at home – even his appendix was visible :) . Dancing in the long loose clothes, another one bowed before everybody, lifted his skirt and showed his "crown jewels."

There was noise everywhere, different music sounded from each bar; city was full of life, roar and dance. Finally, we managed to get a cocktail and, despite the crowd of people, we even danced a little...

In the morning, the footpaths were yellow from urine; everything stank…

I thought everyone would still sleep, and nobody would go to see the children's carnival, starting at noon; but at the end, I almost didn't get to the promenade! The streets were again full of people in masks who came with special trains from Barcelona. Catalans, Spaniards, foreigners...

The royal escort passed around us first, followed by decorated playing trucks dragged by tractors. Children in costumes were on them, in front of them and behind them. Small as well as those who might have already been allowed to drink legally. The youngest participant still had a dummy and for sure did not have a clue where he was and what was happening. The small kids were kept alive by a snack, each holding a sachet in their hands and munching biscuits.

The groups had prepared choreography, some were well coordinated, others did not, but everybody was having fun. Samba dancers barely learned to go to the pot, but they were already able to master complicated moves. They were almost in the rhythm, throwing the audience shining smiles like professionals. There were groups of orange, pink, yellow, green, and gold colours; dazzling in the sun.

All the participants had their own plastic bags, full of colored papers, and joyfully tossed them. The smallest ones shyly as if they were scared to be reproached by a lady on which they threw a kilo of confetti. The music boomed and the flashy snake danced in a wild rhythm showered with tons of paper pieces. In the end, we were all like snow-covered; the streets were white and the children took delight in wallowing in the paper mass.

After the parade no one went home, it would be a sin not to take advantage of the wonderful weather. While in my country people were still freezing, here it was already eighteen degrees. The whole town became a fairy tale. The masks walked on the promenade bordered by palms from which the green parrots sang. It was impossible to get a place in the restaurant; they were all booked for the whole day, so many people made a picnic on the beach. They ate, drank and slept. The group of prisoners took sunbath, the Simpsons chased a balloon; the mummies had to fasten their loose bandages. Have you ever seen Snow White building a sand castle? Or the Little Red Riding Hood playing with sand toys?

It was time to relax.... Only the rocks on which the church stands over the sea were washed by the strong and high waves, which shattered in the thousands of silver drops ... and on the rocks under the sanctuary, a Buddhist priest was sitting in the position of a lotus flower, with a closed eyes rapt in meditation...

The adult parade, the The Road of Indulgence (Rua de la Disbaux), started at 8 pm, but already at six, it was difficult moving around the city. The streets were closed by barricades and clogged by onlookers, determined to suffer for the best places. No wonder, Sitges carnival is the wildest hetero and homo party in Spain, it is attended by about fifty carriages, three thousand dancers and three hundred thousand fun-loving spectators.

We had to wait too; for even though the colorful mass in the winding streets started moving almost in time, until it reached the promenade, another hour passed. Then one float followed another, also Brazilian dancers in the sexy feather costumes, lightning flies with luminous wings, tender butterflies, Mexican skeletons, lizzard-men and lizzard-women, the French noblemen in the lace underwear, the pharaohs and the lascivious transvestite group in the “naked costumes” which performed a striptease and showed their long "instruments"...

The show was endless, there were people young, old, beautiful, ugly, in the cheap, crazy or indecent costumes; for a moment they all forgot everyday problems and were happily laughing, shaking to the rhythm, waving and sending us kisses. Masks, covered by paillettes, shone in the glare of reflectors and the rain of confetti was pouring down...

Around 1 am, the parade began to reach the destination - the Cap de Vila square where the royal cortege was waiting. But do not think they wished a good night to each other and went to bed!

They roistered and shouted until the morning, the Kings danced with every single group that had arrived, and took pictures with the participants, but also with the viewers. The drummers seemed to get their second wind, and suddenly there was drumming; as if they wanted to call a rain; and musicians from other bands joined. The carnival anthem was the greatest success, starting slowly, but gradually accelerating, getting faster and faster, and getting you into action even if you did not want to...  That was the reason why I woke up the next day with a hoarse voice…

On Tuesday, a child and adult parade took place again; but the farewell with fun, unlike in other countries, took place in Ash Wednesday. That's the day when Lent begins; forty days, during which Christians physically and mentally prepare for one of the most important feasts - Easter, linked to the resurrection of Jesus.

In Sitges, like in other Catalan and Spanish cities, the carnival ends with the "burial of Sardine", in fact a burial of the past – of all the bad that happened in the last year, so that people have the future ahead as a clean, unspoken letter and a hope and new forces would be born again. The act culminates in the burning of a symbolic figure, usually a fish. And the fish should be on this day also on the plate.

The official obituary notice announced the death of the Sardine, and in the evening, the city celebrated another parade, this time a parodic funeral. Those who had danced yesterday in shiny costumes were in black (although the paillettes were not missing). The dancers, the children in the trucks, the gentlemen in the suits and torches in their hands, nobody shouted, all had sad faces, some pretended to cry. Even the drums were slow and tired. The King, riding on the throne, was giving airy kisses to the audience, who came to greet him for the last time. The heart-breaking melody from Schindler's list accompanied him.

The mourning march arrived at Fragata's beach, where the official farewell took place, followed by the crying of mourners.

The important part of the ceremony was reading of the merry testament, which definitely ended a superb week of sins and eccentricities. Afterwards; the fusillade outburst, the fireworks enlightened the sky and the "Sardine" flared up ...

Then finally, La Cuaresma, Mrs Lent, appeared. The escort returned to the Cap de la Vila, where this Lady in a modest dress read out her Vegetable Manifesto and offered the crowd sugared doughnuts. The period of Lent began...

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