7 Tips So You Don’t Miss the Best of Carnaval de Mazatlán!

There are a couple of things to know about Carnaval de Mazatlán. First, Mazatlecos are born with Carnaval in their veins; it is part of their DNA. They can critique a Carnaval float like no one else, knowing exactly what makes it work or what it’s lacking. That is part of the reason why it is said to be the third largest in the world. Work and school pretty much come to a halt during the days of Carnaval; it is time to party before the reflective season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

Second, Carnaval here is a festival of the pueblo, the people. It is an intergenerational family affair. Despite what some outsiders might perceive, it is most definitely NOT a beauty contest, or at least not primarily. And it is not the festival of drunkenness and debauchery that you see elsewhere, though of course it there are people who make it that. The biggest pride for the people of Mazatlán this year is that the King of Carnaval is an ordinary guy from the barrio, a single father to two daughters, who  labors for a living and performs lots of community service work. They will go wild to see him dancing on top of his Carnaval float during the two parades this year. Carnaval includes more upscale activities like classical music concerts, awards for poetry, art and literature, but the beating heart of the week-long event is the mass revelry, where you’ll celebrate with grandparents and children, as well as teenagers and adults of all ages.

Carnaval Calendar
The official calendar of Carnaval events is above, though it is missing a couple of key events such as the Gastronomic Fair (below) and the Lunes de Mascaritas or “Masquerade Monday,” new this year in an attempt to revive an storied city Carnaval tradition. Below are my tips for making the most of your Carnaval experience, in chronological order for the week.

  1. Banda El Recodo’s 80th Anniversary Concert: This year we get an extra day of Carnaval, thanks to it being the 80th anniversary of our beloved, nine-time-Grammy-winning Banda El Recodo. People around the world are so very jealous of those of us who live here in Mazatlán, home to the first Mexican band to perform in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America. They even have two stars on the walk of fame in Las Vegas. Greg went by their offices today to pick up our credentials for the concert (Wed. Feb. 27th in the stadium, doors open at 5 pm), and he was AMAZED how many people came by and waited at the door, explaining over the intercom that they had taught Poncho or known Joel when they were kids, asking for concert tickets or to talk with a star. Talk about super fans! It is wonderful to have home town heroes with international fame! The band gave out thousands and thousands of free tickets to this huge concert, which will include loads of other stars paying tribute to the Madre de las Bandas. If you have not joined in the excitement of this major event, you are missing out! You’ll see people dressed to the nines and others in jeans, boots, cowboy hats and rhinestones. Heck, just people watching will be a treat!80-Aniversario-de-la-Banda-El-Recodo-2
  2. The Coronation of the King (Thu. Feb. 28th in Sister Cities Park, starting at 8 pm) is always an exceptional concert and it’s always free! This year it will be headlined by another famous local son, Chuy Lizárraga! The coronation of the king has traditionally included much less pomp and circumstance than that of the queens, but it’s still a whole lot of fun—and much rowdier. You’ll most probably see some cool dancing, video effects and staging, as well as a killer fireworks show during the coronation, followed by a stellar concert. I highly recommend attending. Take a portable seat if you need one, and perhaps a cooler of beer, though no doubt there will be vendors galore. This concert attracts a huge crowd. The coronation tends to start on time or perhaps up to an hour late (which here can still be considered “on time,” with the new city administration it’s hard to know what will be different), but the headliner probably won’t play until 10 or 11 pm. Be sure to take a hat and jacket, as the park is right along the malecon, which can get cool and breezy at night. Dress will be casual. Wear closed-toe shoes as there will be a crowd.48391285_2419783844760448_4227020501060419584_o.jpg
  3. See a coronation—of one of the queens! You absolutely must. It will include a world-class concert, but also colorful, spirited dancing by local costumed children and professionals, impressive staging and media effects, and fireworks. My recommendation is that you attend the Coronation of the Queen of the Floral Games (Fri. Mar. 1st in the stadium at 8:30 pm) or Child Queen Coronation (Mon. Mar. 4th) are best, because it will leave your Saturday night free to catch the fireworks and burning of bad humor downtown. It is nearly impossible to see the Saturday coronation and get to Olas Altas in time to see the fireworks, due to the huge traffic jams during Carnaval (and the security line to get into the Carnaval zone). We have tried. The queen and the governor can do it, but they’ve got police escorts. The coronations require tickets, which are still available online at the Cultura Mazatlán site. Lots of people dress NICE for the coronations, and it’s fun to get into the spirit of the event. High heels tend to mean tough walking on the turf of the stadium, however. Be sure to take a jacket and hat, or even a blanket, as the stadium can get damp and cold depending on the day’s weather. You can take binoculars for a better view and, of course, your camera.P1250966©
  4. Saturday of Carnaval is my second-most-favorite night. I spent well over a decade in Japan, and consider myself a connoisseur of good fireworks. The traditional Combate Naval fireworks show (Sat. Mar. 2nd at 10:30 pm in the Olas Altas party zone) is super; I trust it will be this year. The event, however, is attended by 500,000 or more people in a cramped area of town, so be ready to be swept up in a human wave. Honestly, you can quite literally be swept off your feet and taken with the crowd, so be prepared. Besides the fireworks, I encourage you to show up early and walk along to watch the Burning of Bad Humor (Sat. Mar. 2nd at 8 pm at the Deer Statue in Olas Altas). This little-talked about event is a WHOLE lot of fun. It’s a traditional Mexican custom to burn a piñata loaded with a whole lot of firecrackers, an effigy, of some well-hated person from the previous year. If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to go. Just follow the fireworks (single-shot fireworks that denote a parade route) or wait at the Deer Statue. Rumor has it that this year they’ll burn EPN—Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s last president. There won’t be an official announcement till the day before, and the burning is preceded with a poem that roasts the “effigy of honor.”Combate Naval Rosa
    Best bets to see the fireworks are:
    • At this point in time, if you don’t have a reservation (see below), I’d plan to arrive plenty early in Olas Altas on Saturday (maybe 5 or 6 pm) and find a seat on the malecón wall. Plan to hold on to it for dear life. You’ll have to take turns going to the bathroom or picking up refreshments in order to maintain your prime seating. We have done this several years and absolutely loved it. It is an “of the people” experience. There’s great conversation and revelry, and the views are the best ever. Remember there are often fireworks launched from the beach in front of you, and from at least two different barge locations in the bay.
    • My second recommendation to you, if you don’t have a reservation, is to reserve seats on a boat. There are loads of party boats that will head out into the bay to watch the fireworks. The best ones include live music, most will have bars, some have food as well.
    • It’s late, but you may get lucky enough even at this late date to get a reservation at an Olas Altas restaurant or bar. You will have to pay in advance to secure your reservation. Puerto Viejo often opens their roof, as does the Freeman, and all the places along the malecón will be full of people.
    • Get invited to a private party. We have had the pleasure of witnessing Combate Naval from some absolutely breathtaking locations thanks to the generosity of friends. I always say, I’m happy to share my photos of the fireworks in exchange for a great viewing location 😉
    • Make a reservation at one of the hotels in the area—the Belmar, La Siesta, Casa Lucila or Casa de Leyendas. For this year you are probably waaaay too late, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to get ready for Carnaval 2020! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to party on the balcony of your own hotel room?
  5. The Parade!!! The ABSOLUTE FAVORITE event of Carnaval for most mazatlecos, including us. The main parade is the first one (Sun. Mar. 3rd leaving the Fishermen’s Monument and heading north at 5:30 pm). The parade continues to Valentino’s, where it will turn on Rafael Buelna so that the royalty and others can get off the floats. The parade is comprised of quite a few different sections (current royalty, past year’s royalty, and 25 and 50 year commemorations), each of which includes dance troupes and live music, plus incredible floats. People will put chairs out on the malecón 2-4 days ahead of time, staying 24 hours a day to guard their space. Others rent a seat from one of the hotels along the route, or join friends on the pool deck or a balcony of one of the condo buildings along the route. The entire parade route becomes one huge party for several days ahead of the big day. Expect the parade to last until about 10:00 pm. You will need to plan to secure a good viewing spot, though you can crowd in and see it from the back of the pack, too. Bring a chair if you want to sit and don’t have one reserved. The parade is not as horribly crowded as the Combate Naval fireworks. There is a pre-parade that departs about 4:30, when commercial floats toss out lots of freebies to the crowd._DSC1596©
    If you want to see the floats in a more relaxed setting, go to the malecón north of the Sea Lion Statue on Tue. Mar. 5th anytime after about 1:00 pm and before 4:30 pm when the second parade starts. This is prime photo-op time as the dancers are getting ready, putting on their makeup, loosening their muscles, and the royalty will be boarding the floats. The second parade heads south from there to Olas Altas, so you have much more space along which to set your chair and enjoy the parade. This parade is not nearly as crowded as Sunday’s._DSC3428©
  6. The Muestra Gastronómica or Gastronomic Festival (Sun-Tue. Mar. 3rd through 5th from 1-7 pm in Sister Cities Park) is historically a free event, but this year will be a benefit for DIF (municipal family services), Sister Cities Park and The Lighthouse Nature Park. What I love about it is they’re converting it from an upscale affair in the Machado into a family-friendly event in the park! Over 20 local restaurants will participate, there will also be live music, games, face painting and bouncy houses for the kids. You may want to bring your costumes and Carnaval masks and attend the gastronomic fair on Monday, because afterwards the city is rescuing the beloved mazatlecan tradition of Lunes de Mascaritas or “Masquerade Monday,” where young people asked one another, Mascarita, me conoces? or “Masked one, do you know me?” Prizes include a motorcycle and other major goodies, so be sure to give it a shot!52151453_10214065139442926_5662494469413404672_n.jpg, free.
  7. Finally and most obviously, do not miss a night in the Party Zone in Olas Altas! Entrance to the  zone this year is supposed to be free. Normally it was a small fee, to make it accessible to everyone and yet not an even crazier free-for-all. There you will find loads of food and drink, stages with many different kinds of live music, from dusk till the wee hours of the morning. You can’t say you attended Carnaval de Mazatlán if you don’t dance in the street in the party zone at least once! It will be open Feb. 28th to Mar. 5th. I recommend you dress casual, avoid jewelry and don’t take a lot of cash; it’s safe and a great time, but there are pickpockets who come special from out of town, and it’s quite the crowd so easier pickings.P1100271©

Dúo de Amor

The Velada de las Artes last night, Saturday 19 February at 8 pm in the Angela Peralta Theater—entitled Dúo de Amor—was spectacular and left me with my mouth hanging open quite a few times.

The crowd was greeted in the lobby by the Guillermo Sarabia Chorus, waiters passing red wine, and a beautifully draped and chandeliered ceiling. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The chandeliers continued through to the theater and on the stage, making for a stunning effect. The first subject of the evening was to award the Mazatlán Literature Prize, one of the most prestigious awards given out during Carnaval. Prior recipients have included Ángeles Mastretta, Fernando del Paso, Octavio Paz, Francisco Hernández, my favorite, Elena Poniatowska and Carlos Fuentes.

2019’s awardee is Guillermo Fadanelli, who was recognized for his body of work—Lodo, Educar a los topos, Mis mujeres muertas, El hombre nacido en Danzig, and Hotel DF are a few of his best-known novels, and he also writes essays. Fadanelli’s works have been translated into six languages. José Ignacio Lizárraga, Ernesto Velázquez Briseño and Alejandro Páez Varela comprised this year’s panel of judges.

Fadanelli received the award from Óscar Blancarte Pimentel, Director of our Instituto de Cultura, Turismo y Arte de Mazatlán, as well as from our two 2019 queens, Karla II and Yamilé I.

For such a prestigious event in such a gorgeously historic venue, Fadanelli could have at least tucked in his shirt, or even pressed it. But Ithe crowd did enjoy his bright red shoes and Ivery much appreciated his remarks. “Culture is life, it’s an extensión of our thoughts, it’s the desire to be someone… language amplifies our imagination… words, language and writing help us better the world,” he remarked in accepting the prize.


After the award presentation we had a short break, so the sofas and podium on stage could be changed out to make room for the Camerata Mazatlán and part of the Orquesta Sinfónica Sinaloa de las Artes. The musicians did an incredible job. It was a night of love and passion, with arias from Die Fiedermaus, Turandot, l’amico FritzAndrea Chénier, A Masked BallAida, Nabucco, and Madame Butterfly.


The highlight of the evening were the two international opera star headliners: soprano Elizabeth Blancke-Biggs, and tenor Dario Di Vietri. Kudos to the stage light professionals, as they did an excellent job. There were no costuming, props or backgrounds, but via the music, the incredible voices,  acting and lighting, the audience was transported to each opera and filled with the passion intended in each aria. The audience demanded, and got, two encores.

We all know how blessed we are to live in Mazatlán, where we can enjoy world-class cultural events in intimate spaces at affordable prices. Last night, however, was over the top. Where in the world can you enjoy a renowned symphony conductor encouraging the audience to sing along with the stars on stage? Or witness the two stars vamping an incredibly campy, passionate kiss, only to break out into heartfelt laughter that delights the soul? Or witness the conductor scold a queen for over-use of her cell phone, or joke about a percussionist’s mishap on stage? The only reminder of our small-town-ness were the frayed carpets and the dirty podium on stage. In the presence of such incredible artists, surely we can do better than that.


The theater was nearly full. Carnaval royalty from this year and last year atended, as did Papik Ramírez Bernal, Director General of the Instituto Sinaloense de Cultura, and Victoria Aída Tatto Prieto, State Director of Cultura.

Carnaval has officially begun, people. We have our royalty, we have our award winners. Now get ready to party!

Give Me a Light?

Carnaval de Mazatlán 2019 is showing us some incredible artistry, and it’s allowed Greg and me to meet some outstanding artists! This week it was Jorge Osuna, creator of our magically illuminated floats these past nine years. Like me, you may be amazed how they seem to get better and better. Well, this very affable gentleman is an electrical engineer who also happens to have enjoyed drawing and music since he was a kid. He is constantly experimenting and playing around, trying things that haven’t been done before, so that he and his team can bring the most “wow” to Carnaval.

This year you’ll see the first monochromatic illuminated float (orange fabric) as well as the first black float (“people complain that black is not a happy Carnaval color, but at night, with the red lights, the black blends into the environment and it is just incredible!” Jorge tells us. Please remember that Cultura Mazatlán has asked the press not to publish photos of the floats prior to the parades. Thus, what you are seeing below are elements only. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Jorge did not study set-making, architecture or construction. He runs a lighting business, here and in Culiacán. He specializes in customizing lighting to the venue—the theme of the restaurant, business or event. Raúl Rico used to ask him to do lighting for special projects, staging, etc., and then in late 2009 he asked Jorge to make five floats for a night parade down the malecón. The parade was to accompany the second fireworks show that we did for a few years on Carnaval Monday and was designed to provide a family-friendly Carnaval option outside of drinking and revelry.

I remember that night well. None of us knew what to expect. All the lights on the malecón went dark. After the Child Queen’s coronation behind our house, we could see the five illuminated floats from a great distance, coming our way along the Avenida del Mar. Excitement built and people were thrilled. By the second year the event drew such a huge crowd that they were sadly forced to cancel it. Poof, just like that. Just like AeroFest, another fantastic event that is no longer. The purveyors in the “party zone” in Olas Altas had complained that the light-up parade and fireworks were robbing their crowd. The effort was killed by its own success.

This year the 20 or so workers in the Osuna Workshop will make their first-ever royal float, for the Child Queen, plus nine more—most of the children’s and Floral Games’ sections. In addition to their ten floats, the Osuna team will illuminate the Lewis Family floats. “Carnaval is the pride of Mazatlán. It’s for the pueblo, it’s of the pueblo. All of us who participate in putting it on are a team. We help and support each other. We each have unique contributions,” Jorge tells me.

This taller began working the second week of November. Most everything now is finished, electrified, and they are now “closing it all up,” which means wrapping it in fabric so that it glows and shines during the parades. I joked with Jorge that, as an electrical engineer, working on the Carnaval floats must have taught him a lot about fabric. He belly laughed and told me this story.

Jorge buys fabrics here in Mazatlán, but he also has to travel to Mexico City and Guadalajara to find the best fit for his purposes. People in the fabric shops don’t “get it;” they are used to selling fabric for dresses, curtains, blouses, not Carnaval floats. He remembers the first year, when he’d show up in a fabric shop. He had a light box with him, so he could stretch the fabric over it and see how it looked with the light behind it. It can’t be too translucent, or the bulbs show through; ideal is when it glows. The women in the fabric shop would chuckle and point, gossiping about the “crazy man over there.” Now, however, when he shows up at his favorite fabric shop in Guadalajara, they put Jorge at his own table, pull him up a chair and serve him refreshments. Now they understand the importance of his light box. They are proud to be a small part of Carnaval de Mazatlán, and they know he’ll leave their shop with loads and loads of fabric, helping them fulfill any sales quotas they might have. What a difference a few years makes!

“Mazatlecos have Carnaval in our genetic code. It is imprinted on us our entire lives. People from outside don’t get it,” Jorge told us. People from Guatemala, Veracruz, Mexico City, Chihuahua, Ensenada and Cozumel have asked IngenieroOsuna to make floats for their parades. “No,” he tells them, he is an electrical engineer, he has an empresato run. He does Carnaval de Mazatlán out of love for his city and the privilege to be part of his world-class hometown tradition.

Everything is artisanally done in this workshop. My book club buddy Henry Albuernes is a sculptor who forges the steel frames onto which the lights are fastened before their final draping in fabric. We witnessed a couple of talented women stretching fabric over these mountings and sewing them in place, and there were plenty of electricians working with fabric all over this workshop.

Yes, the electrical connections! You cannot believe how complicated this all is! A normal home, according to Jorge, uses about 4 kilowatts of electricity. Some of his floats use up to 30! He has actually had to install air conditioners inside floats to keep the lights from overheating!

We asked the Ingeniero what becomes of his floats after Carnaval. They are made of steel and will last a long time if stored safely. “I honestly don’t know,” he replies. “I would really like to see them be put to a good use. Given to a school or an orphanage or old folks’ home. The frames could be used to form cement for a permanent statue. I would love to see them come out again on Children’s Day, for a night time parade to delight the kids here in town.”

What are his hopes for Carnaval going forward? Like most of us in Mazatlán, he is also very much hoping that the rumored Carnaval museum becomes a reality. He also would very much like to see the parade route extended. He recommends starting at our new Sister Cities Park, which would add one kilometer to its distance, and also closing the beginning of Rafael Buelna, so that the floats can safely get to the Gran Plaza and the royalty and dancers can de-board securely and peacefully.

Interviewing the three Carnaval float talleres this year was a whole lot of fun. The first two articles can be found here, with Ocean Rodriguez, and here, with the Lewis Family. I hope we’ve helped you get excited about the parades. They are going to ROCK! We’ll see you there!

 

Cultures Grow on the Vine of Tradition

Carnaval de Mazatlán 2019 is the fifth anniversary of the death of our local legend, Maestro Rigo Lewis. Born on Valentine’s Day 1935, it was rather the fact that he was born as the Carnaval queen processed to her coronation that would define the reality of his life. He counted his age in queens rather than years.

Greg and I were privileged to count Maestro Rigo as a friend and visited him in his workshop every year. Rigo designed his very first float as a sophomore in high school (1960) when his art teacher, Nana Ramirez, had him build one for the Revolution Day parade. He was afraid of flying so never traveled the world, but instead he spent 54 years bringing the world to Mazatlán—who doesn’t remember his Doge’s Palace or Amazon jungle—via the design and production of our world-famous Carnaval floats in his signature baroque style with loads of flourishes and curly-cues finished in trademarked glitter blends and metallic foils. Beginning the following year he began designing many of the royal costumes as well. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The loss of Maestro Rigo in 2014 at age 78 sent Mazatlán into community mourning. Fortunately, his sister and nieces stepped up to ensure his floats for that year were finished and ready for the parade. This year the family is back, invited to create 13 floats from the over 2500 sketches that Rigo left behind. “My uncle left designs for 100 more Carnavals,” said his niece, Mariana Lewis.

That is how a group of housewives, out of love for their brother and uncle, have come to be Carnaval float designers. Each of them has memories of folding paper and working on floats from the time they were children, so the vocation is far from new to them. They are using Maestro Rigo’s designs and techniques in order to honor his legacy. Many of the same artists and laborers from his workshop have come back to help with this year’s floats. Rigo taught them, they know what they’re doing, and they work hard out of tribute to him. “I traveled to San Antonio in September with a very long list of things to buy. I kept checking back in with my mother, to make sure I was getting the right things, that I had everything,” one of the nieces told me.

The Lewis family is in charge of creating 13 floats, including the royal floats for both adult queens and most of the Floral Games section of the parade. The main royal float is called “The Light,” and symbolizes the pinnacle of the equinox. It is a Renaissance-style design, 15 meters tall (two meters less than Rigo’s tallest) and has four mythical lions along the sides. “Every queen always told Rigo that her float was the most beautiful ever,” her family recalls. Lori Lizárraga, last year’s queen, brought a photo of Rigo to the taller the morning I was there, as a thank you to the family. They promptly mounted it on top of the main float, at least while it’s there in the workshop. The float for the Queen of the Floral Games looks absolutely incredible to me. It is the castle of Chapultepec, right down to its black and white tiled floors and Maximiliano and Carlotta. The queen’s section will open with her jewels—diamonds, rubies, emeralds… Please note that CULTURA has asked that the press not show any photos of the floats prior to the big day; thus, you will see photos of details and elements only.

Everything in this workshop is handmade, mostly of papier maché. We noticed a few molds into which papier maché is placed to create baroque, filigree-style adornments. As with any Carnaval workshop, there was loads of glitter; though here, the mixes of colors are trademarked, and I’m told it’s not standard “glitter” but squares much larger than normal. “I was in Guadalajara with my daughter when the Químico called, asking me to come back to Mazatlán for a very important matter,” Rigo’s sister Ana told me. They have worked on the floats for four months, this past month here in their cramped, open-air workshop downtown. They were given a large covered workshop out in Urías, but were happy to find this one closer to home. Though, as it’s open air, they struggle with dust and wind; several of them had coughs and colds.

The floats are so tall, as was Rigo’s tradition, that they either fold down or telescope up so that they can make it out of the workshop and onto the street. “We are on schedule. We have many figures finished and stored in a safe, covered space, ready for final installation. We have lots of decorative pieces that still need to be mounted. We are doing well,” Mariana said.

This year people will not be allowed to dance in the streets, we were told. Due to the width of the royal floats, people will need to stand or sit in the bicycle lane and beyond, behind the barrier that will be set up.

The float for last year’s queen includes a giant crown that goes up top, and chinacos or Mexican Independence fighters who will be mounted above canons on the float. There will also be a volcano that erupts—confetti! It should be a lot of fun.

Parade 2019 looks to delight, as we have these blasts from the past, Jorge Osuna’s illuminated floats, and Ocean Rodriguez’ innovative, high-tech renditions. There is something for everyone. In closing, the Lewis family reminded me that Rigo always wanted a Carnaval museum. He bought land on which to build one before he died. They tell me they will announce plans for it next Valentine’s Day, his birthday, 2020.

This is the second in our series on the 2019 Carnaval de Mazatlán floats. The first, on Ocean Rodriguez, is here, and the third and final, on Jorge Osuna’s workshop, here.

I’ve Seen Carnaval Future…

Ironically, change can sometimes be the best way to honor tradition. And holding inspiration and love for tradition in your soul can bring about the most remarkable innovations and creativity. This year, CULTURA Mazatlán’s desire to bring in younger, fresher, more modern and innovative blood has been a surprising and welcome way to honor our community tradition—what the protagonist of this story calls our “religion.”

You will have heard of Ocean Rodriguez, the young mazatleco who left town 14 years ago to make it big in set design in Mexico City and who has come home to be one of three Carnaval float designers this year. The new city administration has been singing his praises so highly since coming into office that my response to meeting him was, honestly, skeptical. Were we about to meet another over-confident ego? Thankfully that was not at all the case. And, after our community disappointment with the monigotes, I know many of you are worried about the quality of the parade this year.

Touring Ocean’s workshop with him took our breath away, and I don’t say that lightly. We saw intricately detailed, lifelike sculptures, painted in vivid colors and finished in the glitter that is a requirement of a mazatlecan Carnaval parade. We saw a bit of Las Vegas, in the way lightbulbs were used to add flare to large letters. We were awed by moving parts and mechanisms, including machines and a whale spouting. A successful set designer, as Ocean told us, is part “architect, sculptor, mechanic, painter and carpenter,” a jack of all trades or a renaissance artist. I am posting photos of details, only, as CULTURA has requested the press not post photos of Carnaval floats before the parade, so that the public can be surprised and delighted. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

 

Talking with Ocean was a delight. He treasures the uniqueness of Carnaval de Mazatlán deep in his soul, in a manner remarkably similar to that of Maestro Rigo—the designer of our parade floats for 54 years. Ocean, in fact, credits Rigo as his earliest professional inspiration—standing on the street in awe, along with the rest of Mazatlán—of those Barroque-style carros alegóricos was one of the huge joys of his childhood. His grandmother, Emilia Zatarraín, would take him and his cousins to the parade. She was “muy carnavalera,” and from December till Mardi Gras would save egg shells to make cascarones filled with confetti and serpentine, giving each of her grandchildren a “Carnaval kit” every day during the maximum fiesta of our port. Ocean is dedicating the eight floats he is building this year to her memory. And, while the city points to the Lewis family’s creations as honoring Maestro Rigo’s legacy, I believe you can add Ocean’s eight floats to that list. In Ocean’s creations we saw the details, complexities and whimsical surprises that we had been fortunate to witness every year in Maestro Rigo’s workshop, but updated, made with modern techniques, feeling familiar and yet very fresh and new. Kudos and thanks to you, Ocean!

Perhaps most surprisingly is that his workshop was relaxed, joyful. There was none of the last-minute panic, the long days and nights of endless work, that we were so used to experiencing in a Carnaval float workshop. It may have been show, but I believe it’s thanks to the wonders of 3-D printing and modern rendering, as opposed to the gorgeous yet time-consuming artistry of papier maché. Most of the pieces of all eight floats appeared to be nearly ready to assemble, calmly and ahead of schedule!

This year is a dream come true for this young mazatleco, whose most fervent desire is to make his birthplace his home. Having raised a son here who shares that most heartfelt of desires, I know how limited the options for making a living in Mazatlán can be, and sincerely hope that Ocean, who is building a house here, will make Mazatlán his base and continue his internationally renowned career from here. Ocean graduated from ICO, is divorced, and has all his family here in town. He’s designed sets for movies, television (Shark Tank Mexico and many others) and musical tours (Yuri, Enrique Iglesias, David Bisbal…), as well as commercials for some of the world’s most major brands (Pepsi, Burger King…) with the company he founded, Artefacto Sets. Below is one of their promotional videos.

 

Touring a Carnaval float workshop evokes emotions similar to what I imagine touring Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory must feel like. We visited Maestro Rigo’s workshop every year and have visited Maestro González Neri’s several times as well. During the tour you feel excitement, delight, surprise, amazement, wonder… There are lathes and saws to cut wood; there are drills and torches to form metal; turbines, elevators and mechanical pieces; there is tons of Styrofoam, paint, and glitter, glitter, everywhere glitter. People talk of men coming home with lipstick on their collars. From what I can tell, in this industry, you come home with glitter in your hair and styrofoam in places you don’t even want to think about.

I so wanted to take photos of the floats to show you. Sadly, I couldn’t. But they are truly incredible! You will be delighted! As Ocean guided us around he’d say things like, “these are the birds’ wings here and they will go onto the crow there, and the crows will then be mounted to fly over the trees here, and the trees go….” Your imagination soars. The other really impressive thing, to me, is how the floats have elevators and telescoping elements. You see, they are assembled in workshops, which are a certain height. They need to drive out, or, rather, be pulled out, through the door or gate. They assemble the floats in order on Aleman street, and that is a second height. Then, the main Avenida del Mar, cleared of all low-hanging wires and street lights, is a third height. So, all the tall elements telescope out in at least three sections, like the giant drum / cake on the Banda el Recodo float: one part fits into another and those fit into a third. The push of a button enables things to move.

 

The theme, “Equinox: Awakening the Senses” was evident in every aspect of Ocean’s floats, albeit in creative ways. We saw:

  • A shaman in the jungle, highlighting the importance of nature and the danger of climate change.
  • The seasons of spring (a marine scene), winter (an epic struggle with an octopus) and fall (leaves, the autumn moon, and a boat).
  • Huge numerals “80” for El Recodo’s 80thanniversary float.
  • Gigantic statue of Prometheus, the Greek god who gave humans fire.

Ocean is doing the section for the King of Carnaval—renamed this year from King of Joy. We saw a delightful boat with a working paddle wheel, made entirely out of wood. Ocean began designing his floats in early October, and began producing the parts later that same month. He hired trailers to transport them here to Mazatlán a month ago, when he arrived with his team to begin work here in town. He tells us, “No one knows Carnaval like a mazatleco. I have 25 years of my life living and breathing Carnaval. It’s been a lifelong dream to design these floats. But no one is a prophet in their hometown. I had to establish myself in Miami, Bogotá, La Havana, before I finally got to come home to do what I do. I don’t regret that it took so long; I’m ready.”

While Maestro Rigo did things artisanally, with handmade papier maché, in Ocean’s workshop we see auto-cat, plotters, 3D printers, unicel, fiberglass molds, resin—a much higher tech way of creating his intricate, realistic yet fantastical designs that are so unique and yet echo the soul of a Lewis Carnaval. The pieces are still finished up artisanally—hand painted, and adding the glitter is a laborious process. He has hopes that we will see real fire spouting from one of the floats, but that will depend on Protección Civil’s permission. “The finishing with this method is finer, like sculpture. We can get details like fingernails, gestures, how the fabric moves…” Ocean didn’t know Maestro Rigo, though he did meet him once, briefly, when he was younger.

 

So what about this religion stuff? Why does Ocean say that Carnaval is the mazatlecan religion? “I had doubts about using glitter on my floats. Didn’t really want to. So I asked a few people. Put the question up on my Facebook page. I couldn’t believe the ferocity of the response!!! People demanded their glitter, said it wouldn’t be Carnaval without it. They had a fit, like I was breaking a religious truth. Every mazatleco is an art curator of Carnaval floats. Everyone born here can distinguish a good float from a bad one, and critique its elements, tell you what’s missing. What do you call it, if not a religion, when people stand in line over 24 hours to get free tickets for the coronations? What do you call it when they put their chairs out three days ahead of the parade, and spend 24 hours per day guarding their space, if not a religion?”

Religion or not. Carnaval de Mazatlán rocks, and the 2019 parade looks to be no exception I trust you’ll join me, dancing in the streets!

This is the first in a series on the 2019 Carnaval de Mazatlán floats. The second, on the Lewis Family taller, is here. The third and final, about Jorge Osuna’s workshop, is here.