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!

 

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.