Manuel and Ignacio

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Last Friday night after the opera, my friend and I were walking around the Machado. We meet a 23 year old Aztecan named Manuel, who told us he moved to Mazatlán two years ago from the interior of the country because he wanted to live on the beach. He said he loves it here, but misses home.

His totem or spirit animal is the jaguar, and he was gifted the skull and pelt of a baby jaguar when he was younger. Apparently that little baby killed a few cows, and the farmer then killed him. Manuel wears the taxidermied piece as a headdress, along with extensive feathers and beadwork that he makes, and often sells, to make a living. He and his friend Ignacio perform on the Plazuela Machado most weekend evenings, Manuel told me. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Nacho, Manuel’s friend, is only 19. Manuel dances and Nacho plays the drum. Manuel tells me that his father taught him to dance the traditional way as soon as he learned to walk, and he’s been dancing ever since. He jumps, spins, and uses fire in a pottery incense burner. He tells me there are dances he can perform in public, and those he can not as they are private to the community. He speaks a bit of Nahuatl, but not as much as he’d like.

Welcome to Mazatlán belatedly, Manuel and Ignacio. Obviously I need to get out more often, lol, as it’s the first time I’ve met you. I very much enjoyed meeting you both, and your performance. Thank you for sharing a bit of your culture. I hope to see you both again soon and learn more.

Carnavál Parade 2014

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How in the world could we possibly top last year’s amazing Carnavál? The theme in 2013 was the movies. Everyone loves a good picture show, and last year’s parade most definitely made the most of that love! I figured there was no way anyone could top last year, so I was mentally prepared not to be sent over the moon by this year’s parade. NOT! Both 2014 Carnavál parades were incredible! The 34 floats, 23 dance troupes and 16 musical groups made for an absolutely fantastic nearly four hour event!

I love that we have two parades. For us, living here on the north end of the malecón, the first parade is an evening into night affair, making for a tremendous street party. The floats in the parade are all aglow, and the dancers are in party mode, grabbing us from our seats and cena on the curb to join in the merriment with them. The second parade, on Tuesday, has the floats lining up in front of our house from just after noon, ready for picture taking in the full light of day. The dancers and royalty come out about an hour before the parade, and it’s the most incredible photo opportunity of the entire year—dancers putting makeup on each other or rehearsing dance steps, bands warming up their instruments and tunes, people stretching, eating, laughing. I absolutely love both these events.

To me the very best thing about Carnavál Internacional de Mazatlán is that it’s a family affair. Nearly every family in town has a member who’s been Carnavál royalty, even if it’s a cousin or aunt, and nearly every Patasalada has danced in Carnavál at some point in his or her life. Royalty celebrate their silver and golden anniversaries, and what a joy it is to see them relive the original thrill, often accompanied by their children! Young children and grandparents dance in the parade, even though it’s such a long route. Several years ago I had a good friend from Mexico City who just hated Carnavál. She thought it was low class and tacky. What she hated most were what she called the beauty contests—that young people were taught to value superficial beauty rather than brains or talent. While I tend to agree with her about beauty contests in general, and I am very much saddened by the shadow cast over the voting for Queen of Carnavál the past few years and hopeful the process will become more transparent, the fact is that Carnavál is a festival of the people. It is much, much, MUCH more than a beauty pageant, involving literature, poetry and painting competitions, concerts galore, fireworks, a food festival, bullfight, several “manifestations” or pre-Carnavál energy-building events, the pomp and circumstance of the coronations, the parades and, of course, the huge street party in Olas Altas for six nights straight. Mazatlán has over a month’s worth of Carnavál-related events, and there’s enough variety to please everyone. Click on any photo below to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Kids rule at the parade. Most of the dancers and musicians are teenagers, children or young adults, joining their friends from dance class, gymnastics, or school. They’ve worked for months to raise money for costumes and props, and have rehearsed their hearts out. They are eager to burst with joy and energy during that first parade. Then, by the second parade on Tuesday, they transform into relaxed, experienced parade marchers, more confident of themselves and the crowd around them.

The other star of the parades is the setting—the route goes along the malecón, south to north on Sunday, then north to south on Tuesday, with a clear view out to the ocean and the islands of our bay, the glittering lights of downtown, and the changing colored lights of Valentino’s on the northern end.

So, what made 2014 stand out for me? The most notable difference for me was the crowds! Usually people set out their chairs the night before the big day, but this year was unreal. There were solid chairs from one end of the parade route to the other, and it was reported that over 800,000 people—twice the population of the city—turned out to watch the first parade! We had three families that did not join our party because they couldn’t get through the crowd to get to us! It was a-m-a-z-i-n-g! The mayor tested out a bleacher system which seemed very popular with those wanting a seat at the last minute, but that met with huge pushback from those opposed to selling seats along the malecón. While I’d love to see seats and space continue to be free of charge, something obviously has to give if the crowds keep growing like they are. I’m sure we had many more spectators this year who joined us from Durango, Zacatecas and beyond, thanks to the new highway.

Last year you’ll remember that CULTURA invited a special group from Brazil to join us. They were scantily clad and a huge hit. I believe that is perhaps what influenced another change that we noticed this year: much sexier costumes, and many more scantily clad dancers. Several of the floats had hired models dancing on them, fortunately including scantily clad men as well as women, so everyone could enjoy. I noticed quite a few of the kids’ dance groups had sexier-than-usual garb, also. Perhaps that was in keeping with this year’s theme, Piel del Mar or “Skin of the Sea.”

My personal favorite float this year was the Venetian float that Francisco Igartúa made for Marcela I, Queen of the Floral Games. It transported all of us to the Palazzo Ducale, complete with a couple of gondola rides, and beautifully honored the style that Maestro Rigo Lewis established for royal carriages of Carnavál these past 50 years.

Queen Lorena’s float was also incredible, representing Rio. It was begun by Maestro Rigo himself, and finished up by his family after his death. Suzset, the Child Queen’s float was also made by Maestro Rigo and the Lewis family, representing New Orleans. Maestro Jorge González Neri had a huge hit with the King of Joy, Adolfo Blanco’s, exuberant and colorful Cuban float. You can definitely see the different styles of the floats’ creators!

There were so many terrific floats, and also the LED-lit cars that we’ve grown to love these past few years. At least four continents were represented this year: the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia. It was all definitely a feast for the senses!

Here are a few final pics of some of the dancers in this year’s parade. I hope you enjoyed it all as much as we did!

The past couple of year’s I’ve put together a video of Carnavál. This year, Mahatma Millan has already put together such a terrific one, that I figured I don’t need to bother. Let me share with you his terrific work:

Today is Ash Wednesday; Lent begins. Time to rest, reflect and recenter, after the exuberance and sleep deprival of the past week! Please, share with us your favorite part of Carnavál, in the comments below.

See you all next year!