This week, in my other writing gig over at Only In South America, I explain chivas — Colombia’s answer to the party bus, and the cause of this one time I thought I witnessed my friend die. Don’t drink and try to step out of a moving vehicle, kids.
So as I may or may not have mentioned, I made up for my (lazy, broke, bad-at-planning, unmotivated) omission of last year and made sure I spent the second weekend of this past February in Barranquilla for Carnaval. Obviously a big part of this was the fact that Brighid lives there now, so it was a great excuse to go visit her, but it’s also one of those things that you just have to do when you live in Colombia. Or, judging from the number of gringos in attendance, even when you don’t.
Barranquilla, normally your typical mid-sized industrial port city, goes all-out for its Carnaval, which they never hesitate to tell you is the second-largest in the world (after only Rio, which, if you’re going to be second to something when it comes to Carnaval festivities, is really the only option). The city essentially shuts down for a whole week, during which time everything is covered in decorations, paint, banners, and anything red-green-and-yellow, the Carnaval colors. The people undergo a similar transformation — everyone is dressed in outrageous, neon, sparkly, bedazzled, insane festive clothing or costumes and covered in wigs, face paint, more sparkles, hats and other peculiar hair accessories. As if this weren’t enough, the two major spectator pastimes of Carnaval are drinking and throwing maizena (flour) and espuma (foam) at both friends and strangers until everyone in attendance looks as white as an Indiana frat boy on his first trip out of the country.
The days are filled with parades, dancing, music and celebration, and the nights — are pretty much exactly the same. We spent 2 hours one night just wandering from one block party to the next, weaving between neighbors dancing together and changing songs as we passed from one set of blaring speakers stacked higher than the surrounding houses to the next. People always talk about how joy is contagious, and this is one of the best places to see that in action — sure, we’re all sweaty and dirty and covered in flour and glitter and our feet hurt from standing and dancing, but we are all having one hell of a good time. Barranquilleros were, without fail, warm and welcoming and delightful people, and I couldn’t think of a better group to serve as my festival guides. For four nights straight, Brighid and I rolled into bed past 2 a.m., filthy and exhausted and probably dehydrated — and then the next morning, we got up and did it again. Because that’s what you do when it’s what everyone else is doing. We were just following the motto of Carnaval, after all:
Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza (S/he who lives it, enjoys it)
And enjoy it I did. Who’s up for 2014?
[full disclosure: I did not bring my fancy camera to Barranquilla, because beer + intense sunlight + flying foam + copious opportunities for robbery = disaster, as far as I’m concerned. So I’m sorry these photos don’t look so nice, but it’s the price we pay for caution. And it’s worth it]
Yeah, yeah, talent shows are popular everywhere. The whole continent of Europe is freaking out right now about the awesomely tacky Eurovision Song Contest, the vastly more popular British version of ‘X Factor’ has survived for a baffling eight seasons and apparently 132 million people actually gave a shit about the most recent finale of ‘American Idol.’ (who the hell are you people, exactly?)
But maybe with the exception of Eurovision (which doesn’t really count anyways, since it’s an annual international event rather than just your average TV show. Also, it is a delight), these kinds of shows are not universal. That’s what knowing your audience is all about: you’ve got your middle-America housewives or whoever those 132 million people are; the nation of teenaged dancers and their moms who drool over every step on ‘So You Think You Can Dance’; and of course my former roommates and I, who religiously watched ‘The Voice’ based entirely on the fabulosity of Christina Aguilera’s wardrobe and how much we love Beverly McClellan (seriously. The lady is an American treasure). The point is, to each his own, right?
Well, maybe when it comes to preferred types of empanadas, but not regarding the monolith of entertainment that is ‘Colombia Tiene Talento‘ (obviously, ‘Colombia’s Got Talent’). I am legitimately convinced that everyone in the country, from my first-graders to Supreme Court justices, watches this show. It is inescapable in the way that soccer matches are in most Latin American countries (and sometimes here, depending on the teams). It seems to be on every single night of the week, apparently on every single channel. Everyone talks about it. And this goes beyond water-cooler chat: you’re just expected to know who they’re talking about when they mention “that girl who sang the opera song” or “those brothers who are acrobats.” I’m a little skeptical that a country the size of Colombia actually has enough talent to keep the show viable like this, but I guess everyone does define talent differently.
I personally don’t have much use at all for reality competitions, with the notable exceptions of the aforementioned ‘Voice’ (some rad ladies and essentially an excuse to stare at Adam Levine for two hours), ‘Top Chef’ (straight-up food porn and the occasional Bourdain snark) and the barely-controlled madness that is the judging panel of ‘America’s Best Dance Crew,’ but if I stay here long enough, I may just have to start pretending to care about some little 10-year-old from Caldas and her spot-on J. Lo impression.
Or, worse, I might actually start caring. Get the intervention banner ready for me, just in case.
Other Totally Inexplicable Things Colombians Love: