• Carnival


    A young girl at Carnaval, San Francisco 2010

    This is Carnaval Weekend in San Francisco — a spectacle of sequins, feathers and Latin American culture. In celebration, I’ve posted some photos taken from last year’s festivities, parading down 24th Street in the Mission district.

    This (chubby, older) guy was really excited about dancing with this (young and cute) girl. It was his lucky day.

    Unfortunately, SF Carnaval is not nearly as bawdy or playful as it once was. It has been replaced by a “family friendly” alternative — which, as someone who *grew up* with the risque carnival (in my family-oriented youth, I might add!), is not something I’m crazy about… But it is still Carnaval …a time to go to Victoria’s Bakery …to eat enchiladas and get drunk and flirt with Cuban and Honduran guys… to laugh at people even more drunk than you are…

    Everyone knows Brazilian Carnival — the hedonistic celebration before Lent. People dress in masquerade costumes, cover their bodies with jewels, sequins (and not much else) and dance atop monstrous floats. There’s also New Orleans Mardi Gras — the beads, the boobs and the Southern-ness.

    San Francisco Carnaval is uniquely “San Francisco.” Established by hippie-ish artists in the late ’70s as a way to “connect with the ancestors,” it has evolved into a city-wide celebration. Really, it is a hodgepodge of Latin American/Hispanic cultures — “The four Carnaval Cities with the greatest influence and presence in the San Francisco Carnaval are Port of Spain, Trinidad; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Salvador, Brazil; and Oruro, Bolivia.”

    Bringing on the party...

    When I was a kid, I remember being happily scandalized by Carnaval — topless women, men with painted bodies, tiny g-strings on both sexes. And, just in case you missed the flesh show, Mission Street stores pasted photos of the naked/mostly naked people on their windows, which stayed up for months (sometimes, all year-long!).

    This was one of my favorite parts of Carnaval last year -- these fantastic headdresses.

    Of course, Carnaval is not (or was not) only about sex —  just mostly about sex! But there’s also a strong cultural element. Actually, I was really impressed by these dancers from last year. They wore these magnificent, feathered headdresses, shaped as if to capture the sun or the heavens. The dancers twirled with their headdresses (with one hand up, to support their heavy load!). The dances were mesmerizing; I wish I could remember where the dance & costume was from… Does anybody know?


    Last year, Benjamin Bratt was also promoting his movie about the Mission District (and low-riders), appropriately called “La Mission.” So, a series of low-rider and cholo cars were also featured in Carnaval… which, I guess, they always are… but, this time, Benjamin Bratt was inside, in case anybody notice or cared… He wore a t-shirt that stated “Stay Brown” (in other words, “We’re not into white hipster/yuppie gentrification”).


    cool wheels

    The cool thing about Carnaval is the inclusion of the SF dance studios and cultural organizations. For months, dance studios work on their choreography, costumes and music — a huge process with, usually, fantastic results. Meanwhile, Brazilian drum ensembles will prepare, capoeira fighters will train and young children will learn traditional Aztec, Mayan or Caribbean dances.

    Pure joy

    Again, it is not what it used to be. I know I may sound old (or old-er) — but I mean it! When I was a kid, dance troupes came from all over the world for the San Francisco Carnaval. I remember seeing troupes from Latin America, Europe and the farther reaches of the States. They were announced with pomp and celebration — “and noooowwwww, the XYZ troupe frommmmm Belizzzzzzzeeeee!”

    But now? No way.

    What a shame.

    And you know what? The city did the same thing with the Castro Street Halloween Festival! It used to be a late-night, costumed, gender-fluid, city-wide bacchanalia extravaganza. Then, some people ruined it for everybody — brought guns and shot people. I still remember that Halloween …I was 16 years old (but not in the Castro that night). So, the city got involved and, basically, stopped the whole damn thing.

    Anyway, that was a tangent!

    Here are some more photos of Carnaval — which is still wonderful (just less sexy, less big and less cool). But, still, it is CARNAVAL!

    I love the guy on his cell phone.

    Definitely the coolest dancer/coolest costume/coolest person at Carnaval 2010.

    Welcome to San Francisco!

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