Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Carnival Season

Two weeks ago I went with some friends to the annual Surva Festival in Pernik, Bulgaria. This is an international carnival fair with lots of performers from different regions around the country as well as from places like Serbia, Italy, Lithuania and China. Everyone pretty much congregates on the main square, where they have a stage set up with a panel of judges and each group comes forth with a performance. This is usually a traditional ritual dance that includes a mock wedding, bear-baiting and even fire dancing. 

Here are a couple of half-dressed performers warming up. There were thousands of participants over the weekend, and some really amazing costumes. Kiril took much better photos of the festival than I did and you can check them out on his website. As you may know, I attended the same festival last year with some American Fulbrighter friends. In comparison, I think that this year was better organized and seemed to flow more smoothly than last year. But overall it was almost the same. However, I don't remember seeing so many international groups then so maybe they've expanded somewhat. 

I am a big fan of carnival season. I love watching "mummers," or whatever you want to call them, in all their beautiful costumes and the jovial atmosphere that can be such a welcome release from all the winter gloom. I  love watching the colorful parades and warming up with a hot drink (preferably mulled wine) and I especially love meeting people and learning more about the history of these customs from a local friend. I have been lucky enough to have had this experience in three different countries so far, and I hope to increase that number in the future! Here are some photos from other carnival celebrations I've seen around the world:

Mohacs, Hungary- February 2009. Busojoras are the people who dress up in scary animal costumes to drive away evil spirits. These "busos" also carry large wooden sticks, which they might hit you with for good luck. They also like sneaking up from behind pretty ladies and lifting them up in the air. Something about fertility? At the end of the day, everyone in the town gathers around a huge bonfire and dances in a circle! Of course, there was a lot of drinking involved. 

Me and my gorgeous friend Jolie all dressed up for Mardi Gras in February 2008. Born and raised in New Orleans, she invited me to come back with her and celebrate Mardi Gras with her family. I think that everyone associates New Orleans with Mardi Gras, so I don't need to go into an explanation here. But I would like to comment that if you do go, you've got to see some of the smaller parades and not just hang out in the French Quarter with the other tourists. I felt so lucky to have someone show me around and I felt like I really got a taste of the "real" Mardi Gras experience.  

One day we wandered into a neighborhood bar and caught a performance by a band of "Mardi Gras Indians," who make up a very unique tradition involving elaborate feathered costumes and their own mix of Native American call-and-response, chants and Afro-Caribbean music. The famous "Iko Iko" song is one of the often-covered hits performed by the Mardi Gras Indians. On this particular occasion I got to hear the song live, and it was one of the highlights of my trip. There about 38 tribes of Mardi Gras Indians, and their history stretches back before the American Civil War. Another interesting thing about the Indians is that in parades their most sought-after throw (that is, something they give to parade-goers) is a decorated coconut. 

So there you have it, my love of carnival season all in one not-so-little post. Now if only the "evil spirits" of winter would magically vanish and bring the warmer weather back... I'm freezing over here!

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