Let us take a break from all things novelly, but stay with travel and food, if not love and sex.
Your trusty (but not lusty) correspondent has mentioned many times, in many places, but apparently not in these posts, a certain disdain for a greyness that pervades English ‘culture’, especially in the culinary sense. Within the pages of the novella itself, he has made humorous play on the fact that the best thing we seem capable of doing with pulses and meats is a tin of baked beans and ‘sausages’, while our continental cousins create luscious concoctions with similar ingredients and a lot more passion.
And at this time of year, he is painfully reminded of the time he was in Cádiz, Andalucía, Spainland for Carnaval 2001. Someone he met there said the Gaditanos say the Brazilians don’t know how to party; but he also said that to him Cádiz carnaval is like a million people sharing a joke you’re not in on. Well, maybe, but it made me laugh.
From Friday night to Shrove Tuesday the streets are never quiet, and I couldn’t even get to my flat in La Viña for crowds, so I just had to stay out drinking, right? And Saturday is the big parade, when everyone dresses up (even your correspondent) and parties long into the night.
I saw a child of no more than six years sitting outside Bar Manteca (now of Rick Stein fame), dressed as Bugs Bunny, throwing confetti weakly at the knees of passers-by, as she fought to stay awake. Then someone pointed out that her father was standing by, cradling her baby sibling, ‘dressed’ as a carrot, complete with green sprouts over the head.
I was chatting to a friend in Germanyland on the Wednesday afternoon, having managed to snatch some shut-eye from 7am to noon.
“I have to go out now; it’s carnaval,” I said.
“No no,” she insisted, “It’s now Ash Wednesday; this is Lent.”
“Ah, but here the carnival don’t stop until the weekend — and then they have a mini one next Saturday too.”
“Are they not Catholics?” she asked.
“Of course,” I replied, “but first and foremost they are Andaluz!”
I follow them on facebook and other social media. The main features of the Cai bash are the choirs, ranging from thirty-strong choros, down to four-person cuartettos, the mainstay being the medium sized chirigotas. These perform a series of songs, cuplés, pasodobles, some of which celebrate the delights of the province, but most of which pass satirical and often scatological comment on the year’s news. The costumes (as with those of the revellers on the Saturday) are amazingly inventive, the songs inventively hilarious — if you can understand a word, which even any Spanish can’t, as they are usually rendered in the local dialect (think a foreign Johnny trying to follow the English in a Glasgow pub, late on a Friday night). Check them out by searching youtube for ‘chirigotas’. This year, one lot —Daddy Cadi — even incorporate rap.
Meanwhile my facebook and writing friend, Mardi, has been giving it large in New Orleans, for Mardi Gras, despite some pretty cold weather. Looks great too, as I’m sure it does in Rio, Saõ Paolo, etc etc etc.
Carne vale, ‘meat goodbye’, or the slightly less enticing mardi gras — ‘fat Tuesday’ — all spring from the need to eat up the foodstuffs that were off the menu during Lent, but have led to wild partying, conviviality and, let’s not deny it, hangovers, in many parts of the Christian world, even where the observance of the following fast has died away.
So what do we in the UK do?
We make sodding pancakes! And many of us put lemon juice on them, as if it isn’t enough to be dull, so we have to be sour too.
Don’t get me wrong. I love pancakes (you should see my collection). I made a load last night; three with a lightly curried slow-cooked pork, mushroom and pepper filling, followed by a couple with mixed citrus juices and sugar. But can’t we party as well?
Oh, somewhere in a distant land the sun is shining bright,
The choirs are singing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And folks are dressing up — oh it’s to there I would escape,
‘Cos there is no joy in Britain — our fiestas are just crêpe
[apologies to E L Thayer]