Turns out the 19th century Russian military man´s name was Alberto. Alberto and his troupe had arrived from Sevilla. Their choir was called Agua Tapá. We talked over breakfast and it proved that, a Russian and an American cannot be expected to be represented by their respective nations. This guy was legit and genuine. He was so friendly and open one might mistake him for being an Andaluz.
Over breakfast Alberto gave me the low down on the current status of Cádiz´s Carnaval tradition. There was a lot of grief over the falling away of handmade blood-sweat-tear costing costumes and intelligent preparation, there was also a lot of grief over the increased roll of botellon at night. Non of this was surprising. All joking aside, it was immediately obvious upon arrival that the real beauty of this festival was in the festive decor, rapport, and talented choirs showing off Spanish humour. The rest was mere pills and additives.
After he convinced me to book my hostal now for the Feria de Abril in Sevilla (which I promptly solidified), I booked to the streets to catch some churros, some morning caffeine juice, and to meet up with some colleagues from school. On the way I grabbed a cheap cordobés hat and ran into Alberto again, this time with the entire russian squadron. Like the majority of the Festive folk, these guys had red dots on their cheeks. I asked them what the traditional reason was for painting your face with red dots. One by one they each made different jokes about the red dots, some clean some dirty, instead of answering me…I was clearly too serious. Maybe it wouldn´t hurt to get a little buzz on, me thought. Shortly thereafter I met up with some folk from work who also happened to be in Cádiz, and we checked out some of the carrusel de coro around town. We picked up some free shandy beers (In March? Meh. Free beer.) Cracking a crisp fizzy drink was the first step to entering the ring, waking up and getting back on my fighting feet in the Fear and Loathing that defined the days of this trip.
Suddenly, the sun breached the clouds in the sky.
As we shuffled through the packed streets back to the central market square, I heard some one call my name. Why, if it wasn´t the American folk I had shared a hostal room with. They were seated and observant of the passings on, taking a food break between the intense doses of entertainment. Some beer to wash down the moment certainly looked like it was helping. Shortly after bumping into them I joined the group and even shortlier there after we all ran into Agua Tapá, the Russians! Tío, they could sing! Between songs you could see the wear and tear of two full days of the deadly art of Performance. When they would sing they would give it their all: their bodies dancing, their faces stetching, and their expressive capabilities taken to the limit. Between songs, they would ignore the salty burns of the sun and take a swig or a cig.
We saluted Alberto (who would be returning to Cádiz the following weekend to close out the Carnaval festival dressed as the Tin Man, his wife as Dorothy, and his two little boys as the Lion and the Scarecrow. I´m sure that family´s Kawaii factor would be off the chain) and after saying goodbye we continued on our long voyage daring the testy waters of half attentive half unattentive crowd goers throwing out a tango dance or a jaleo or asking the nearby pretty girl to take a picture please thank you very much.
Now, I was in need of some mobile booze. I had my minds eye on the local custom that doesn´t pass international customs cheaply: Andalucian sherry. If there are two things that I miss about Andalucia, its the people the flamenco the weather the smell of the country air the sun baked air the blue mix of mediterranean and atlantic skies the nearness to the ocean the youths political dispositions the tapas and, of course the second thing being, the solera system sherrys of the south. Not as sweet as a Port wine, not as strong as a hard liquor, and not as heavy as a full glass of wine. Chills well. Above all, it chills well. And I was in the mood to chill while I waited out the divine revelation of the sun passing over the barred burden of striped clouds yearning for horizon´s reach.
The group nested upon the westward facing wall of the dicey shoreline. And there was genuine happiness. Everyone seemed to be in their different phase of it. For me, it felt like nostalgia, but they all seemed to be right in the middle or in the main thrust of that high water mark. “Riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.”
The regional sherry I was drinking was called Manzanilla. A clear drink for clarity. A dry drink for realism. A follow through of sweetness to stimulate a relentlessly appreciative perspective. An aroma to endure forever in the well maintained library of olfactory memories. It was a pact, unspoken to nobody. A vow between my expressive fingertips. There it was, the silver lining had become unobstructed heresy. Anything so beautiful as the sun over an afternoon ocean in the early spring could only be the very filth of sin.
Turns out, many of these people – having been aleviated of their duties of “being somebody” – were just little laughing buddhas like my travel companion, Sabi. These moments are rare, and when they happen, you don´t want to leave until dinner. Which is exactly what we did. Food is the only excuse for leaving behind a several hour moment of pure simplicity.
The girls did Ben and I the favour of cooking a wonderful dinner, and while I waited for the gift I chatted with an old lady from ..guess where? That´s right, another person from southern France. This was getting ridiculous. What do you want from me, South France? I get the message already, I just need an excuse of a destination without which I can´t …hugh? What´s that hippie grandma from Villerouge-Termenes? You´re gonna give me you address and invite me to come visit the vineyards of your town whenever I want? I guess I shouldn´t be surprised by your openess: your parents are spanish and italian, you grew up in Algeria and moved to France during the Algerian civil war, sometimes you work on vineyards during the summer to make money for the months ahead, you´ve done the Camino de Santiago twice in Spain and once up the coast of Portugal, and you stopped in Cádiz for a “restful” night of sleep during Carnaval. Now, to top it all off, you just invited me to stay for free and check out the goodness of southeast mediterranean France.
Marie-Gabrielle, I will honor that offer – consider it done.
But first dinner with new friends, and then to prepare for the third day of Carnaval in the beautiful tranquility of Cádiz as it does it´s eternal parody of a Carribean pirate/port town turned beach paradise.
I awoke the third day and hit the streets, with half a bottle of Manzanilla wine left, and a full tank a gas in my feet, a backpack full of souvenirs and memories, a smile behind my beard, and eyes covered with the cool delight of style: Aviation. I saw dinosaurs under waterfalls, but that wasn´t even half the spell I came under that third day. That sea-windy day of pleasant paseos in the sun, destination nowhere on route wherever to talk to the locals using my incredibly witless Spanish to get them to spill the beans on just what it is to live, work, and breath in the happiness harbouring Cádiz. You are a fotunate son, Huckleberry.