As they've done almost every year since 1888, the city of Barranquilla, Colombia holds one of the largest celebrations of folklore in the world. Barranquilla's Carnival ranks second only to the one that takes place in Brazil's Rio de Janeiro every year in terms of sheer magnitude. As a young man, growing up in Colombia's largest coastal city, in a nation that is the only one in South America to boast having coastlines on, both, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Carnival was, for me, a very special time. I had the unbelievably good fortune of living on a street numbered 70B that wasn't known for very much throughout most of the rest of the year, as it was like just about any other average street in the city. What made 70B so special was that every year during that era, Barranquilla's Carnival, for some mysterious reason, would find its way down our street and right past the little shotgun apartment where my father, mother, brother, and I lived in. Even better yet, our apartment was elevated, and so it was perfectly perched above everything that was taking place down below in all of its glorious detail as we happily shared our stairway with people who crowded on the steps below to get the best view possible.
The Carnival in Barranquilla is known for its street dances, masquerade parades and many distinct styles of Colombian music, the foremost of which is cumbia, and for which I have a friend, Nando Malo, who can crank out one just as good as anyone I’ve ever heard before, and there are many other genres of music throughout Colombia that are just as beautiful and noteworthy such as porro, mapale, gaita, chandé, puya, fandango, and fantastic merecumbés, among many others. Not only is it a time for street parades, but there is a party-like atmosphere that pervades almost every part of the city, with get-togethers taking place at many residences throughout this coastal city, known, historically, as the first and one of the major gateways, from the North to all of South America. For those who like to wet their whistle with spirits, the major manufacturers of liquors send trucks laden with samples to distribute among the thousands of bystanders along the Carnival's path, and it was one year that an American friend and mentor from South Carolina, who worked as a volunteer in the Peace Corps and ran a school for Colombian youth with dyslexia, reached out with his hand while we were walking down the street and caught one of the bottles just as it was about to nail me on the head. Maybe the manufacturers have come up with a safer way to distribute their wares since those days, but we just laughed it off at the time without giving it much thought because there was too much to be happy about in back then.
One of the trademarks of this four-day extravaganza, non-stop festival is that many young people--and sometimes the more older folks, as well--buy boxes of corn starch and get deviant by sneaking up behind someone on the streets and covering them with the powdery white stuff. So, as it turns out, you have the added effect of not only keeping an eye out for what's going on with the Carnival, itself, but of, also, having to watch your back for the unsuspecting “ambushes” that are inevitably taking place during this time of year. Much to the credit of the warm and colorful people of Barranquilla, tempers rarely flare over such things, and I can, personally, inform you that there is nothing better, as a young man, than sneaking up on an unsuspecting young lady and dousing her with corn starch, unless, of course, it’s the joy of getting caught by her, later on, and getting the favor returned to you. J Some ambushes are even carried out by groups of roaming marauders—gangster-style--as some of these "deviants" like to roam in packs in search of their prey. I always enjoyed every aspect of the experience. At the end of the day on 70B, the street looked like it might fit into easily into the scenery of just about any Canadian city in the heart of winter, as the street was transformed from its usual dark color to an almost perfect white.
One of the details I'm very curious to find out about with this year's upcoming Carnival has to do with the Queen of Ceremonies, Maria Margarita Diazgranados. With beauty, grace and charm such as she possesses, it's easy to make this older man wish for younger days. I know it's a long shot, but the question has to do with the family she comes from, as I went to school in the late 70's and early 80's with a classmate that had the exact same last name as hers and who bears a striking resemblance to her, although, if it was to come down to a side-by-side comparison, the most credit I could extend to my old classmate is that he could, perhaps--under just the right circumstances--be her uncle, although I'm sure that my classmate, who shall remain nameless, of course, would like to take full credit for rearing such a graceful and poised young lady. And besides, if I, somehow, managed to blurt out his name, by accident, I don't think Carlos would appreciate all of the undue publicity that he might get if people thought he was related to this year's Queen of Ceremonies. Oops, sorry about that my friend. J
In 2002, the Carnival of Barranquilla was proclaimed as a Cultural Masterpiece of the Nation and, a year later, on November 7, 2003, it was declared as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. The upcoming Carnival, for 2014, will take place between March 1 and March 4, 2014. The Carnival slogan is, "Quien lo vive, es quien lo goza," or translated, "He who lives it is who enjoys it."