San Francisco Carnaval 2010!

Carnaval 2010

After a one hour drive in the car and another half an hour on the train, we stepped out of the BART station and into Carnaval. It was a sensory delight: the smells of sausages cooking, dazzling sequined and vibrantly colored performers, the sounds of drums and rattles, and dancers infecting us with rhythm. After weeks of frankly crappy weather, the day couldn’t have been more beautiful: warm sun, cool breeze. We found a spot on a turn in the parade route so we could see the groups coming right towards us—when the official photographers and SF Police weren’t blocking our view, anyway. Sergeant Gordon entertained us though, joking and posturing, while keeping a sharp eye out for trouble, of course. We chatted with our neighbors as if we were old friends as we all celebrated the rich diversity of San Francisco.

The newly formed San Francisco Cultural Arts Traditions (2009) has accepted sponsorship of Carnaval. The non-profit community organization is comprised of artists who have been involved in this Carnaval since its inception 32-years ago. Their mission is “to make multiculturalism a tangible reality by uniting people in the celebration of cultural arts traditions with music, dance, artistry and food, and through this endeavor, benefit our communities.” They certainly achieved their goals with this parade.

The parade and festival events featured dance, music, and food from around Latin America and the Caribbean. I can’t say for sure how many cultures were represented (pre-press states that at least 70 groups were involved in the parade) but I know I saw dances of Bolivia, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Jamaica, Mexico, Peru, and of course, Brazil. Lots and lots of Brazil.

Several of the Brazilian groups showed off the whole complex of samba. There were candomblé dancers spinning gracefully in full, white dresses; festival and parade samba dancers shaking their tail-feathers (and there were some fantastic tail-feathers!); and capoeiristas cartwheeling along behind. I’ve noted before how diverse the samba community seems to be, at least here in Santa Cruz. It may be that samba is less about national or ethnic identity than other Latin-American dance groups. It may be that the multicultural natures of Brazil and San Francisco welcome and engender a different spirit, serve a different purpose. Capoeira

Aztec dancer with incense

I also particularly liked the Aztec troupes with their spectacular feather headdress and elaborately beaded costumes. When they reached our corner they fanned out into a circle and placed a small altar in the center consisting of bowls of burning incense and conch shells. A leader then lead the group through a series of bouncing steps far more reminiscent of Native American dancing than the Latin forms that emerged after colonization. Like many parade groups, these were filled with children from as young as four-years-old, promising that this parade will last long into the future.

The Grand Marshals of the parade were actor Benjamin Bratt and his writer-director-brother Peter. They showed up in the middle of the parade leading the contingent of automobiles and were followed by other members of the Bratt Brothers’ film, La Mission. (Personally, I liked this film set in the Mission District about a father trying to cope with his son’s homosexuality. Plus you get to look at Benjamin Bratt for a few hours and who doesn’t want to do that.) Naturally, my camera jammed just as they were passing so I have no pictures of the Bratts.

We kept thinking the parade would end and then we’d walk up to the Festival on Harrison Street. But it never ended. It was still going on when we wandered off to meet friends for lunch, by which time I was over-stimulated and under-fed. We never did make it back for the Festival…maybe next year. It happens every year on Memorial Weekend so set your calendars now. It is sooooo worth it. Especially if you live close enough to be home by dinner.

all photos by Charles Ruhe

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