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Viva Carnival! or Carnaval as the Goans call it

Come get your disguise!

It wasn't entirely unlike anything I've experienced in India, where processions, religious festivals and national day parades often involve floats, color and creativity. But the three-day carnival here was still truely and uniquely Goan.

While Riyan and I danced to familiar tunes and Konkani folk and pop music we watched folks of all ages and dispositions flaunt their all on some 100 floats that traversed the streets of Panjim on the first day of Carnival 2010.

We weren't in Brazil, that's for sure. No matter, though. As far as Riyan and I could tell the folks in Goa get it — carnival is brazen, fun, spunky and a time to deck up. Carnival here is celebrated all over. The bigger cities — Panjim (now Panaji), Margao (now Madgaon) and Mapusa — host big parades and folks travel into the cities to participate in them.

One word descibes the culture of carnvial: socegado, a word I've heard so many times since I've been here that I intuitively understand it now. It is something to do with the attitude of the people here. Casual, relaxed, laid-back.  The music ranged from the Brazilian samba — no place here for the still-popular traditional, lyrical fado — to Portuguese songs to Konkani folk, all upbeat and swingy and great to dance to. And dance we did, Riyan and I, non-stop for two hours as fantastic and ordinary floats passed by us.

Like carnivals across Latin America, the festivities are opened by King Momo and his two  queens. Goa's King Momo — chosen each year from a different village — was hardly fat, as King Momo's usually are. This king was tall and of very good build. As were his ladies in waiting.

We were sometimes in the midst of carnival scenes that could have been anywhere in the world — clowns, witches, men in drag with hairy legs in skintight skirts, and women in boob tubes twirling about with big hair and lots of makeup. But then there was the local stuff that placed me. Konkani folk dances — with a Portuguese lilt — with elderly women from villages dressed in red saris, twirling and moving to the beat. Fantastic! 

Color and joie de vivre is practically endemic to festivals across India, so that part wasn't hugely different. Except for the fact that the costumes, the dances, the floats, the inspirations were a mix of all things Goan — Portuguese, Konkan, India, a flavour entirely unique. And of course, this particular festival has its roots in Catholicism, or Catholic culture anyway. 

I was reading Maria Aurora Cuoto's book and she traces the culture of carnival to a period prior to its tourism awakening. "Once upon a time," she writes, "it was a period of spontaneous revelry, unrestrained enjoyment before the forty days fo Lenten fasting, abstinence nad self-sacrifice. The early Christians seem to have transferred the uninhibted spirit of shigmo, which was taboo for them after conversion, into a short, dizzy spel of unfettered fun before a period of self-denial. The elite added layers of sphistication with fancy dress balls and the like, but the church frowned ont he whole exercise then as it does now."

For sure, the Catholic Church has become pricey about this sort of stuff. Last year a friend told me they started issued advisories that Catholic girls shouldn't participate in carnival because of its vulgarity and lack of decorum. Weeks before carnival this year, another friend's niece was fighting with her parents for permission to dance atop one of the floats. I had thought, listening to much of the tensions, that carnival might be bust thanks to conservative parents and an index finger-waving church body. But I was happily wrong. Tons of young folk — boys and girls, men and women, danced atop floats, before them, behind them and everywhere in the streets.

Street sellers had a great range of treats on sale — masks and masquerades, candy-floss in pinks and yellows, freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice, balloons, toys, and of course, customarily, lots of beer. It wasn't actually for sale on the streets but pretty much everywhere else. The city had banned drinking on floats in a gesture aimed to appease the religious order but judging from the fanfare and festivities visible to us folks below, some stuff was smuggled on board. Later, the parties continued on the beach, and in homes and inside villages deep inside Goa.

Three days of partying well into the night, and Carnaval 2010 matched, in its own way, its compatriots in Brazil, and elsewhere. We were still dancing when we got home.