As I sit here in chilly New England, I can’t help but think about missing Carnival in Martinique that will kick off in a few weeks. Having said that, it’s hard to imagine how an event that draws nearly every resident of the island to Fort de France, for days of riotous (but in a nice way) partying and parades each year, can possibly be safe in the pandemic.
Pre-pandemic, Brenda and I joined in the fun last February when we visited Martinique. Days of parades passing by for hours beginning in the late afternoon. We enjoyed the events along with a number of other Dawgs but I’ll admit that it really feels like a thousand years ago. After nearly a year in the clutches of the pandemic it feels like a different lifetime. And, as I look back on our days in Martinique during Carnival, and think of all the crowds, it’s a bit frightening to consider what might have been.
Carnival ended on February 26th and Covid-19 was first detected on the island on March 5th, a little more than one week later. Given the massive crowds we experienced, I can only imagine what might have happened if the virus had appeared even two weeks earlier.
Martinique has had 44 deaths from the virus as of January which is about 1/10th of the death rate of the US. If our death rate per capita was equal to Martinique, we would have had about 44,000 deaths, a fraction of the 400,000 that we have to date. However, had the virus been prevalent during Carnival, I shudder to think of what might have happened.
But back to Carnival. It’s hard to understand what a multi day party of this scale is rally like but this video, posted by Playbox Limited, a developer of high quality videos I understand (I have to give credit where credit is due) gives a pretty good feel for what it was like to be there with day after day of celebrations in the street. It was indeed a hoot! The history of Carnival in the Caribbean is interesting, arriving with colonialism, apparently originating with the Italian Catholics in Europe, and later spreading to the French and Spanish who brought pre-Lenten tradition with them when they settled in the Caribbean. The first island to begin the practice was Trinidad in the late 18th century and it remains the largest celebration in the Caribbean.
In Martinique the celebrations take place during the days leading up to Lent and reach a climax on Ash Wednesday night with a massive bonfire in which “King Vaval”, constructed out of reeds, wood and other flammable materials is burned as an effigy in celebration.
Life in Martinique effectively comes to a standstill during the celebration as the island develops “Carnival Fever” with parades making their way through nearly every village, with the largest celebration reserved for the capital Forte de France. The sophistication of the costumes reflects the months that go into their construction and great efforts are made to keep the details secret until the day of their unveiling.
Every day has a theme and for Saturday and Sunday everyone dresses as they wish. It is not uncommon to see the same reveler appear in several different costumes over the days of the celebration. We were particularly struck by this guy. He had a lot of flair. Another day, another costume. By the second day, dare I say, we developed a bond. No, perhaps not. Brenda and I had a funny moment when we saw him, out of costume, sipping a cup of espresso early one morning. He looked, well, different. I so wish we had said hello and I had aske him to pose for a photo with Brenda. Perhaps next year.
Monday is the day of the “Burlesque Weddings” with men dressing as brides. Based on the enthusiasm that guys bring to this spectacle, it’s pretty clear to me that many/most guys, deep down inside, want to dress up as the fairer sex.
Some were pretty convincing. Well, sort of. I guess you had to be there. Some, well a little less so. No, yes, no… Last time I saw such high heels, was the First Lady. And, some not quite so convincing. Perhaps that’s the point after all. . Perhaps it was the week long stubble that gave it away. Seems a bit heavy on the testosterone. And the cross-dressing wasn’t limited to those in the parades. Bystanders totally got into the moment. Tuesday is the day of the devil with everyone dressed as the devil, in red and black. Remarkably elaborate “devils” paraded by for hours. Everyone working hard to outdo…I’ll admit that I am still a bit fuzzy on this theme, with everyone slathering themselves from head to toe with molasses, mixed with ashes. The smell of sweet sugar fully enveloped the downtown area. Imagine what the tropical heat mixed with sticky sugar felt like. Good thing that the beach, and a bottle of beer, or two, or three, were only a few steps away. No rush to get cleaned up. They didn’t rinse off until after hours of parading through the city. And devil or not, my favorite… If it’s not obvious, her costume is made up almost entirely of beer can pulls and caps. Forget a glass of chardonnay. She makes me want to drink more beer. The celebration ends at the beginning of Lent, leading up to Easter, marking a period of fasting and abstinence. Tradition dictates that one does not dance or listen to music and all weddings are postponed during the period. After experiencing Carnival myself, I’ll bet that it takes that much time, and more, for many of them to fully recover.
Carmival Martinique isn’t the only thing that makes cruising the islands from Antigua to Grenada special but it ranks right up there as a “must” event to put on your cruising calendar.
Yes, Carnival is schedule to run this year but with the threat of pandemic everywhere, it seems like a big risk. However, next year, I sure hope that we, and other Dawgs of course, will again have an opportunity to experience the join in celebrating this remarkable tradition.
You just can’t miss Carnival in Martinique.
Fingers crossed, Pandora, crew and perhaps you too, will be there.