carnaval in tolosa

It's no Mardi Gras.

But I'm not complaining. After all, that's not exactly the view you are likely to have as a bystander in New Orleans (see: enormous mountain and lack of beads and breasts).  The calendar coincid-ence and the act of parading were really the only things I saw in common between the Crescent City's Carnaval celebrations and those of Tolosa, where my family was lucky enough to pass the festivities.

Thanks to an incredibly generous friend, we were able to get behind the scenes, on a float (or carroza, as they're called in Spanish), dressed as....PITUFOS (aka SMURFS). My friend Iñigo and his wonderful cuadrilla were several weeks and several hundreds of Euros into their float, a little mushroom casita with a BUILT-IN kalimotxo dispenser, when they invited the guiri family along for the ride.

So we practiced several Sunday nights in the polideportivo in Tolosa (this is SERIOUS, people) to perfect our routine, which we performed several times each hour along the parade route. Think lots of high kicks, bouncing around, and impressive group formations:

 The carnavales in Tolosa are widely recognized as the best in the Basque Country. I did an informal survey on my test group of 150 seventeen year olds, and approximately 90% of them were headed to Tolosa for the fiestas. And almost all of them were dressing up. That's the San Sebastián, the costumed partygoer is the one that sticks out (god bless you pijos)-whereas in Tolosa, the most ridiculous one is he who goes dressed in civilian attire. Or worse, dressed to impress in civilian attire. There's something about a couple in full G-Star standing next to a group in fly costumes that are dragging around a pile of poo that doesn't really do justice to designer haute couture.

Our day on Sunday started at 8am, catching the train to Tolosa to begin the parading. We arrived, but the float had already pulled out of the warehouse where all the floats are born and go to hibernate and be reincarnated year after year.  So we caught up with our fellow smurfs and painted our faces blue and stapled our smurf boots to our shoes. At this point, 10am, the kalimotxo was already flowing. Soon, we started off at a snail's pace along the parade route, followed by a float that I thought was populated by sumo wrestlers but upon closer inspection appeared to be a nursery full of fat grown-up babies.  Music was blaring, and the crowds on the street began to thicken. Old people, families, teenagers-everyone showed up. And everyone dressed up. My favorite costumes were a beautiful Egyptian pharoah family of four, a group of five friends dragging an outdoor bar table and dressed as the warming lamps that populate the terraces here until summer, a group of Barbies in their boxes, and the aforementioned flies. So, walking, drinking, and dancing.

And between these principal activities, we would play las 40 principales (Top 40) and dance/lay on the float/jump rope/take pictures/eat/andact like silly smurfs (staying in character was the most important part).  Buckley had a blast, hiding out inside the mushroom house (with our fully stocked bar and snack table) when she got overwhelmed by it all. Then it was off to a sidrería at lunchtime, around 3 pm. This is where the story gets all Cinderella-esque...what I didn't tell you all is the majority of the family was seriously ill, and at this point Buckley had to go home immediately. I accompanied, planning to return, but realized that I too felt horrible and remained in bed for the next three days, recovering from the mere half day of Spanish carnaval. You'll be happy to know that my friends continued for 14 more hours Sunday and then 36 straight hours starting Monday night.

There's always next year.

*dedicated to Iñigo and all his wonderful friends....thank you guys!