If you have procrastinated losing your Carnival virginity as long as I have, then when you finally do the deed it must be done properly, with due regard for its attendant history and traditions. At least that is what should be done. Instead I decided in January that I wanted a costume in a band that was sold out since last August. Izzy, who is a regular with the band Tribe, had already secured her costume, masquerading as a bird, the Spangled Cotinga. With so little at stake no one could be persuaded to re-sell her costume for me to join this section.
When I finally did get one it was as the much less interesting Night Owl. It even sounds like the section for girls who wear glasses. If you don’t know what I look like let me give you a hint: I wear glasses. But very occasionally the universe smiles on the myopic. During carnival the Spangled C’s did not cavort for or with the male of the species but for other girl birds, in a section with ninety percent females. Us Night Owls had to be content with a large male contingent of delinquent hunks, all too busy honing their tan last summer to buy a costume. We made the best of these nocturnal creatures.
But first contact with one of these delightful gentlemen almost de-railed my confidence completely. As I tried to dance with him he held me firmly away and said,
“No way. Not you.”
“If I wine on you it will end up in your blog.”
What a miscalculation. Yes, I am referring to you – of mixed race, iron-pumped body clad with tiny shorts, no shirt, Cowboy hat and dragging on a large Cohiba. Had you simply gyrated with me for ten seconds I would have enjoyed the brief encounter never thinking for a moment it was blog-worthy. Scaredy cat.
And while the more general traditions of drunk and disorderly conduct were strictly observed the subtleties constantly tripped me up. Six hours, twenty-one minutes and eight seconds before Carnival Monday, I was reminded that everyone customizes their costume, albeit in a small way. Seven years of training in fine art were finally being put to the test. We headed to Samaroo’s, the Mecca for costume materials. It is busy, chaotic shop in the heart of downtown Port-of-Spain, stuffed floor to ceiling with jars of colourful beads, shiny gems and elaborate appliqués. I got yards of beads the exact shade of gold to add to the bikini top Tribe had delivered. Appliqués identical to the ones already on my costume were purchased for a bit more cleavage coverage. An hour before meeting the band I had only just finished customizing a T-Shirt to match the Night Owl’s bikini bottoms. It is an unwritten rule that no one plays in full costume on carnival Monday.
And there are many other unwritten rules and regulations that surfaced. Couples who play mas together are not often together by Ash Wednesday. Our personal conflict avoidance strategy obliged The Husband to accompany me to a few fetes and then disappear back to Bim. He was such a good sport I did not yawn once when at Brian Lara’s fete he began discussing his “bad apple” theory of financial regulation where blame is placed on individual people and things, rather than the real culprit, incentivised behaviour. Well that’s what it sounded like anyway. I was listening to him while simultaneously singing along to a dirty Soca ditty, Jep Sting by Hunter (Jep sting Naima, In she behind-na, Now she can’t wine-na …). And for the uninitiated “Jep” is Trini for a wasp or bee. If you have any further questions it is obvious that a responsible adult should adjust your computer access.
While chatting to people at the various fetes I also discovered that each carnival band has its own sub-culture, much like the Samba schools of Rio. McFarlene’s band is for those who enjoyed the glory days of Peter Minshall’s bands, for example, while a band like Harts has a lingering legacy of serving the descendants of the French Creole. Tribe is a racially mixed band known for its super efficiency. On carnival Monday the Tribe atmosphere was electric - full of anticipation. Oh, and very, very polite people. As we danced past people she knew, Izzy would introduce me and they would all shake my hand. It was just a little strange constantly shaking hands in this atmosphere of simmering erotic excitement. Mercifully this was a Monday phenomenon that had no place on Tuesday’s agenda of partying. But both days it was apparent that I was in a band where the birds spent a great deal of time preening. It was not unusual to see ladies re-touching their makeup while dancing. I am reliably informed that there are other bands where it is not mandatory to carry a make-up kit at all times.
The best advice I had for dealing with losing my carnival virginity was to stay mildly drunk at all times or the whole jumping up in a band thing would become too absurd. So I had a blast, along the way zapping several zillion brain cells with coke flavoured rum and happily grooving my way slowly through parts of Port-of-Spain I would otherwise only visit under armed guard – including the notorious Green Corner where many an altercation has spiraled into crime statistics.
Now I am safely back in Bim feeling a bit like Cinderella when the carriage turned back into a pumpkin. But Kerwin Dubois’s Soca hit 2 Days still speaks to me:
I hear I wave until I drop,
So I rest for 2 days,
And mih wining just couldn’t stop,
Please excuse mih rude ways…
Because I was high, high, high, high, high, high, high, high, high,
So high off de music.