Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Carnival in Cadiz; Travel: Europe's Last Undiscovered Street Party Starts This Week - Here's How to Join In

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Carnival in Cadiz; Travel: Europe's Last Undiscovered Street Party Starts This Week - Here's How to Join In

Article excerpt

Byline: JEREMY WAYNE

PUT on the gloves, cut around the soft tissue, scoop out the glands," instructs Ana Garcia, my old friend and mollusc mentor. It is Friday morning and we are in Bar Merodio, opposite Cadiz's central market, drinking ice-cold shots of salty manzanilla and eating erizos - sea urchins - straight from the shell. It is the week before Carnival and the height of the urchin season, the traditional time to eat these spiny mauve invertebrates, contact with whose needles can reduce grown men to tears. In the bars, in the back streets, even on the beach, everyone is tucking in.

Next week Cadiz (say it "caddy", as in golf, or you will be laughed out of town) will explode into Carnival, 10 days of unmitigated, undiluted, non-stop partying leading up to Lent. Boozier than Trinidad, gaudier than Rio, and a lot less scary than Notting Hill, Caddy's Carnival is not only the greatest in Europe, it is - in my view - the last great undiscovered show on earth.

Few people, however globetrotting they might be, seem to know about it.

"Carnival got going in the 17th century," pipes up Ana's friend, Adolfo, who is sitting with us.

"Sailors from Cadiz saw what was going on at the great carnivals of Genoa and Venice and decided to bring it here. Plus, over time, as a major seaport trading with the New World, we have been influenced by all sorts of music: Creole, African, samba, primitive Colombian, ranguera, all mixing with traditional Andalusian jaleo and flamenco." Sure makes for a wild party.

In the Thirties, Franco famously banned Carnival. Not for him the seething mass of sequined, sashaying, sweaty humanity which sings, dances and congas its way through the city for 10 sherry-fuelled days and nights.

Across the street from the Bar Merodio, at Pepi Mayo's costume shop, things are reaching fever pitch. Four guys - members of a chirigota, or performance group - are asking Pepi why their codpieces don't fit (I could hazard a guess). A soberly dressed, bespectacled Cadiz mother, an outward picture of conventionality, disappears into a dressing-room and emerges in an Afro wig.

Ana finally gets Pepi's attention to solicit a progress report on her own Carnival costume: "This year she's going as Joan of Arc," he says. …

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