When report cards were sent out from our children’s school, there was always a comments section which Clint and I read with great attention. As I remember it, my brother’s always said something about how he talked too much to his neighbors when he should have been listening. Mine typically called me serious, hard-working, or dedicated. Such charming phrases for a little kid, but what are you gonna do? As my children went through the first three and four years of elementary school, their report cards tended to mention how bright or pleasant they were. One teacher who had each of my girls in her classroom once told us that, in their respective classes, my girls were by far her most innocent students. Hmmmm…..I’m thinking I’ve fixed that one for good.
Carnival in the Caribbean is legendary and each island puts its own twist on the festivities. Trinidad is renowned for its drumming, the Barbados Crop Over festival is known as the most colorful, and the Bahamas Junkanoo claims the best band performances.
The Carnaval in Martinique began in the 18th century, introduced to the island at St. Pierre by the French Catholics. While I know there still are many good Catholics on the island, I don’t believe they were wearing the uniform during this year’s carnival! I am sure that participating in another year of carnival would give me more perspective, but I think once and done is good for me, so we’ll just have to go with first impressions.
There are five days of carnival in Martinique. The first day is Shrove Saturday which kicks off the party with the Parade of the Queens. No, San Francisco, these are not your kind of queens, but those ARE to come. These are the carnival queens elected by each town from around Martinique. They parade through the street in their glorious dresses, some so heavy they must be supported on rolling carts while the wearer strolls down the street giving the royal wave to the crowds.
The real fun begins the next morning at about 4:30 am when the JouOuvé happens. This is the big pajama parade. Sorry, folks, no photos of this one. The idea of getting up, getting dressed, lowering the dinghy from the boat and driving into town in order to watch people in pajamas shuffle through the city streets just didn’t do it for me. But we heard this one. Oh, yes, we heard it. And we felt our boat vibrate as the motorcycles and cars specially tuned for backfiring let loose with their eruptions. (This particular form of fun, by the way, goes on each night throughout Carnaval.)
Each day of Carnaval has a theme. Sunday is the general parade with bands and masks and big colorful costumes. Monday is the kids parade followed by Le BidimZépouzay where “all fantasies are permitted.”
It was this little happening which gave my children pause and created some funny looks between them. This is the “comic weddings and traditional characters” parade when men and women change wedding clothing with each other and parade arm in arm through the streets. Every sort of wedding clothing, including that of the boudoir, are on display. I’ve not seen so many male bodies sporting g-strings and push-ups in, uh, ever.
There was a large amount of internal conflict of religious dogma versus Freudian Id demonstrated. Pregnant brides were a popular entry in the parade, but their somewhat surprising public display was overshadowed by the pregnant nun following close on their heels. It was a small but fascinating insight into the social and religious battles that must occur, typically below the surface, on this small Caribbean island. But the questions it raised for my children brought about interesting family discussions. The girls wanted to know why so many women who clearly weren’t pregnant were pretending to be so; and why were the tourists more interested in having their pictures taken with these women than the others in the parade?
But it was the break-away parade, the unsanctioned one, which really caught the kids’ attention, and ours, to be honest. The main bay front street in Fort-de-France splits into two major sections. One of these was the approved, condoned, sanctioned, city-organized route for the approved parade entrants. The other created a void begging to be filled, and those of the differently-laced clans were happy to oblige. This non-traditional parade group started small. It was led by an island man proudly toting an enormous black, um, silicone phallus (to be blog-pc-correct?) and with every other step he shoved it skyward, shouting, “Ya!” Behind him came the multi-colored, completely disorganized band with homemade instruments and absolutely no defined key for their song. But they were beautiful, happy, and flying their flags proudly. With each circle of the parade route this group gained followers. Cheers from onlookers became more robust and the group’s numbers swelled. I wondered it they hadn’t picked up a few converts from the traditional parade groups. Even our kids joined the fray for a while just to know what it felt like to be in that current.
Early in the group’s time on the street, we all noted a single parader of interest. In their midst was a person who had the unique quality of being fully covered by their costume, but the costume itself raised more eyebrows than all the skin showing on the other participants. Enter The Banana Man.
“Mom, why does that banana have another banana sticking off his belly?” “Mom, why is that banana holding his second banana?” “Mom, why is that banana rubbing his smaller banana so much?” You see where this is going. After several times of watching the black, jiggly dildo and the yellow, stroking banana walk by, the girls seemed to come to an understanding that they were watching something in Fort-de-France that otherwise they might not see until much later in life, if, indeed, ever. Their eyes went from questioning to young kid knowing. And with that, I suspect their teacher’s assessment of their innocence was never to be repeated.
But I would repeat this exposure a hundred times if it meant watching even once more the joy my children have experienced so many times along this crazy life turn we’ve taken.
The girls squeal when they swing off the boat into the water, they giggle when their friends tip the kayak, and they sing when they stroll along the beach. The banana man is gone but not forgotten. With the good comes the weird and eye-opening, and it is for each and every one of those influences and life experiences that we have left land and dragged our children along. We could have stayed on land. We could have continued with traditional school and schedules and typical vacations, but we’ve gone this other route. And we’re so glad we have, Banana Man and all!