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Singing in the Rain

OK, I’m afraid it’s inevitable, with the skies as they are today. How can I not talk about the grim weather we´re having? Especially since my family just called me from England to say how beautiful and sunny it is there, and how my parents and my brother’s family, visiting for half-term, are all going out for a walk later. Jealous? Moi? Last month figures were published on the damage caused to Andalucian agriculture by the extraordinary amount of rain which fell here last December and January. A staggering 930 million euro in produce was lost, of which Almeria province came off worst, with nearly 400 million euro – that’s a lot of rotten tomatoes and ripped plastic. But there were also huge quantities of damaged olives all around Andalucia; potatoes in Seville suffered, as did onions in Granada and carrots and parsnips in Cadiz. Almost half the strawberries and raspberries in Huelva were lost. Whether under cover, on trees or even under the ground, nothing escaped the torrential downpours. Add to this the extensive damage to infrastructure, such as roads washed away, floods and landslides, walls collapsed, irrigation systems disabled, power pumps destroyed, and greenhouses damaged, and you get an idea of just how disastrous those endless weeks of precipitation were for our economy. Which was already mired in the ‘Crisis’. So this is, I feel, an ideal time for some light-hearted distraction. Some all-singing, all-dancing, fancy-dress fun. Yes, it’s Carnaval (that’s how they spell it here) time in Cadiz. The weather may be vile, the forecast for the entire week may be rain, rain, rain, but will that stop the Gaditanos and millions of visitors to the biggest shindig in Europe from enjoying themselves? Somehow I doubt it. The amount of preparation that goes into the chirigotas (satirical singing groups) that compete in the Teatro Falla in the weeks leading up to the street party itself, is amazing – the detail in the costumes, the make-up, the music, the lyrics. One of my favourites, which was pipped into second place in Saturday night's final by just one point, was ´El Escuadron de los Jartibles´ (the Squadron of the Drive-You-Mads). I didn’t understand many of the words (friends who’ve been here for nearly 20 years still don’t), but the sight of middle-aged men dressed in underpants, tights, boots and black helmets with mosquito antenna and proboscis, wiggling their bums and stomping about, was more than enough to keep me entertained. And they were loving every minute of it, especially the fat guy. Can you imagine a load of middle-aged British blokes doing that? No, neither can I. Other groups extracted the Michael from taxi drivers (wearing seats complete with beaded mats strapped to their backs), lawyers and Arabs (political correctness is not on the agenda here). While I confess to understanding very few of the lyrics, the content is always topical, and I do know that Ronaldo’s elbowing incident in the Madrid-Malaga game last month featured in several suitably irreverent cuplés. I can’t help worrying how their make-up will cope now that the indoor competition is over, and the chirigotas will be out and about in the streets of rain-swept Cadiz. But, being Spanish, they probably won’t let it bother them, and will have a good time regardless. Bars where a squadron of 50-something thirsty insects will be welcomed to shelter from the downpours will not be hard to find. Of course these costumes have nothing on those massive sparkly headdress-and-bikini numbers sported by participants in the Rio carnival, this year even more fired up due to their recent winning of the battle to host the 2016 Olympic games. But even so, the sight of men in make-up was enough to me think about dressing up. Personally, I find it a bit of a pain in the backside. If someone presents me with a costume, accessories and wig all prepared and coordinated, I will happily wear it. But sewing, sticking, organizing, looking for props in Chinese shops? Sorry, can’t be bothered. I have a friend who thinks nothing of buying metres of velvet with which to turn herself, her partner and her four-year-old daughter into a medieval family, or pirates or whatever. She does a brilliant job – because she loves it. Her other half is the sort of willing and enthusiastic star who builds the carnival floats every year for his village procession. Together, they have a treasure-trove of every outfit you could think of. My admiration for them is boundless. I think you either love all that crafty, DIY stuff, or you don´t, and I fall into the latter category. For those of you who will be dressing up for Carnaval in your town or city this weekend, ignore the weather and have a great time. I take my hat off to you.
Blog published on 15 February 2010