This is Fat Tuesday: Carnival. I went back through my files for stories about Carnival and came on this letter from Dubrovnik written in March 2000.
Polka, not samba, not calypso, not second line, not even “Carnival in Venice,” but polka. The carnival in Dubrovnik is about polka, punk polka, polka rock, Mexican polka and even traditional polka, played by a young band dressed in red Santa suits. People were dancing while drinking beer and eating popcorn in the old town streets of Dubrovnik.
We were in Dubrovnik for meetings and the timing was great. Throughout the final days of carnival we heard chants coming from school-houses and saw students in costume running in and out. After school groups, often in coordinated garb, wandered the streets singing off-key, more girls than boys, many in harem costume. One group was dressed as chefs, with high hats, white coats, and Jansport backpacks. New Orleans has its “Carnival Indians,” so does Dubrovnik, tap dancing. A group of older students, wearing blue surgical suits, rubber caps, gloves and white masks, squirted us with water from syringes, without needles. That was the good part.
The dark side of Carnival was a group of “Klansmen” in white hoods and sheets, carrying bats and dragging a kid in blackface in chains. What have these kids learned over the past 9 years of war in the Balkans?
Fortunately more commonly there were bands of hippies, with peace signs, tie dye and bell bottoms. As the evening wore on older people appeared. My favorite group of older people was a troupe of dancing Statues of Liberty.
There were a pair of nuns who looked so realistic that, at first, I couldn’t tell them from the real ones filing out of the Church, until Suzi said, “Look at the shoes.” Real nuns probably don’t wear platform heels. Then I noticed the flame red fingernails rapping on the bible and flipping the rosaries.
In front of the city clock the statue was adorned in a red and purple mask, he had a snake coiled around his sword. At Midnight the role of the carnival nuns became apparent. As the bells tolled the start of Lent the “Nuns” cut down the masks and snakes from the statue. Let the penance begin.