Tuesday, 8 May 2012

It's Carnivaaaaal - Part 1

Ah, the food fair. Which I think these days is technically called the cultural fair. But because we mainly go down to eat roti and drink local drinks, I still refer to it as the food fair. And it's one of my absolute favorite parts of St. Thomas Carnival.

Now for anyone reading this who is not of the 100,000 or so that live in the Virgin Islands, let me explain. Carnival is not in any way like the "fair" that used to show up once a year in the Conyers, Ga parking lot. You know, the one with the Joanne fabric and that old dollar theater and the discount grocery store whose name I can't remember. (Not that I'm being uppity. We occasionally shopped at that grocery store and saw those dollar movies as kids.) My parents never took us to the fair, but my friends would show up at school the next week talking about riding the rides and winning styrofoam stuffed dogs by shooting basketballs into miniature hoops. But St. Thomas Carnival is so much more. Thousands and thousands of dollars are designated to make Carnival insanely awesome every year. All the flights are full for weeks with people traveling home to attend it. So put that old parking lot fair out of your mind.

Which might lead you to believe that Carnival doesn't have a parking lot fair. Which is incorrect. There are Carnival rides and basketball games. In the Justice Center parking lot. But they're in the shadow of a Danish fort from the 1600s. Not a Pizza Hut. (The Pizza Hut is a seven minute walk down the waterfront.)

Along with the Carnival village (the legit name for the parking lot festivities) are all the events that happen during Carnival. For weeks before the village actually opens, there are pageants to pick queens, princesses, and princes. There are Calypso competitions. There are concerts. Seriously, every night for weeks there are events going late into the night. Carnival then culminates into one big week. Schools are out. At least 50% of the island stops going to work, which pretty much shuts down anyone else trying to accomplish anything professional. It's awesome. Unless you're one of those people that went in to work and then had to stay for a 13 hours shift because no one else showed. And smack dab in the middle of that event-fueled final week, food fair happens. On Wednesday. And you get to eat delicious island food until you stomach practically explodes. Moderation-shmoderation. There are things you may not get to eat again for another year. Just go for. Stuff your face with goat roti and a guava tart. And wash it all down with a local tamarind drink.

When you're done with pre-cooked stuff, go pick up a few things to take home. A lot of the local farmers put up tents and sell their local produce and homemade sauces. There's a lady here that we buy our local honey from but I couldn't find her. So we'll stretch our honey out to last a little bit longer until she shows up at the Yacht Haven farmers market or until we can make it out to the Rastafarian farmers market in Bordaeux.

The food fair is now called the cultural fair because it celebrates all sorts of St. Thomas traditional culture, not just food. We were around for little quadrille dancers, larger quadrille dancers, and steel pan music. The quadrille lady did not want her picture taken and kept scowling at me. But my theory is if you wear that get-up out for a public event, you don't have a choice. The hubcap player agreed with my theory so he grinned and totally hammed it up for my photos. Thanks for being a good sport hubcap dude. (Warning: if you choose to proceed beyond this point, the computer stopped allowing to edit my photos. This is raw footage, ladies and gentlemen. Prepare yourself for over exposed skies and blinding glare off the steel drums. If you can stomach it.)

And there you go. The food fair. Resulting in a belly full of animals I never would have eaten before moving to the islands and slightly ruptured eardrums. Because a hard and fast St. Thomas rule is it's not really a good time until you've slightly ruptured your eardrums, right? Right? What's that you're saying? I can't quite hear you. Just nod if you agree.

(Read Carnival Part 2 here.)

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