bells and whistles

Kalimera from Crete,

Carnevale in Greece? There’s a strong recommendation to pay a visit to Rethymno for “the second largest Carnevale in Greece”. There’s a feeling of impending festivity in Heraklion but the action is said to be in Rethymno. It’s difficult to know what to expect but that’s just the appeal on this occasion. There are lots of masks about – on people’s faces and in the shop windows. Lots are dressed in costume.

Rethymno is a town of about 30 000 described by Greek tourism brochures as being “relatively untouched by international tourists”. It’s the day of the Carnevale but the streets take a long time to fill with expectant partygoers. It seems the 2 pm parade is the event, and the event is the parade at 2. The crowd builds under a threatening sky but no-one is perturbed. Gusty winds cause havoc at times but no-one is worried. The genuine air of expectation helps the privileged visitor to join in the feeling.

When the parade is underway, the scale of the event soon surpasses any of my ignorant expectation. The paraders are in groups and each group is themed on characters from nursery rhymes, pop culture or literature, some of which I’m shamefully unacquainted (I think it was Felix the Cat). Each of the individual marchers precede a float with larger-than-life images. These are all sturdy and engaging figures. There are scores of Mad Hatters (all enjoying the costume’s pretense of anonymity), hundreds of Felix the Cats (ditto) and several hundred Pink Panthers (ditto). All of the thousands of people walking/dancing/parading/gyrating appear to be enjoying the experience immensely. There’s an accompanying raucous cacophony of overlapping beat music, bells, whistles and various styles of applause and acclaim from the six- and seven-deep crowd at the roadside.

Most of the paraders are lipsynching the songs, including Boney M, the Gipsy Kings and Shocking Blue. How they know these lyrics is a minor mystery. The incongruity of these pop culture images in Crete is not a cause for anyone’s concern, rest assured. It’s all wholesome fun and healthy communion.

At the end of the route, the participants immediately drop the persona, revert to a normal gait, and go their separate ways attending to their quotidian duties. It’s a sudden stop. It’s been a performance. Membership of the group – and the costume – has afforded them a freedom akin to a hypnotic spell. The gyration is allowed when they don the costume and join the group. They are effectively donning a mask by doing so.

And everyone straight away starts preparing for next year.

Yasu from Crete


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