Last weekend we had a chill weekend planned of hanging out and writing. But when a friend of ours told us the Carnival parade happening on Sunday, we couldn’t pass up the chance to check out what Carnival in Madrid was like!
Carnival, or Carnaval in Spanish, is a Catholic celebration that takes place every year in the time leading up to Lent. The most famous and largest Carnival celebrations are in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Barranquilla, Colombia; Venice, Italy, and London, England.
In Madrid, the main events and the Carnival parade take place in a different neighborhood each year. The San Blas neighborhood, northeast of the city center, hosted this year’s event. San Blas, which I’ve seen compared to the Bronx, was in the past one of the worst neighborhoods of Madrid, with high drug usage and one of the highest percentages of juvenile delinquency in all of Spain. These days, the working class neighborhood has left its drug days behind, though unemployment rates are still some of the highest in the city. Ironic that one of the major parks here is called Parque el Paraíso (Paradise Park).
When standing at the fountain in Paradise Park, we struck up a conversation with a woman calling for her dogs nearby. She expressed concern for the park’s cleanliness, complaining that no one picked up their dogs’ poo. It truly is a citywide epidemic and we couldn’t agree more. She also told us that her dog was tubby because he was neutered – can anyone confirm or refute?
We abandoned the park in search of a terraza on which to indulge in a caña (baby beer – perfect for hot Spanish summers) and wait for the parade to arrive. We meandered around the streets, noticing the blocks that almost seemed like Soviet-era housing.
We finally found the most local of local bars on one of the blocks and enjoyed some beers with a tapa of fresh potato chips in the sunshine. Shortly after, we heard the sounds of drums as the parade got closer. The bar owner and other patrons came out watch, questioning the spectacle going by. “Is it an octopus? I have no idea what that is.”One of them rasped, squinting towards a large, red, blobbular thing.
Eager to get a better view, we finished off our beers and circled around back to the park, where the parade would end.
As at any respectable Carnival, there were colorful dresses and dancing:
People in costumes and on stilts:
Some seriously incredible costumes:
And of course plenty of music:
As we learned after attending the Chinese New Year parade in Madrid’s Chinatown, Madrid has a large Latin American and especially Bolivian population, so it was no surprise to see quite a few Bolivian contingents here.
Ok…actually, maybe half the parade was Bolivian:
And your friendly neighborhood activists:
Of course, my curiosity had to be satiated, so I looked up what was going on here. The pig man with the FMI sign refers to the Fondo Monetario Internacional, or International Monetary Fund. Just last month, the IMF released a report on what Spain should do to repay its debts and reduce unemployment rates, so I’m assuming that’s what Mr. Piggy Man is taking issue with.
The People in Black’s signs read: “Right to Housing for All” and “Dead without Rights but with Dignity,” so I’m assuming they are part of an organization for the homeless.
And what Carnival parade would be complete without some unexplained strangeness:
Carnival in Madrid was a little more understated than Rio perhaps, but fun nonetheless. People often do not think of Madrid as a multicultural city, but recently, I’ve been reminded more and more that there is a large international community living and celebrating their distinct cultures here.
Did you celebrate Carnival this year – or would you like to? Who else is a fan of parades? For more articles on Madrid’s culture, head to our Madrid page!