BitDepth 513 - February 28

Carnival's impermanence is its magic and its curse...
Is Carnival!

A Carnival that began on the streets needn't always remain there. When masqueraders must line up single file as if they were facing a sobriety test and then perform in a crude arena in the middle of a street as they did on Wednesday, we do not honour Carnival's history; we dismiss it. Photo by Mark Lyndersay

As I write this, the Canals are attracting crowds at their annual Carnival show at the Little Carib, Machel managed to successfully rival Brass Festival with his own star-studded Alternative Concept, and fete after fete has rolled through the town, leaving in their wake dazed revellers and annoyed residents.
It might be just me, but I keep getting the feeling that Carnival doesn't quite fit in Port of Spain any more. From early today, cast and audience will be jostling their vehicles to find a space within walking distance of their destination, whether it be a space to rest a cooler or to the meeting point where they turn up the heat.

And then there's the crew, the massive music trucks driving the beat, the pan racks on trailers fighting to keep steel in its place against an overwhelming wave of virtualized brass.
There's a lot of emotion invested in the asphalt of Port of Spain, more than a century of tramping feet moved by the music of the road march has left us with generations for whom Carnival Tuesday is that eternal route along Ariapita Avenue, into downtown, up to the Savannah and out into the streets.
From next year, the Government promises, all that is going to change. The Savannah venue, the nexus of masquerader enthusiasm, road march hopes and media coverage, will be no more and a new, still to be announced structure will take its place.

I've been covering Carnival for decades now, and I have to confess that I feel no loss. For much of the last ten years, the Grand Stand in the Savannah has served as a jerry-rigged location for an event that we once claimed was the greatest show on Earth.
Clearly, nobody thought that the greatest show deserved a halfway decent stage. The space we did use at the Savannah was by turns too large and too small for the shows we convened there.

Poison could fill it for hours with a seemingly unending flow of sparkling glitter and gyrating hips, but calypsonians and soca singers had to sprint across the length and breadth of a space that must have made them feel like they were on an airport's landing strip, signalling for attention for their music.
We have a chance to really rethink the way we stage Carnival with the creation of a new structure, and it needs to be about more than building a new version of two stands with a road passing between them. That's been done and it can be done better.

Over Christmas, I spend a few briskly cool days in Orlando at Universal Studios, riding the rides and checking out the scenery. Universal is actually two parks, one taking its themes from fantasy and comics media and the other from the movies.
What was striking about the space is how much was made out of so very little. It takes a lot more than plastic mouldings and clever engineering to impress me, but the whole experience was seductively immersive. You couldn't walk the equivalent of a city block without finding yourself in yet another environment, a carefully crafted fake designed to entice you into forgetting the details and engaging the moment.

Whether it was the over-the-top theatrics of the Mummy ride or the orchestrated production of a trip into the terror of Jaws, the truly remarkable thing was that each experience was less than five minutes long, served long lines of customers and was repeated (ad nauseam for the workers I'm sure) hundreds of times a week.
A ride takes years to build and is designed to last for the duration of its popularity. By contrast, we invest months in a production that has come to revel in its utter disposability.
The road from ornate sailor mas to slivers of bead encrusted costuming was guided by the compass of the dustbin. Why invest art in creating something that's discarded on Ash Wednesday? Or even along the road on Tuesday?

So those with the means invest in a temporary experience, with rolling toilets and bars and guards to police the space.
I think we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to try to recreate the Carnival experience for the 21st century, to design a space that honours the pivotal role that creativity plays in the Trini lifestyle and elevates Carnival to its rightful place.
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