Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Party-Pooper Strikes Again

I hate Carnival here.

And I'm being neither a Puritain nor a snob. If people want to dress up and party, great. But there is something unspeakably tacky about Carnival in Cyprus.

Unlike Christmas, Carnival is a part of Cypriot culture: Easter is the biggest holiday of the Orthodox year, and a profoundly religious time for many people. Not only the elderly fast and attend church, and the processions and rituals involve the whole community. Stinky Thursday – when everyone eats souvla – is heartily observed, and Green Monday – the first day of Lent – is many people's favourite holiday. But the days between – Carnival, with frantic going-through-the-motions-of-parties-and-parades-because-that's-what-we're-supposed-to-do – send a shudder through me every year.

I sense the same attitude that I feel so often here: “It's for the kids, so it doesn't have to be quality. They'll never know the difference.” Like with the cheesy Christmas stuff and Agios Vassilis doling out presents at the schools, his slip-shod beard crooked, and trainers or Army boots showing under his sagging red suit. Even Milly is occasionally guilty of : “If something's just for the kids, it doesn't matter so much.”

Does my aversion stem from the tacky decorations? The roundabouts are full of cavorting harlequins and masks, some of which have blown awry in the recent storms and show their skeletons to all and sundry. The giant figure at the motorway terminus is almost obscene: is it a caricature of a black man, or just a poor portrayal, with outsize sunglasses and a silly striped hat? And what are his hands doing there by his ears as he leers at everyone arriving in town? Leo thought he looked funny, but I found him disturbing and very ugly.

Then there are the parties... for which everyone must have a costume. And such is the culture today that home-made costumes won't do at all. Years ago, when Alex was small, I made him a robot carnival costume out of tin foil and a large grocery box for a party with a few friends with children of the same age. A few years later we did Peter Pan for Alex and a pink fairy suit for Sophia – all hand-made, cheap, cheerful... and individual. But such attributes no longer acceptable.

Costumes have been on sale for the last month at supermarkets and specialty shops. Made in China, they must cost pennies per outfit – but the cheapest one for children is 30 Euros. And everyone must have one. How else can they keep up with the neighbours? Sophia insisted on a fairy outfit that she spent 48 Euros of her own money on, and plans to wear it to watch the parade through town on Saturday, despite the promise of more rain and temperatures in the low teens.

Zenon wants to be a ninja and Leo, a pirate. “Right. That's easy,” I thought, remembering that I had someone else's hand-me-down ninja suit in a cupboard and Zenon's old pirate trousers that, with a home made skull and crossbones hat and cutlass from Leo's pirate book, a t-shirt and a waistcoat from somewhere else would make a pirate outfit. But when I went to look, neither the ninja trousers nor the pirate ones were where they had been, and none of the second-hand shops had anything that would do. I caved in and bought two suits, feeling like Scrooge, and yet glad that I could make them happy: I seem to say 'No!' so often these days.

I feel cynical because I went to a public 'do' when Sophia was small, and it was a public bun-fight. Keo (one of the local breweries) was dispensing free beer and prizes (I never determined for what), and there were a couple of trays of greasy offerings. Once the beer had been drunk and the pastries scoffed, the DJ from the local radio station gave out the prizes and everyone evaporated. I couldn't see the point – and it wasn't just my lack of Greek.

The last time I took children to a school Carnival party was about eight years ago in Konia Elementary, and I swore that it would be the last time. The community hall became Bedlam. Children of all shapes and sizes in all manner of outfits – at least three each Superman, Spiderman, and Batman, as well as ninjas, pirates, clowns, princesses, fairies, and zombies – among others – took the place apart, tossing plastic chairs around, leaping from tables. A few parents cowered in a corner, sipping coffee or soft drinks from plastic cups and nibbling bakery cheese pies. “If your children want to do Carnival from now on,” I told Best Beloved when we got home. “You take them. It's up to the Cypriot Department, not me!” He returned the following year with: “I don't see what the problem is, Manamou. They're just children – a bit high-spirited!”

So I cringed inwardly when: “The party! The school party!” Zenon and Leo crowed, on coming home yesterday. “It's at six-thirty tomorrow evening!” Six-thirty is after Kay's hours, and with Best Beloved in Nicosia, I would have the honour of escorting them. If not, they would be the only ones to miss out, and in a school of thirty pupils, where they stick out already as the only half-breeds, I don't want to let them down. Then I saw the invitation, and hope flared: I double checked my translation with Phil, and he agreed that the 6.30 party at Athena Taverna was for the Parent Teacher Association: “But if you want to take children, no one will say anything.” I'm hoping that the children's party will be on Friday, when Best Beloved is home.

A reprieve. For now. And Kay has promised to take the children to the parade on Saturday afternoon because she always goes. I saw the floats a few weeks ago, dumped in the waste ground near the refugee housing at Moutallos. The same ones that are used year in, year out, they were piled up, higgledy-piggledy, getting the worst of the weather but due to be pressed into service yet again. But it doesn't matter if they list a little, or appear shabby because, “after all, Carnival's only for the children, and they'll never notice!”

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