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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday: Burial of the Sardine

Parade of 'widows' in Santa Cruz. Photo WebTenerife
Anything you heard about Carnaval in Tenerife, so far, that you thought was maybe surreal, a bit OTT, downright rude, utterly crazy ... will be rendered tame today, Ash Wednesday. Lent ("Christian Ramadan") begins and, there's a "funeral" taking place, the Entierro de la Sardina to lament the death of the fiestas. The significance of the sardine - so I'm told - is that it represents the return from the anarchy and craziness of carnaval, back to the everyday order and, presumably, everyday food, like sardines.

Then again, it might be all to do with a side of pork and some smelly fish in Madrid, as Linda Wainright discovered in response to her question about the event's origins: Why would a bunch of perfectly straight, often macho, guys dress up in fishnets, high heels and widow’s weeds, and parade themselves through town, bewailing (and take the “wailing” part of that literally!) the “death” of a giant, papier mache fish?

Whatever the reasons, apart from the final weekend to come, referred to as the piñata, carnaval is beginning to end, officially, in Santa Cruz for another year.

Even the fish is tarted up with make up and red lips!
Although the event is called a burial (entierro means putting in the earth, literally), it would be more properly called a cremation, but that seems like an unnecessary and pedantic distinction, given the circumstances. After the funeral procession (and mucho alcohol had been consumed), the effigy of the unfortunate fish is symbolically burned.

One year, also symbolically, somewhat Guy Fawkes stylee, an effigy of the lawyer who represented the Neighbours' Association in their complaint about the noise of Carnaval was also cremated. OK, so maybe 155 dB - louder than a jet engine roaring 100 feet from your ears - was a bit much for midnight, but their protests fell - pretty literally, I suppose - on deaf ears. Nobody was going to be allowed to do away with more than 200 years of the "institution" of carnaval in the streets of Tenerife's capital.

A couple of widows at Santa Cruz' Burial of the Sardine in 2007.
Photo: kasia kazmierska
Still, the best description of this whole surreal and blasphemous closing parade is Julie Burchill's article, Carnaval Queen, in the Guardian. She asks, "Can we imagine a family night out solely about witnessing displays of blasphemy and hardcore porn?"

The sardine's "widows" are mostly blokes in drag, dressed as tarts (they're going on the game now their "husband" is dead and they have no other means of support) wailing inconsolably at their loss. Others dress as popes, priests, pregnant nuns, "many of them carrying huge dildos with which they blessed the crowd", says Burchill. She continues: "On the night the sardine is laid to rest, you realise how irretrievably the Catholic church's backing of Fascism during the second world war has damaged its reputation in its heartland. I knew that the Catholic countries of southern Europe now boast the lowest birth-rates in the world, but I never realised how complete their contempt for their religion is until I saw the burial."

La Laguna Ahora published an article which explains that during the "Fiestas de Invierno" (Winter Festival) - the name that carnaval had to go under during Franco's dictatorship - they used to have to mess with the calendar to make sure that the sardine - which, of course, was "prohibited" anyway - didn't coincide with Ash Wednesday. Once liberties were regained, the event was restored with enthusiasm. They have wonderful old sepia photos of the epoch.

The official site lists the event as running from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., starting from the Plaza de la Paz and ending in the Plaza de Europa. As with everything else, there will be fireworks to finish, just before the all-night revelries start.

More images of the Entierro de la Sardina at Carnaval 2007

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