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Carnival in Andalusia, etc.



Having found in Bakhtin and Gilmore a theoretical justification for carnival (Spanish "carnaval"), John Heelan went to do some field work in Andalusia: "I was in Andalucia during 'carnaval' a month ago and observed (and gladly participated in) the revelries with Bakhtin and Gilmore in mind. All the elements described by Gilmore were present: strolling groups of chirigotas singing their satirical and often obscene) ditties (greatly appreciated by the passers-by); comic transvestites, (predominantly male to caricature female) humorously propositioning male onlookers; controlled violence (verbal abuse couched in humorous terms), which is supposed to be laughed off by the victim as "just a carnival thing". (To give offence is the purpose of carnival; but to take offence is taboo).

The festivities concluded at midnight on Sunday with the traditional 6-hour procession through town culminating in the "Burial of the Sardine" on the beach; a throwback to a maritime version of pagan fertility cults. Great fun, far better than the more po-faced Anglo-Saxon fertility festivities in the UK". John and I have different tastes. I share Pardo-Bazán's feelings toward Andalusia, whose poverty John's account helps us to understand. As a denizen of the UK. John pays taxes which contribute to the EU fund destined to lift Andalusia from its poverty. I hope John enjoys paying those taxes. Cameron Sawyer quoted Omar Khayyam's famous praise of a jug of wine (Persia was more fun in those days). John Trumps him in historical peespective: "Perhaps we should endorse the advice given by Khayyam's predecessor by some 300 years, Abu Nuwas, in the following "Four Things"; (I think it is the Gertrude Bell translation): Four things there be that life impart
To soul, to body and to heart-
A running stream, a flowered glade,
A jar of wine, a lovely maid.

[From the Introduction of 'Fifty Poems of Hafiz" (1993) Arthur J. PersianArberry]

John, be careful with your words. Is "lovely" the correct translation of the original Arabic? Abu Nuwas had a Persian mother, but he lived in Arab countries and wrote in Arabic. Moreover, "lovely" in English can have several meanings. The danger is that the maid would bore me stiff. I prefer Omar Khayyam's jug to Abu Nuwas jar, provided the wine is red. Both these poets were Muslims, who are supposed to wait for paradise to enjoy wine. In theory Islam leaves the decision up to individuals, although Saudi Arabia does not respect that tolerance. In any case, we are grateful to John for making us think about ancient Persia. We scold Iran every day (the latest example being the otherwise excellent report to Congress by CIA Director George Tenet), without showing any respect for the country's ancient culture, about which Tenet and Co. probably know little. If we paid tribute to that culture, it would cost us nothing and would be excellent US international public relations, now in the hands of a Madison Avenue advertising executive, about whose knowledge of ancient Persian culture I have no information.

Ronald Hilton - 3/19/02


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