September 15, 2013
The Entrada (see previous entry) coincides with Yom Kippur this year, which matters to nobody except me (the Messianic Jews here don’t observe Yom Kippur much). Luckily (for me) it begins earlier—at about two o’clock Friday afternoon—and ends later—after midnight Saturday.
One hundred and thirteen dance troupes from all over the region—even as far as Oruro—participate. At about a hundred dancers and musicians per troupe, that’s over ten thousand costumed revellers. They follow a two-mile route, mostly uphill, extremely slowly—it takes them well over three hours to reach the plaza. In front of the cathedral, they kneel and pay homage to the Virgen de Guadalupe, an image painted in 1601 and elaborately decorated with pearls and gemstones. Each troupe is introduced by tiny costumed children, sometimes having mastered the dance steps of their elders; the musicians usually follow two large groups of dancers, with a third group behind them. The huge variety of troupes can be roughly classified into five categories:
- the Tinkuy troupes wear outlandish multicolored costumes based on a Potosí tradition, the men with feathered helmets, cushions over their buttocks, and thick sandals; at times they swing their entire bodies back and forth and around as if in a roller derby; the marching bands play highly rythmic repetitive riffs, the drummers dancing as they play
- the Caporales wear glittery gold-lamé outfits with huge
shoulders and bells on their boots; the women wear high-heeled boots with tiny
skirts so that when they twirl you can see their panties; the marching bands
wear suits and ties
- the Morenadas do the least dancing, just swaying from step to step, gracefully waving their hands or twirling noisemakers; the older women wear layers of ruffled skirts, lace shawls, and bowler hats, the younger women wear sequined corsets, tutu skirts, and thigh-high four-inch-heel platform boots, and the men wear suits, ties, and hats
- the Chaqueño women wear floor-length full skirts that allow them to raise the hems over their heads as they twirl so that they look like spinning flowers; the men wear bandanas, cowboy hats, leather chaps, balloon-like pants tucked into black-leather pleated knee boots, and have lassoes dangling from their waists; they dance a wide variety of formal but intricate and energetic Flamenco-like dances, mostly to music pumped at high volume from massive speakers mounted on trucks, but sometimes to a four-to-seven-piece acoustic band amplified and sitting in a truck, including at least one fiddler, one guitarist, and one drummer
- the other category, which isn’t much of one, is “Variado,” which can include Afro-Bolivianos—their hair in cornrows, the drummers running through the dancers, some wearing intense bearded blackface masks with bulging eyes and teeth and lower lips (shades of black minstrelsy!), and the male dancers carrying whips to signify that they’ve overcome slavery; Diabolos—dressed as various kinds of devils, including wild men with long white beards and tiny skulls embedded in their fur, hunched-over witch doctors, yetis, bats, wolves, and other insanely masked creatures; and a wide variety of folkloric troupes from around the country, with bands playing panpipes or long wooden flutes and drums.
We watch the first troupes Friday afternoon, Jacky and I going all the way down to the Parque, then back up to the Plaza to meet Karen and Thalia (who takes videos and a few photographs). The streets are packed with spectators and vendors; bleachers have been erected all along the parade route, and squares on the sidewalks are numbered in chalk; people pay to put their chairs there. Many of the early troupes are made up of youth or campesinos in their folk costumes with their homemade instruments. I go indoors and make a hearty pre-fast dinner; after dinner, I play some ancient recordings of the Kol Nidre on my computer, and then pray for over an hour, using an old public domain mahzor on my e-reader, before going back outside to watch the parades until close to midnight.
Saturday morning I pray for three or four hours, then after noon we go see the parades with Zannah and Carlos. Carlos’s older brother Edgar is in one of the Charqueño troupes, and dances beautifully; we hang out with him and the oldest brother, Daniel, afterwards. These three young men are some of the handsomest in Sucre. Carlos has an infectious smile and loves to play with Jacky; he always wears a hood to keep his long hair out of his face. Edgar has sharply chiseled features, a soft voice, a strong Quechua accent, and, out of shyness, often keeps his hands near his mouth when speaking; it’s hard to understand him. He teaches music to children about four hours away but spends his weekends in Sucre. Daniel just returned from a few months in Argentina, and he’s clearly the most intellectual of the three. We stayed with their parents in Candelaria a few weeks ago, so this is one Bolivian family we are getting to know very well. We go to the Joy Ride Café, the main tourist hangout, because they have a two-for-one postre special, but this was our first time: we know from ex-workers how badly they treat their staff, and the desserts were mediocre. The sun had gone down so Thalia and I broke our fasts there; I then had a tucumana (a deep-fried empanada with chicken, veggies, and beef inside) and a papa relleno (a deep-fried mashed-potato empanada with a hard-boiled egg inside) on the street.
The contrast between the fasting, praying, and penitential aspect of Yom Kippur and the festivities on the streets was a bit much. It is so much easier to be joyous than sorry, so much easier to be with people than alone. I was tempted and gave in. Perhaps the Lord will understand.