Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Cuba St Carnival, (c) Steve Thompson, from http://www.cubacarnival.org.nz/gallery/22.htmlIt's going to be huge, of course. This weekend's Cuba St Carnival is set to be the biggest yet, with some unmissable acts on the Main Stage and even the Courtenay Place bars getting in on the act. The open-ended consent means that its future is secure, and you can get there by bus for only $1 (assuming that there are any drivers available). Some of us are getting very excited indeed about the weekend, and with luck even the weather might come to the party.

But how much is it really in the spirit of "carnival"? After all, the carnival tradition has a much more anarchic, subversive and almost dangerous flavour, and it should be a time when inhibitions are discarded and social hierarchies are turned on their heads. There will no doubt be some of that, but I wonder whether any political floats will make it to this year's illuminated night parade? This particular carnival has its origins in the Upper Cuba St Carnival, which was not just about having a good time but was "a community celebration with a strong spirit of resistance to the inner city 'bypass' and other attacks on the community". As some have said, "A 'non-political carnival' is no carnival at all".

Cuba St Carnival 2007 - mapThere will no doubt be some uninhibited drunken revelry, though if last night's Orientation toga parties around upper Willis St are anything to go by, some people don't need a carnival as an excuse for that. There will be some lavishly skimpy outfits and quasi-nudity on the floats, but it'll be fairly tame compared to a proper carnival (warning: link contents not entirely SFW). But there's one way in which established hierarchies will indeed be overthrown: as the long list of road closures shows, King Car will be dethroned for a few hours, and the streets returned to the people as a site for community enjoyment. Make the most of this short time, enjoy the sight of Courtenay Place and Swan Lane full of people rather than cars, and perhaps wonder whether we could ever make that a permanent change.

Right, that all seemed dourly political, but I know it's going to be a hell of a weekend. I love the fact that it's become a catalyst and focal point for all sorts of other parties and events, such as the Notting Hill-inspired soundclash at Thistle Hall, Trash at Good Luck (a fundraiser for Clinton Smiley) and of course the "unofficial" after-party that will take over Edward St for some late-late mayhem. So: eat, drink, take photos, stay up late, be merry, dress up, dance like a bitch and enjoy a car-free slice of Te Aro for a few hours.


At 8:24 pm, February 22, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fondly recall participating in the carnival parade a few years back on the wings of the bypass monster which, despite having been banned by carnival organisers and the power behind the throne (i.e WCC), thrust its way into the parade after lurking in an alley off Ghuznee St. It was great seeing it charge into the throng, only to come up against carnival musterers intent on sending it back into the gutter. There was a bit of a clash and some tense words were exchanged, but the encounter was quite exhilarating really. Still makes me laugh. I can't remember if the monster made it to the end of the parade, I think it made a brief yet dazzling appearance before high-tailing it out of Cuba St before the coppers arrived. Will we ever see its like again.... (other than the real thing that is - what a monster that's turning out to be!)

At 8:22 am, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I strongly suspect that most of the people attending the carnival this year do not see it as even remotely political, and wouldn't attend it if they did. I certainly wouldn't, even if I agreed with the politics. Any deliberate attempt to make the carnival political when it isn't sounds to me like a subversion of the whole "anarchic" theme. Let people find what they want in it, and if they don't care about political messages, that's their business. The carnival is what it is - saying that it should be something else defeats the point.

At 9:12 am, February 23, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"Any deliberate attempt to make the carnival political when it isn't sounds to me like a subversion of the whole "anarchic" theme."

But my whole point is that the Cuba St Carnival started as an explicitly political event, and it was the council's explicit decision to remove any political content (by trying to ban Kerryn's "bypass monster" among other things) that changed it.

The point is not that the entire carnival should be a political protest, or that it should be a parade of party political slogans: everything is political because it reflects values and beliefs, and any attempt to define something as apolitical is itself a political act. In effect, that says "the status quo is good and natural, and it shouldn't be questioned or mocked because that would be political." But the carnival tradition is most definitely not about celebrating the status quo, but about inverting it and mocking those in authority. Without that, it loses its edge and becomes merely a bunch of bands and some stiltwalkers.

A carnival without politics (if anything can be without politics) wouldn't really be a carnival any more: just a council-sponsored street party. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, and as you say, a lot of people prefer that. But it's missing a crucial aspect of the historcal definition of "carnival" and of the origins of the Cuba St carnival itself.

At 9:19 am, February 23, 2007, Blogger Hadyn said...

I remember my first Cuba Carnival.

We were watching Fat Freddies Drop playing in the carpark between Fidel's and the fish market during the parade. Fan-freakin-tastic!

My friends wanted to leave to go "find a bar". Idiots. I let them go.

Kerryn: I remember seeing a float that was a giant bulldozer being "driven" by an evil bureaucrat was that your monster?

At 9:58 am, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hayden: no, the bulldozer was in the parade in the carnival prior to the last one (2005) which the bypass monster was in. Maybe that was 2003, 2004, can't remember off hand. The bulldozer was fully sanctioned by carnival organisers and I reckon it was really well-received by the punters - it got heaps of applause, particularly when it entered Cuba St from Ghuznee. For me, the response really validated the cause. I think WCC had much less oversight than it does now, which probably explains why we were allowed to enter the dozer.
The monster was a chinese dragon type thing. We did have a 'legal' float in the parade, but the monster was banned. As I said last night it made an appearance anyway! I don't think we were too popular after that...

At 12:53 pm, February 23, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

saw some toga-party-ers last night after leaving mighty-mighty.

they were bowling along singing 'scar tissue' by the red hot chilli peppers.

my favourite like?

"roberta shares this lonely view, and, roberta shares this lonely view"


At 2:59 am, February 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rather conveniently, two major fun events just had to clash schedules. I went to Video Games Live @ TSB Arena, but had to leave halfway thru so I wouldn't miss the Cuba Parade.

Better still, my camera chose the perfect moment for a battery coronary - halfway during the Parade. Fully charged for the day as well. Panasonic digicams seem to eat batteries faster than Pacman eats his dots.


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