Another jewel from the desk of our friend Tito Johnson recalls the golden days of Carnaval, especially the celebration in the City of Colon, which I recall with nostalgia and haven´t seen replicated even in Panama City, although the Carnavals in our capitol city were Real Carnaval until the mid 1950´s. By the late 1950´s I would say that Panama´s Carnaval started going downhill by cultural standards. I hope you enjoy this memory as much as I did.
Donde me voy; Se puede gozar…
by Aubrey “Tito” Johnson
After January 6th; Día de Los Reyes, the closer we got to February the more excited we became. That’s because every week night the comparsas, from the barriadas in Colon already began beating the drums, practicing for their part in what to us was ‘el festival del Dios Momo,’ and what the Trinidadians would always proclaim to be: ‘The’ Greatest Show on Earth’: Sat.,Sun.,Mon, Tue., four days of ‘jouvert’, or reverie and abandon, before ‘ash Wednesday’.
Back then there were no ‘culecos’ nonsense, and leaving Colon for elsewhere to Carnaval was out of the question. The Three Kings didn’t even quite leave town before our collective mind began focusing on Carnaval. Leave town? People instead flocked to Colon to celebrate with us those four days of abandon. Four days of Bacchanal; and even an extended stay over until the following weekend for more Carnavalito, an extension of the main events. Always, there were 4-6 Toldos Bailables, at any given Carnival time operating in town with names as: Toldo PRA, Bohio, Palma Soriano, Atlas, Tropicana, etc., that were featuring ‘live’ events of imported Cuban/Venezuelan bands and/or artists at any time. The toldos were surrounded by stalls selling frituras like carimañolas, carne en palillo, ojaldre, etc. In Colon;, aka The Gold Coast; It was the best of times where money was flowing making it indeed the best of times.
Our first memory of a comparsa group that we were in was Francisco Villamil’s, Los Guaracheros de Calle 12. though later we became staunch Brazileros. Yet, before that, we were fans of the West Indian groups whose grandparents, when the country was a fledgling Republic, were pioneers, bringing their culture and customs in organizing Carnaval affairs.
ON CARNAVAL DAY:
Down Bolivar Ave., in a trance like state it was sipping on a 25 cent flask of cheap ‘Two Tied Heads’ brandy, while rumbling, tumbling, stumbling, sloshing-shuffling through ankle deep confetti, in rhythmic beats, unable to see clearly in front of us owing to the swarming confetti blizzard like, raining-down from the sky of balconies above, on our face and on the avenue. Revelers frolicked, jumped and pranced. To us life was about Right here, Right now! The joy was infectious and contagious, Everyone was rhythmically and gleefully singing, dancing, prancing, and for all; in this place and at this time, there was no ‘space’ for worries or problems in our lives. It was ‘the’ cathartic experience; ‘the’ release mechanism from pent-up emotions of troubles, worries, trials and tribulations, Forget about mañana amigo. The moment was here and ‘now’! The Spanish called it; ‘Despojo’…
Vasilón! We sang the Cuban estribillo:
Hay Carnaval, a Oriente me voy:
Donde me voy; Se puede gozar…