Continued from Part 1 …
Although he’s made an uncharacteristic effort to accompany me for the day, and is indeed looking extra sharp, Magnum is highly irritable when we arrive. Whether it be from the hot sun, large crowd, or my uncool effervescence, he is far too surly for this festive atmosphere. So, I buy him a single-serve Sutter Home from the minimart and shove it in his hand. “Loosen up,” I say and take off to investigate the village on my own.
An hour or so later, I find him in a markedly better mood. The only unfortunate side effect of the wine is his sudden insistence that I get my hair braided at a booth in the park. I’ve always believed that white women should never, under any circumstances, put their hair into what we in the states call cornrows. Even on vacation. No one needs to see our pallid and/or pink scalps. For as fetching as all manner of braids look on women of African descent, they are equally as revolting on white women. Bo Derek included. Magnum, floating on his rose wine cloud, thinks I will somehow transcend this equation and, “look like a sexy Spanish girl.” I couldn’t disagree more, and vehemently decline all suggestion of it.
My err is (naturally) in going for a beverage run. Upon returning to our prior location in the park, Magnum is nowhere in site. My search for him has barely commenced when I’m approached by a woman I’ve never before seen who tells me, “A man say you wan’ ya hair braid.”
“Oh no, not me,” I shake my head violently.
“Yes, m’ahm, he point an’ say it was you want ya hair braid.”
“Oh no, he’s mistaken. I’m not interested, thank you.”
Before I can turn to leave, Magnum reappears and, honest to god, if they both don’t each grab one of my wrists and literally try dragging me to the braiding booth!
This triggers a flashback from my first Caribbean experience on a family vacation to the Bahamas. Nassau so unimpressed my mom that she made my dad book a flight back to Florida where we spent the remainder of our holiday in the sanitized whiteness of Naples. (Who could’ve predicted that Mom and I would both move to the Caribbean less than two decades later?) For the 22-hour period we spent in Nassau, I was solicited every five minutes by old women wanting to braid my hair. No doubt, they laid eyes on my thick, waist-long mane and saw dollar signs. An overly shy eight-year-old, I wanted nothing to do with these pushy crones.
And while old Caribbean women no longer scare me (most of the time), I want nothing to do with this aggressive woman either. “You havin’ a bad hair day, ya know,” she tells me, presumably trying the sales tactic of appealing to my vanity. It has the opposite effect, today being one in which I actually went to the effort of doing something with my hair. The man working the minimart even complimented me on it, so I know it looks good. Her comment manages to stoke an indignant fury, garnering the strength necessary to free myself from their respective grips and escape back toward the parade.
My irritation at having been peer-pressured and insulted lasts only a few minutes. The snafu doesn’t impact Magnum’s good vibe either. Having cracked his 2nd Sutter Home single, he’s feeling good enough, in fact, to join the parade route. A group has gathered behind a large trailer with a live band on board. As if in a music video, scantily clad women hang from 2×4’s on the float’s perimeter that look to have been hastily built for this exact purpose. One beer-bellied guy has engaged a tiny young woman and they are dry humping feverishly, vertically suspended from the back of the trailer, leading the pack of party people jumping up behind them.
So Magnum joins this group, wukking up behind the trailer, dancing with some white girls I don’t recognize. I think this is fantastic enough to capture on video, which he agrees is a great idea. When I get stuck behind a crowd, I’m endeared to see his head craning, looking for me and the camera like a little kid searching for his parents at a school program. After a while, it looks too fun in the undulating mass of people to not join them. I turn the camera off and get in the crowd myself, but despite my far from sober state, feel so self-conscious that I dodge out after a couple minutes.
This occurs several times. Namely, I get up the courage to join Magnum, and then quickly decide that rather than participate, I’m more comfortable documenting and applauding the performance. This would mostly be due to my lack of self esteem in the ass-shaking department.
Four white girls demonstrate exactly what I’m trying to avoid. Side by side on the aforementioned band trailer, they turn their junkless trunks toward the crowd and attempt to shake them. There’s not much to jiggle and their movements are characteristically Caucasian, lacking all natural fluidity. While, no doubt, they’re having fun and plenty of people are enjoying this little group rumpshake, it validates my own reluctance to try it in public.
I witness (and record) a very tan guy with blonde dreads, butt cleavage, and a war-paint-streaked torso fervidly pump up a Super Soaker and spray it on the crowd that consists mainly of half-naked women. The masturbatory connotations are not lost on me.
It’s no surprise that my perma-gutter mind fixates on the bawdy bits of the Carnival parade. This is certainly not all the festival has to offer. On St. Thomas, there are actually two parades, one for the adults and one for the kids. But St. John is too small for that so everything is combined into one.
The smallest kids go first and the live bands go last, an apparent effort to protect the children from early corruption. So mixed in with the adult floats are youth steel pan bands, baton-twirling brigades, toddlers performing traditional Caribbean dance (NOT the wuk-up), Carnival royalty from both the USVI and BVI, and an adult steel pan band that includes a wonderful old man wearing a yellow sweatband and banging on what looks like an overturned sauce pan, a beatific smile illuminating his otherwise earthy face.
The incredible Mocko Jumbies are an otherworldly presence, gracefully striding two stories above the crowd. But they bring it right back down to earth upon shaking their asses, a feat they perform on stilts with remarkable deftness.
Altogether, the vibrant colors, bumpin’ groove, wild dancing, endless people-watching, and flowing rum, create a celebratory atmosphere for the parade that is a titillating feast for the senses. I think you know you’re living in the right place when, in the midst of your community’s annual fest, you find yourself (albeit drunkenly) with butterflies in your stomach, thinking, “How can I ever live anywhere else?”