A Riotous Celebration Where Calypso Is King
Carnival is the quintessential expression of Creole culture, and Trinidad’s is acknowledged throughout the Caribbean as the mother of all carnivals, with Port of Spain at its heart. Bands and masqueraders begin their preparations a year in advance, and before Christmas things really start to hum. The final two-day explosion of color, music, and unbridled excess officially begins at 4 A.M. on Carnival Monday with the Jour Ouvert (Opening Day) parade, and comes to a head on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday, which ushers in the solemn pre-Easter period of Lent. Tens of thousands take to the streets in extravagant and elaborate costumes, with groups as large as 3,000 following DJ trucks blaring out the island’s indigenous calypso music.
Introduced to the Caribbean at the end of the 18th century by the Roman Catholic French planters, the celebration shifted from its European emphasis after the emancipation of slaves in 1838, when the largely African urban underclass took to the streets. Raucous rivalries evolved into the heated steel-band competitions of today, in which “pan” bands 100 musicians strong perform nonstop in a riotous celebration of King Carnival. Each band has a headquarters, or panyard, where rehearsals and preliminary playoffs are worth searching out.
To heighten your island experience, visit Veni Mange (“come and eat”), where Allyson Hennesy—the talk-show Julia Child of Trinidad – and her friendly and flamboyant sister, Rosemary Hezekiah, prepare the best lunch on the island, overseeing both the kitchen and a gallery of local art set in a typical Creole home. The offspring of parents who were of English, Venezuelan, African, and Chinese descent, the charming, ebullient sisters will guide you through a quintessentially Trinidadian feast that might start with traditional callaloo-pumpkin soup (which, according to legend, can make a man propose marriage if it’s prepared well) and end with homemade soursop ice cream or coconut mousse. Come on Wednesday’s Caribbean Night, the only day the sisters serve dinner.