Caribbean festival draws energy

Three-day carnival ends today

event almost didn't happen because of permit delay

July 16, 2006|By JUSTIN FENTON | JUSTIN FENTON,SUN REPORTER

Grooving behind a truck whose monster speakers blasted out a brain-thumping bass beat, a band of Caribbean-born revelers wearing camouflage and nurses' outfits flung baby powder and water into the air. Behind them, dozens of people caked in reddish-brown mud climbed into the back of a rented U-Haul and slathered on more.

For many, yesterday's two-mile parade was the highlight of the three-day Caribbean Carnival Festival, which concludes its 25th year today in Druid Hill Park with live entertainment and spicy cuisine.

"Every year it gets bigger and better," said Park Heights resident Pam White. "It's good to see so many kids involved. It's beautiful. I love it."

But Elaine Simon, president of the Caribbean-American Carnival Association of Baltimore, which organizes the festival, said the milestone event almost didn't happen.

The group didn't receive a city permit for the festival until a week ago, a delay that caused headaches with food vendors seeking their own permits from the city health department, Simon said.

Phone calls made by Del. Shirley Nathan-Pulliam, a city Democrat and native of Jamaica who is involved with the group, seemed to speed things up, Simon added. But this year's festival experienced a significant drop in out-of-state vendors and visitors.

"All other ethnic festivials close at 10 p.m. -- we have been told we have to close down at 8:45 p.m.," Simon said. "We are going to take this to the max. Why are Caribbeans treated differently from the Latinos and others?"

A spokeswoman for the city's Office of Promotion & the Arts, which has been promoting the Showcase of Nations Ethnic Festivals, said she was surprised by Simon's comments.

"We try to help all of them get through the permit process," said spokeswoman Tracey Baskerville. "Hopefully, we'll work together so it won't happen next year."

In most places where it's celebrated, Carnival is a month-long holiday that typically peaks on Ash Wednesday. The largest celebration in the Caribbean takes place in Trinidad and Tobago, where weeks of festivities culminate in huge beach parties.

But in Baltimore, the Caribbean Carnival festivities take place during three days in the summer, part of a series of 12 ethnic-themed festivals.

Before the festival, groups of masqueraders prepared with their "bands" of friends and relatives, affixing sequined headdresses and covering themselves in glitter.

Herman Samuels, 64, could have shamed a peacock with the huge silver-and-red frame made of mesh and wire attached to his back, soaring 10 feet over his head.

Meanwhile, the grand marshals of the parade -- a handful of politicians, candidates and volunteers -- passed out stickers and campaign literature. Simon, Nathan-Pulliam and Sharon Pinder, Maryland's special secretary for minority affairs, urged particpants to turn out for Maryland's Sept. 12 primary election.

"Pass the word that Caribbean people do vote," Simon said.

Lavina Boynes, 45, who moved to Baltimore from Trinidad 15 years ago, said the city's festival was authentic enough to remind her of home. She took photos while her 8-year-old daughter, Raven, videotaped the event.

"She just gravitates to it, naturally," Boynes said of her daughter, who wore a Trinidadian hat.

For hours, the masqueraders danced in the streets as the parade slowly crawled down Park Heights Avenue. Just watching the parade in temperatures that soared to 90 degrees was a challenge, but the participants just kept dancing.

"We grew up doing this," said Regina Jones, 39, tap-stepping as a yellow cape flowed behind her. "The atmosphere keeps you going."

justin.fenton@baltsun.com

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