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These are some of the most joyous (and exhausting) weeks of the year in various parts of the world, from Venice to Port of Spain and New Orleans to Rio de Janeiro. But being as fond as I am of the Dominican Republic , I’ve got a soft spot for the pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations down here – especially because unlike in many other places, here the party starts today and keeps poppin’ every Sunday in February in various towns and cities such as Santiago, La Vega (considered the country's best), and Bonao, and the biggest of all, March 3 in Santo Domingo, where the waterfront avenue, the Malecón, becomes transformed into a brightly colored sea of people watching and participating in the carnival processions. (Punta Cana does its own Carnaval on March 9 this year.)
There are all sorts of themes and historical allusions in these processions, especially those dating back to the colonial era, with conquistadores, slaves, and the like, plus dudes in drag (no, not drag queens, but rather traditional figures known in Spanish as as roba la gallina, “chicken robbers”, who supposedly conceal the stolen birds in their “hips” and “cleavage”), as well as all manner of fantastical animal characters. Participants often march in organized groups called comparsas (think of the krewes in New Orleans’ Mardi Gras). A central figure is known as the diablo cojuelo (lame devil), more impish than evil, who appears in myriad versions of brightly colored costumes and outsized horns. Often the wearers spend months creating their costumes and papier-mâché masks out of found objects and materials.
But wherever you witness it,Carnaval a la dominicana is certain to leave you buoyant and impressed with the creativity, resilience, and joyousness of the Dominican people.