We’d lost our rum for the second time in two hours, plus most of El Luchador’s clothes. But there’s no looking back – it’s time for a pow-wow. I pull El Luchador away from another photo-shoot and huddle our group together.
“Ok, boys,” I ask, “what do we want to do?”
“Talk to girls…”
We decide the best place to do this is all the way across Cadiz, in Plaza de España. Finding girls is no longer a priority for me – the Chicken and I are hitting it off well. Still, it’s time to vamoose. I offer the Chicken my hand and guide her through the crowd.
The six of us break away from the crowd and cut down a side street. A half dozen girls line either side of the street, squatting against the wall and pissing in plain sight, sin vergüenza. The wet cobbled streets are coated with gray sludge of booze, piss and rain.
The music is far away now and I notice the relentless sound of bottles smashing against the ground. I can feel glass grinding and cracking under the soles of my soiled shoes as we walk back to the liquor store.
We pool together some money and get more rum – one bottle this time, not two. Fill the cups up and carry nothing in our hands. No more risks.
Taylor must be feeling antsy. He has stripped down once again and a crowd of thirty is watching him attempt to squeeze his 6’6’’ frame into a miniature car – some kind of coin-operated children’s ride. Derek returns with the drinks and we continue towards Plaza de España.
It’s three hours past midnight by the time I realize it’s Valentine’s Day. It doesn’t resemble it in the slightest. People everywhere are making out – pirates with Smurfs, D’Artangian with Cleopatra. Pure concupiscence here, not a shred of romance to be found.
It’s time to make my move. I pull on the Chicken’s feathers and say her sexy costume makes me want to ‘pluck her.’ She gobbles up the lame joke and we start making out.
The two of us continue kissing while some of the boys go off to take a leak. The Chicken’s friend, the Hen, suddenly slips and falls in a planter full of brown sludge – the physical embodiment of Carnival at its grimiest. He’s trying to smile and rationalize his misfortune as he wipes the Carnival Juice off his pants. “It’s probably just rainwater…it rained a lot today…it’s probably just rainwater…”
…yeah, man, sure it is. We are nodding our heads sympathetically when Zubin returns from peeing, and now we are ready to move once again.
My notepad from this point on is filled with indecipherable scribble. The crowd is at its peak and it is too crowded to write. I pull out my camera but the screen is totally smashed in. It’s destroyed. My spirits are too high to care. I pull the Chicken closer. All my mental images are in portrait style now. Vertical glimpses of Carnival squeezed between two buildings: one-part party-goers, two-parts brightly painted walls and balconies.
We claw our way through the crowd, determined to arrive in Plaza de España if nothing else. Left down the alley, then right, straight down the road and across a string of plazas. Twenty minutes later we see Plaza de España stretching out before us.
¡Por fin! we shout. ¡Finally! My hand fishes behind my back for my Chicken. I turn around but she’s gone.
“¡Mierda!” I scream. “I lost my Chicken!” I try calling her, but my pre-paid card is out of credit. Derek and the Hen are also nowhere to be found. Jealous suspicions swirl through my mind. I snap back into the moment. Our friends are gone forever. Just Zubin and El Luchador remain.
It’s taken us over two hours to get to this damn plaza and thus far we’ve lost three bottles of rum, 11 friends, Taylor’s shirt, his wrestling mask, my camera and my Chicken. The plaza is half empty and noticeably quieter than the rest of Carnival. The three of us circle up near the center of the square, slowly sip our drinks and start scoping the scene.
“Talk to girls.”
Zubin glances over his right shoulder, then his left.
“I thought this was the square where cute girls came up and talked to us.”
“No. That one is Plaza de…” Taylor’s voice trails off.
Zubin pulls back his mask and yawns. “Que sueño tengo. This festival is a marathon. We Americans are accustomed to partying in sprints. When does the first train leave?”
“4:45,” I grumble.
The church bells strike four and we mob to the train station. RENFE employees open the gates to the station and we flood into the vestibule, down the platform and onto the train. 45 minutes till ETD.
Zubin and I plop down across from two guys from Jerez de la Frontera and they start trying to teach us how to clap flamenco style, but it’s some inscrutable rhythm my untrained ear can not decipher. Everyone is privy to this gypsy-influenced beat except us. I try to mimic it with no success – My brain can’t comprehend something so irregular.
Our friends keep repeating the beat:
Uno, Dos, Uno, Dos, Tres, Cuatro, Cinco, Seis, Siete, Ocho, Nueve, Diez!.
I’m still practicing this clap as they start telling us about Jerez’s annual feria in May. I try to keep my eyes open and pay attention…
…we must come to Jerez to see the festival. Something about flamenco guitarists with girls dancing. Even horses dancing – horses! On their hind-legs, dancing to the music! Yes, it’s unbelievable but it’s true. We simply must see it for ourselves. Yes of course, we can stay with them, in their home with their family and their mothers will cook us the traditional Andalusian food, something muy tipico de Jerez. Have we tried the local Sherry wine? Why yes, there are some manchitas of it on my shirt as we speak. Yes, yes, we will come to the festival and yes we will drink sherry wine together, yes, yes, por supesto, por supuesto, tio…
…I wake up thirty minutes later with one of them kicking me in the leg. It’s your stop! El Puerto de Santa Maria! Get off! ¡Deprisa! ¡Deprisa!
Carnival is over. I guess you can’t count your Chickens before they hatch. But at least I learned the flamenco clap. I grab the boys and we slip off the train and walk down the streets clapping away into the sunrise:
Uno, Dos, Uno, Dos, Tres, Cuatro, Cinco, Seis, Siete, Ocho, Nueve, Diez!