Ragoutsaria, or the Kastoria carnival

8 Nov

I know this is supposed to be about Poland, but at the moment, as I’m following some of the prompts from Bootsnall, I am thinking back to other places. Before I leave the subject of Poland, however, I’d like to point out that in Kujawsko Pomorskie region there is a (fun) carnival season, but there is no one town here that specialises in carnivals, unlike the town I am going to talk about now.

The Ragoutsaria takes place every year in early January, in Kastoria, a town in Northern Greece, right up on the borders of Albania and Fyrom. It is famous for its lake, its fur and its beauty, and of course the carnival. A curious combination.  It was once again a long time ago, but in early January of 1993 I attended it. In those days, settled gipsy musicians came in from the hills, and for three days played the same three tunes over and over again while the good citizens of Kastoria got drunk and partied in the streets. The first day was a kind of prelimnary, the second day was the spontaneous one when anyone could dress up as they wished , and the third and final day was the parade.

What distinguished the Kastoria carnival in those days was its apparent spontaneity, and its close links to the Ancient Greek Dionysian festivals in which all the notions of being under the spell of the god was Maenadic – if you apply the Bacchantes to both sexes, rather than exclusively female. For a start the lyrics of the tunes (nobody sang, so you never heard these) were bawdy. Secondly, the same repeated rythms and tunes cast a kind of hypnotic spell not unlike that of the fire-walkers of Langadas, only there was no fire-walking at the end of this, but plenty of dancing. Fuelled with drink and the insistent repeated tunes, people could and did go on and on dancing in the streets all night.

My own contribution to the second day was minor – I dressed up as Einstein, but nobody who I knew and saw in the street realised this – I wouldn’t be so arrogant as to say that I thought this was rather a poignant metaphor, but it made me chuckle. I wasn’t a member of one of the groups who do the final parade on the last day, but I hung around to watch it, and it was what everyone feared it would be : too good, too professional,  like the Patras carnival, though it had moments of real spontaneous madness. What were those tube like creatures?

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