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Carnaval soon come!

I’m going into my 5th San Francisco Carnaval. Being a carnavalesco has been transformative; it has made me more attuned to fitness, culture, and community.  Our Carnaval always falls on Memorial Day weekend due to the weather. When it began, San Francisco Carnaval was held around Mardi Gras time as it is in most parts of the African diaspora. In the tropics, the weather is beautiful. It’s a time to enjoy festivities and fatty food in preparation for a season of silence.  That timing doesn’t work in the Bay Area; the fog has even resulted in gray and cool Carnaval weekends. So in the Bay Area, Carnaval preparation takes place during Lent.

In every other aspect of my life during Lent, I am paring down to simplicity. For Carnaval, I am ramping up in terms of color and intensity.  I am creating characters. I’m working on costume, makeup, props, set design.  I am preparing for a street theater performance.

There are people who do Carnaval as a bucket list milestone and those of us who choose to make this a way of life. I have nothing against the bucket list folks. Everyone should perform onstage or take part in a creative activity at some point in life because of what it does for your self-confidence, discipline, and fitness. That could be just me since I gravitate towards the arts. For those of who become lifelong carnavalescos, Carnaval is an essential part of the yearly cycle.

A lot of people think performance means solo artist. When you’re in a Carnaval contingent, even if you’re a sambista or passista, you are not the star of the show.  As cute as you might think you are, Carnaval is about your community and comparsa. You are moving together as a unit.  Showboating diminishes the team effort. I may have to get Uncle Brooke on y’all this year (In The New Edition Story, choreographer Brooke Payne breaks down the importance of unity when you’re part of a group. He also gives Bobby a hard look).

Brooke-Payne-New-Edition

You tell ’em, Uncle Brooke

I share this critique because my Carnaval experiences have helped me better understand the value of community, both in dance and in spirit.

During Carnaval, I tap into several aspects of myself that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. What SambaFunk has offered my family in terms of friendship and dance is priceless.

Carnaval has become our way of life.

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Party girl

M turns 8 in two months but I’m already planning her party.  Actually, we started planning her party in April, a full five months in advance.  I have a list that breaks down guest list, location, and favors.  No, no soy one of those Pinterest moms.  My gluing skills are limited to dance and Carnaval costumes.  While I love to cook, this year we’ll be offering all-American burgers and chips.  Like every frazzled parent I know, I sigh and say I’m done with the big birthday parties every year.  Then the cycle starts anew. 
As a child, my parents always threw us huge parties. My dad’s entire soccer team and their families, my godparents and my brother’s godparents and their kids, and any relatives would come. There would be tons of Peruvian food, a giant sheet cake, a piñata for the kids, and dancing to salsa and merengue.  Because I was an introvert, I found all the people and activities overwhelming. But memories were made.  Like the time the big boys decided to tightrope walk around the fence in the backyard and were threatened by the mean next door neighbor  Or the time we realized we could Tarzan swing across the garage.  I especially like how happy my mom and dad always looked. And still look. Because you best believe mi mama isn’t letting a birthday go by without some sort of gathering. 
Celebrating my 44th. Notice the look on my mom’s face(she’s on my right). 
Unlike me, M doesn’t seem uncomfortable at her birthday parties. In fact, she says she loves the attention, the little diva. Ever the assertive leader, M has helped pick a theme for her celebration from the time she was 4.  They have been often been tied to a favorite TV show.  Lately they also incorporate her Halloween costume (yes, we are a family of planners.)
Yo Gabba Gabba  Dancey Dance Party
Princess Costume Party 
Wonder Woman party 
Wizard of Oz theme. Notice her tee. Her dance recital had the same theme. Why not stretch out a good theme? 
So while I may balk at the work and expense that goes into planning birthday parties, I do love the memories we’ve shared.  They are moments that remind us of what truly matters.  

Red carpet ready

Tradiciones.  I wanted my daughter to experience traditional celebrations from an early age. Quite a few we established as our own family though neither Rambo nor I had experienced them as children including setting up a Nativity crèche during Advent, building an altar for Dia de los Muertos, and celebrating SuperBowl Sunday with our extended family of college friends.  Some I inherited from my own childhood: celebrating Nochebuena, honoring El Senor de lo Milagros in October, and being aware that 28 de Julio was as important to my folks as 4th of July.  Some I continued from my single days: participating in the Dance-Along Nutcracker and hosting an Oscar party.  These are our traditions. We celebrate them year after year with our loved ones. They help us savor the seasons and make the most of moments.
The kiddos approved of the 2015 host
In recent years, the Oscars have gotten increasingly disappointing. They have always been god-awful long. They have always had their share of too-long speeches and ill-conceived musical numbers. They have always been really white.  I have watched the Oscars since I was a junior in high school and the Oscars have rarely featured folks who look like me. Now I love J-Lo but she don’t look a thing like me. Besides, she is nowhere near winning one of the coveted gold statues. In any case, the closest someone I can truly relate to was even close to an Oscar was when my man crush por siempre and once-upon-a-time dinner mate Benjamin Bratt was escort to Julia Roberts.  So, yes, #Oscarssowhite and yet here we are, a household of brown people and our multiculti clan of friends and family still gathering over a feast to watch the damn awards.  You may wonder why.
Sometimes I ask myself that question. Rambo pleads with me at least once a year to give up and host an Alma Awards party.  My one-word answer: tradition.  When I was a misunderstood artsy high schooler, film became a passion.  I would hop on BART and head to the Embarcadero or downtown Berkeley and check out all the Best Picture or Foreign Film nominees. Once I could drive, I’d make my way to the Piedmont.  As with books, movies became a vehicle to unwind or an opportunity to let my own creativity be inspired.  So, watching the Oscars became a way to celebrate some of those films and performers.
Before the New Parkway opened in Uptown, we mourned the loss of the original
The annual Oscar party became a way to share my pastime with my friends but more importantly to bring folks together.  Now, in our 13thyear, my close friends expect my Oscar party. They know I will choose a theme, that I will cook main dish and sides in conjunction with the theme, and that we will roll out our own red carpet. On occasion, I have given out Oscars for best movie-themed costume. My brother is our Meryl Streep, having won the award the most times (twice). Now that the little ones are older, they will cheer for the Best Animated Film nominees and maybe admire a dress or two.  The grown folks will vie for the award for best commentary. With Rambo in the mix, even more shade is thrown. If I was more Twitter –savvy, I’d live tweet some of our zingers.  We have a great time, even when the awards show is a fail like the time poor James Franco and Anne Hathaway nearly killed us with their ill-advised co-hosting gig.
If throwing an Oscar party in light of all the boycotts this year makes you question my ability to think critically, then question away. Folks have been questioning my “wokeness” for years.    It’s my party and I will cry or laugh if I want to.  I’m well aware of how race and ethnicity have played out in Hollywood and it is maddening and frustrating.  But canceling a party that loved ones remember fondly won’t change that mona que se viste de seda.  Chris Rock and I will be holding it down. Besides, maybe Queen Bey will crash the party and let everyone have it with more “Formation.”  One can hope.
M’s 2011 red carpet look

Rambo’s Thanksgiving

Approximately five years ago, I told Rambo about the free meals a chain restaurant was offering veterans. He thought it was a nice gesture and he began to do Internet research. He was impressed by the number of restaurants offering similar deals and began to discuss with his military buddies. By the following year, Rambo had organized a guy’s day out and a gluttony fest of epic proportions. The guys enjoyed several meals together well into the night.  The tradition has continued for four years. Rambo calls it his Thanksgiving.
Of the two of us, I am definitely much more social. Through my involvement with SambaFunk and my general passion for arts/dance events, I keep quite busy with gatherings and festivals.  Rambo limits his social outings to the occasional MMA fight/boxing match viewing party with his military buddies. As the years have passed, he has become more comfortable socializing with civilians.  He won’t head out for happy hour or guys’ night.  He prefers to stay home or sometimes take part in extended family events.  But his Thanksgiving is something he anticipates with the same enthusiasm I show in preparing for my annual Oscar party.

Now you might think it’s wrong for these guys to take advantage of these companies’ generosity.  I applaud these companies. Rambo and his friends have grappled with mental illnesses, financial woes, housing problems, physical ailments, employment challenges, and family drama in the decades since coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Many have beaten the odds and battled their demons to now enjoy retirement or second (or third or fourth ) careers and relatively good health.  They continue to mourn the brothers who don’t make it; I have lost count of the number of buddies Rambo has lost to suicide.  No dollar amount from T.G.I.Fridays, Hooters or Olive Garden can truly compensate for what these men and women endured.

Eat hearty, gentlemen!

2013 festivities

More than a parade

Last year, on the Sunday before Memorial Day, I rose before sunrise and began to get dressed for Carnaval.  I had asked to be able to sit on the float in full costume, my Wound-Vac covered in our theme colors.  I began the long process of applying my makeup.  As I applied the beautiful shades of color to my face, I began to feel sad. I had wanted so badly to be off the Wound-Vac.  True, I had never finished learning all the choreography. But the best part of performing in Carnaval is feeling a part of a body, a body of alegria and axe, a body which exudes grace, strength, and pure joy.  With the little machine literally attached to my body, I knew I exuded pain and weakness. I burst into tears and called my mom. “No puedo hacerlo. (I can’t do it.)”  She understood and plan B, which was to sit in the grandstand with M and my mom, went into effect. I took off my beautiful gown and donned my samba school tee.   I stopped crying, grabbed my camera, and headed to the parade.
The morning of SF Carnaval 2014

I cheered loudly for SambaFunk; they were magnificent.  I also cried. I consider it one of the more painful moments during my recovery from surgery. That was nearly a year ago.

I came to SambaFunk through a lovely woman I met on Dance Party. A brilliant dancer, she had asked me to check out her samba community sometime. I expressed mild interest; I had taken two samba classes prior to my difficult pregnancy and had always wished I continued.  A few months passed before I finally took initiative and asked when I could join her in class. On a cold January evening, I walked into the second floor studio of the Malonga and within two hours, I had found a second home. King Theo’s wisdom, love, and positive energy inspired me to take on this new creative and physical challenge.
After my first SambaFunk class in January 2013. Photo by Elise Evans
At exactly this time, I was preparing for a job interview. I would be competing for a vice principal position in a different district. I am convinced the energy I received through my dance class helped boost my confidence. I got the job. I was learning how to be a carnavalesco at the same time I was learning to succeed in a new work environment.  SambaFunk has been more than a dance class. The energia it provides has been a blessing.
Taking part in Carnaval has tapped into so many aspects of my personality.  I rediscovered the superhero in me as a Funky Gogo Love Bomber. I also learned half-marathons are nothing compared to parading nearly two miles in 6-inch platform boots.
GoGo Bombers doing their thing, SF Carnaval 2013. Photo by Yvel Sagaille.
As I struggled with illness, I reexamined the grace and power that is inherent in being a woman, beautifully heralded in my incarnation as a regal Star Mother.  While I didn’t get to parade in Carnaval last year, I was able to take part in the San Diego Brazilian Day parade.
SambaFunk, Brazilian Day San Diego 2014. Photo by Soul Brasil.
My mother and M traveled with me and stood proudly on the sidelines cheering for us.  With each Carnaval, I learn more about costuming and parading.  I also realize it is more than a parade.

Obrigado SambaFunk for welcoming my little family into your embrace.

Rambo and M, Pan-African Film Fest 2014
w M on the red carpet at the Pan-African Film Fest 2014
Thank you for the prayers and love you gave me when I feared the worst about my health and for your loyalty and support during my recovery. Thank you for helping me become the best version of myself.
Preparing for SF Carnaval 2015, M’s first Carnaval

A big bear hug

I did not samba in the parking lot when I left the hospital yesterday afternoon. In my mind, I pictured myself joining the roda. That celebration will come in time; perhaps after these first two weeks of being Vac-free.  But my good news wasn’t real until I saw my daughter. The look on her face was one of genuine joy, hope, and gratitude.  Our hug was one of homecoming. 
After 44 days, I’m no longer attached to Mr. Backpack. I will be slowly resuming my normal routine.  I will return to work Monday. I’m still restricted from exercise: half-marathon training and SambaFunk classes are on hold until the doctor sees more progress in my healing. My wound is not closed but is 1.5 centimeters close. The surrounding skin, sore and blistered from weeks of adhesive tape and air-tight sealants, will need to heal.  As for the cosmetic healing, that will be a longer process, six months or more and one I choose not to ponder for now. 
Strangely enough,  after the Wound-Vac was turned off, I felt exhausted and experienced a level of pain I hadn’t felt in weeks.  I didn’t let it intimidate me. It is my body’s turn to take over the healing process. I will continue to take my recovery one day and one moment at a time.  Lots of bear hugs won’t hurt. 

On missing Roma

“Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearnings.” Giotto de Bondone


“…the grandeur that was Rome…” from “To Helen” by Edgar Allan Poe

I am finally recovering from my bout of blues. I slept for seven hours last night, in fits and starts as has been my habit since I became a parent, but much better than four or five hours for sure. My appetite has returned. Yesterday was one of my typically busy days: exercise, work, socializing, shuttling my daughter to class, cooking dinner, spending time with our new puppy. I am home, nearly a week after I boarded several planes to make my way home.

When I visit any destination for more than a couple of days, I do experience homesickness. I find that I also experience a sort of vacation-sickness once I am home, that I do feel a temporary sense of loss and yearning to be back in my home away from home.  The longer I stay, the longer I may miss that other place, that different life. 

My third visit to Rome was nothing short of transformative. Almost as soon as I stepped into the humidity and heat of a Roman summer, I felt a great sense of relief, freedom, and possibility. Granted the trip was a 40th birthday present to me and my little family, so it makes sense that it would feel like a milestone and/or emotional journey. It was both. 
















I do miss the cobblestones beneath my feet. The heat. The crowds on the trains and on the city streets. The expanse of sky.  The dark coolness of little churches and immense cathedrals.

But I’m no longer sad.