He is echoing the sentiments of his father's generation, whose members secretly took their tradition deep into the forest during those dangerous years. But now, with Spain rushing away from its rural heritage toward the promise of industrial fulfillment in the European Community, there is a new peril: Will so-called social progress reduce carnival in Laza merely to nostalgia and entertainment--void of meaning beyond what can be exploited by commercial enterprise and anthropologists?
There is only one worthwhile response to the prospect of such a barren future. Dopa and Paco don their masks and rush into the night. From other doorways, more peliqueiros pour into the narrow street, running at full speed. Without breaking stride, they form a line and streak away, their cowbells resounding off the slate walls. The women watch them go, then grab bottles of homemade aguardiente and head for the plaza. The peliqueiros will be back. Entroido has begun.
WHEN THE ROMANS ARRIVED IN GALICIA TWO CENTURIES BEFORE the birth of Christ, they were convinced they had reached the end of the earth. This impression was heightened by the other-worldly fog that swirls through Galicia's river valleys, filling its craggy estuaries like legions of ghosts pouring off the land and vanishing into the sea. The settlers of the empire's furthest outpost called this the Coast of the Dead.
The name still persists, even though Galicia, courtesy of a caravel named La Pinta that sailed one momentous day into one of its fiords, was the first place in Europe to learn that life and the world resumed again across the ocean. Earlier pagan legends also held that this was where souls made their final pilgrimage. Long before the Romans, the Celts built stone rings at the shoreline's furthest promontories; even today, Galicians believe that at certain times during the year, the dead here renew contact with the living. During November, food from the recent harvest is set out for them. Their presence is sensed again at Christmas, as solstice marks the plunge into winter.
At least one anthropologist has written that the various masked beings that surface in Galician villages during carnival, such as Laza's \o7 peliqueiros\f7 , represent disembodied spirits making another of their cosmic rounds. In Laza's central Plaza of the Picota, Juanjo Amado, who has heard his archeologist sister Nieves mention this theory, rolls his eyes.
"Traditions aren't defined by what anthropologists think," he declares. To Juanjo, a theater technician in the city of Santiago de Compostela, 120 miles to the north, a pedantic analysis of vibrant social passions is akin to dissecting songbirds to discover what inspires them to sing. "The people can't explain what \o7 entroido \f7 means. They just have to do it. It's what they do."
Juanjo, a husky man in his early thirties, is wearing a shimmering pink dress, black mesh stockings, a polka-dot silk scarf, a henna wig and a quarter-inch of rouge. Sitting on the plaza steps on this second night of carnival, he shares a bottle of white wine recently fermented from his parents' grapes with a friend, 78-year-old Luis Villalobos, and greets the other prodigals who've made it home for \o7 entroido\f7 . He and Luis toast the old women seated on the second-story iron balconies that ring the plaza, awaiting the evening's bedlam. Nearby, the town's old \o7 picota\f7 --pillory--stands idle, as it has for centuries during carnival, when almost any behavior short of manslaughter is not merely permitted, but encouraged.
Juanjo is not the only one who has cross-dressed for the occasion. Under the brightening stars, men in green satin gowns waltz to an arrhythmic band of gray-haired musicians playing tubas, clarinets, a snare drum and bagpipes. Women wearing the coarse woolen robes of Franciscan monks alternately drag on Lucky Strikes and neck with boyfriends swaddled in nuns' habits. A leering bishop appears in mini-cassock, silver lame tights and suede heels. Hundreds of others who jam this tiny triangular plaza are attired more secularly, but equally adroitly: as Tarot cards, as mimosa trees, as Day-Glo caricatures of Basque terrorists.
A \o7 galego \f7 Moses plops down on the steps next to Luis, shivering in his toga and sandals. While he attacks the chill with a few long pulls on Juanjo's fiery young wine, the sloppy faithful gather to receive his Ten Commandments: "Thou Shalt Love Women Above All Creatures; Thou Shalt Covet Thy Neighbor's Breasts; Let No Act Be Considered Impure; Thou Shalt Take It Off; Thou Shalt (explicit expletive) Whenever and Wherever Possible."
"Amen," intones the crowd. It isn't that Galicians are unusually lecherous or blasphemous; during carnival, people are simply relieved, temporarily, of life's chronic pressure to be moral and respectful.