Carnaval (Mission District, SF)

San Francisco's Carnaval, occurring in a part of the Mission district to which I had never previously been, was a sharp contrast to the last festival I attended, the upscale Mountain View festival. I went to Carnaval on Saturday, May 26, 2007. Carnaval clearly targeted a different culture and socioeconomic class. While the Mountain View festival had many booths selling artwork, often at prices above a hundred dollars, no booths at Carnaval sold artwork and nothing I saw was priced that high. Many booths sold cheap goods like cell phone cases. Many businesses like banks and radio stations also had booths. There were even some booths that felt like they were presenting an infomercial in person. Nothing in any of the booths intrigued me enough to stop my moseying.

I took a smattering of photos and movies during my trip, including videos of music groups I liked, photos of neat sights not mentioned below, and pictures of the food I ate.

Still, there was enough to see to prevent me from quickly getting bored. The festival was eight blocks long, so it look a while to walk from one end to the other, during which time I counted ten stages!

The musicians and other entertainers generally only spoke Spanish so I missed a little of what was going on. Sometimes I could figure it out. People on one stage played musical chairs without the chairs. Instead, when the music stopped, everyone hugged each other. Awww. Whoever joined the hug last -is on the outside- is out.

Later, I watched a game on that stage. Take a married couple from the audience. Blindfold the husband. Make him touch the back of various women's calves or get a peck on the check from various women and see if he can identify his spouse. Oddly, they started the game speaking in Spanish and having it translated into English as well, but later they just stopped the translation. I guess they realized most of the crowd didn't need it.

The festival had a very visible police presence. It even had metal detectors at the entrance, at which time they also screened bags for outside food or drink. Although entry was supposed to be free/suggested donation, given all the interaction at the entrance, it felt like the donation was practically enforced.

Although I photographed one unwelcoming alcohol area, I spotted a few other areas reserved for alcohol drinkers that were substantially more approachable. One, at the "African marketplace," had its own musical stage along with a few regular booths. I wonder if the must be greater than twenty-one to enter the area rule makes for less foot traffic for the booths or more. I guess the latter, as I didn't see many kids at the festival so the rule probably didn't exclude many people.

Or at least, I didn't see many kids outside the kids area. As with most festivals, this had one, filled with many bouncy structures, a train, and other rides.

Nearby was a rock climbing wall. I wanted to climb it but my shoes are too old -they have no soles- and the staff won't let people climb shoe-less.

The NBA set up a large complex in a parking lot adjacent to the festival street. As I entered, I noticed a sign that bothers me anytime I see it: a sign that says by entering I give the company (in this case, the NBA) a right to use my picture in advertising. Why do I need some legalese shoved in my face to give someone the right to take my picture in a public space? Also, the sign prohibited photography. The complex took over a traditional public parking lot. Can they prohibit it? Anyway, I listened and that's why I don't have any pictures of anything in the complex.

The NBA complex included an assortment of booths for "NBA partners" and two courts, one of which was used for a shooting competition and the other used for people to show off. The partners were companies like lenovo and t-mobile?! There was also a stage, partially used for the contests, and partially set up so everyone can play NBA video games, watch flat screen televisions showing currently playing games, and examine some exhibits about NBA players (e.g., compare shoe sizes with some famous players). I'm impressed by how nice the installed equipment looked and how much money the NBA spent for such a professional installation for a temporary festival.

Only once while exploring the complex did I wish I could take a picture. The photograph would display the funny fact that the NBA installed its own hoops while the lot which held the complex already had some.

As for food, the festival seemed to have the usual assortment of fried food and meat on a stick vendors, along with some more distinctive joints like Caribbean, Mexican (including some taco trucks!), and Salvadorian. When I arrived, I quickly grabbed some papusas to tide me over while I looked. Both papusas, one pork-and-cheese and one cheese-and-beans, were decent. I preferred the former. The accompanying cabbage coleslaw was bad on its own and also didn't match the papusas well. The salsa, a typical red sauce, wasn't exciting but still helped liven up the papusas. The fried plantains served on the side were decent. The main flaw of all this was that nothing tasted newly fried. I saw them frying papusas and plantains but it turned out that the cook runs a dozen or two papusas ahead for the line. The cashier grabs papusas and plantains from an already finished batch to give to customers.

As I walked, I found more food in the middle of the festival and at the opposite end -- more evidence of how big the festival was. Even I was surprised by the number of booths. Perhaps the quantity is partially because this part of town has few restaurants, an unusual situation for a festival. Incidentally, the few lucky restaurants that exist in this neighborhood such as Cafe Gratitude offered special menus and appeared to do very good business.

I got a free sample of linguica: good, though skimpy (for good reason, as they wanted me to buy some). Still hungry in mid-afternoon, I passed up a taco truck to get a bbq chicken skewer. It was a lot of meat and exactly what I wanted.

Right before I left, I noticed a booth selling signs: "Parking for X only: all others will be towed." At this fair, the signs had X as one of: Mexicans, Nicaraguans, Peutro Ricans, Brazilians, Guatemalans, or Peruvians. I usually only see these signs at ethnic fairs (e.g., Greek festivals). The signs are an example of Carnaval's Latin American twist.

By the time I left, I'd picked up a little Spanish again. And I'm sharp enough to learn some words from context -- from hearing a sentence involving Bush, I learned fuera means impeach.

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