Saturday, January 26, 2008

Avast, Ye Matey!

As I sit here trying to write, I hear gunshots in the distance, sirens wailing, and people laughing in the street outside my open window. A group of obviously intoxicated teenagers, wearing colorful beads and holding aloft plastic cups filled with beer, hooting and hollering their way down the sidewalk in front of my house. They’re well on their way to partytime… even though it’s barely one o’clock in the afternoon. Helicopters hover overhead, but I can still hear the faint, tinny sounds of music. There’s a parade going on less than a mile away, it’s a beautiful day in Tampa, FL, and half the city has turned out to enjoy the show.

Shut the window, you may think, but I don’t want to. It’s Gasparilla Day in my hometown, and even though I’m here at home tending two family members who are sick with the flu, I’m still lucky enough to enjoy it vicariously. :-)

Gasparilla, you ask? (Don’t you love how I make up these imaginary conversations?) Once a year, the oak-lined streets of my all-American neighborhood become subject to invasion. Yes, an actual invasion… by PIRATES! You see, legend has it that Tampa was once invaded by a dastardly devil named Jose Gaspar, also known as the evil, merciless (yet quite the ladies man) Gasparilla! This terrifying seadog was the terror of the local seas, from the Panhandle down to Cuba. Back in the late 1700’s, he supposedly sailed right into Old Tampa Bay and conquered the city. And yet, for some reason, back in 1904, our city officials thought it would be a great idea for an annual festival in his honor.

I can only shrug, and do my best to imagine Johnny Depp. :-)

It’s our hometown version of Mardi Gras, with krewes and floats and beads and beer and scalawags. There’s an actual flotilla invasion, which anyone with a boat can join, led by the noble pirate ship Jose Gaspar, which is filled with normally staid businessmen dressed to the hilt as swashbuckling pirates, complete with scars, pistols filled with blanks, stuffed parrots and an eye for booty (and believe me, lots of women are willing to show their booty for beads!). Afterward, a long parade down the waterfront; local high school bands, colorful floats, beads flying through the air and ending up in the greedy fists of screaming civilians (with quite a few ending up in the palm trees that line the route).

It’s glorious, and fun. Wish you were here.

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