After more than a quarter-century at the fore of festivals, Carnaval Miami's main event, the Calle Ocho Festival, should be familiar to everyone in South Florida. Folks around here know the tangential activities well -- Miss Carnaval, the 8K run, the domino tournament -- and how the fête has expanded beyond Little Havana: The Evening of Indulgence and Sun Day on the Mile, for example, take place in Coral Gables. Locals can easily list at least some of the major draws of the festival: top-shelf live music, scrumptious food, lots of free stuff, crowds of a proportion that boggles perception.
What began as a celebration of Cuban culture with an expected turnout of perhaps 10,000 or maybe 20,000 attendees (an estimated 100,000 actually showed up) has become, according to numerous sources, the biggest Hispanic festival in the nation. Some believe that as many as one million partiers attended the most recent fest, a throng made up of Latins from many countries, locals of all stripes, and more tourists than most cities see in an entire year.
South Floridians embrace the massive turnout while dancing madly to the magical sounds, slurping up grilled meats and cheesy arepas, and visiting the children's section (between Fourth and Eighth avenues) to enjoy clowns and stilt walkers, sports and face painting, magicians and rides.
But what might be the most fun for veterans of the fest is simply observing the neophytes in all their wonder and awe. No, not to poke fun at them, but to renew the enthusiasm from long ago, to refresh memories of just how spectacular is this thing so many Miamians now take for granted. Oh, okay, maybe to make fun of them. Consider these comments from the Yahoo! Travel page (travel.yahoo.com):
From someone in South Carolina: "I liked the fact that I got see top-notch acts such as Oscar De Leon, Victor Manuelle, and Huey Dunbar. Yet there was so many people that everyone was standing together with less than, oh, three inches separating each other. Until then I never really considered myself as one of the sardine variety."
And this, from a person in Georgia: "You can't enjoy a single thing!!! It's way too crowded! Party? What party? All I saw were people in a bad mood from being too crowded. Your visibility is less than a foot!"
Okay! Meanwhile we've been informed of a weird new attraction at the fiesta grande. Down on Tenth Avenue a 45-foot truck will open into three rooms and reveal a distortion mirror, a wobbling board, oversize gloves, and touch pads that imitate an infant's sensibilities. This exhibit is called "Inspired by Babies." And if you haven't guessed, it's sponsored by the womb-happy folks at Pampers. Great. Get them into Calle Ocho while they're still in diapers. Those who thought the event was crowded last year will definitely want to return in a couple of decades.