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Indeed, the boisterous street life of this bustling port on the Gulf of Mexico frequently verges on the insane. And at this time of the year things get even livelier. The week before Lent brings the annual carnaval , and to understand it, a visitor first must understand what passes for normal in Veracruz, especially around the white colonnaded zocalo.
In sidewalk bars, white-shirted waiters pile bottles of beer precariously on tables already overloaded with empties. Mariachi bands serenade the crowd, while strolling trumpeters, harpists and marimba players in silver-trimmed uniforms and oversized sombreros offer song lists to prospective customers. A white-faced mime, or perhaps a troupe of lavishly costumed dancers, performs for an audience gathered around the central fountain.
At the same time, a moving market threads its way between the cafe tables. Vendors offer goods of all kinds--silk hammocks and pistachios, cigarettes and embroidered dresses, preposterous model ships several feet long and elaborately rigged, even Polaroid snapshots to commemorate your evening in Veracruz.
This is everyday Veracruz. But the city really comes into its own during the weeklong carnival, when it plays host to one of the biggest fiestas between New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro. This year it is set for Feb. All work comes to a halt during the carnival, and everyone--visitor and native alike--gets down to the serious business of having fun. Each day the streets are filled with colorful parades that begin in mid-afternoon, when revelers have recovered from the festivities of the night before, and last into the early morning hours.
Teen-age beauty queens wave from atop outlandish floats a giant fish on wheels, for instance , uniformed bands march endlessly, and neighborhood musicians play odd instruments that have no names in English. Squalls of confetti fill the air. Salsa, rumba, tango, calypso--all the music of the Caribbean dances its way past the crowds watching from street level or from balconies. Many people sport elaborate costumes--some older folks, for example, dress in the fashions of their youth, while others parade about disguised as the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl or perhaps as Batman.