Santa Cruz de La Palma in the Canary Islands is covered in black-edged funeral notices for a week, announcing the death of the sardine. They have the same sort of funeral notices here for humans, but this time, instead of requesting the prayers of the pious, the notices beg all sea-food to say a last fond farewell to the sardine. Every year she dies at the end of Carnival.
Gradually the procession forms, led by the band, all dressed in black and playing slow, sad marches. Then there are the fake priests, chanting gloomily and swinging censors of authentic frankincense. Next comes the sardine herself, ten feet of painted papier-mâché on a massive black bier, her ruby lips in one last bee-stung pout. Behind her march the chief mourners, dignified in their grief. A sprinkling of men in evening dress accompany many ladies in full length silken crinolines. Most of the ladies are men in drag, and guaranteed to give any real woman an identity crisis.
Next comes the rabble, also dressed in black, but not at all elegant. Some are casual, and some eccentric. A few are downright tarty in g-strings, fishnets and beards. Some pretend to cry; some smother their giggles in their black-edged hankies. Some howl like werewolves with ersatz grief. I draw tears down my cheeks with eyeliner, put on a black top hat, and join the werewolves. The whole thing is gloriously, refreshingly mad. I feel that I’m inside a Monty Python sketch.
We howl, sob and wail from the concrete ship to the port. It’s only about a mile, but it takes a long time because we go at funeral pace, screeching all the way.
“Aieeee! She’s dead!”
“Boo hoo HOO! We’ll never see her again!”
“She had such pretty scales. WAAAAAUGH!”
When we finally reach the sea-front, we are all hoarse. The black river divides, with the dead sardine going one way, and her mourners another. The police push the crowd back. Then Technicolor fireworks explode inside and around the sardine, while rockets shoot overhead. The sardine goes out in a blaze of glory like a Viking warrior, cremated from the inside out.
For some reason, the town of Los Sauces always holds its Sardine’s funeral a week or two after Santa Cruz. They have an even bigger sardine, and it dances. instead of being carried behind a lorry, perhaps thirty people carry the bier, and they toss it around as though it were on a story sea.