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Tour of the Carnival Floats

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by Katia Soriano

Those who have been living in this part of the Netherlands, that is North Brabant, must be familiar with all the festivities surrounding this time of the year: The “Carnaval”.

The Carnival is a traditional celebration and has religious origins.  It takes place immediately before Lent, with the main events and parades usually occurring during February.

Last Saturday some of us had a chance to visit and witness the impressive elaboration of the Tilburg Carnival floats.   It is a collective work that involves members of eleven carnival clubs. These members meet regularly in a warehouse where they dedicate many weekends to produce these giant impressive floats, called in Dutch: “Praalwagens”.

The TIC visited the club, located at Jules de Beerstraat in Kraaiven, where we were warmly welcomed with our kids.  There we had a chance to see, touch, and most of all smell all the materials that are involved in this long process of:  “praalwagens maken”.

We were told that there has been a reduction in the government funding during the last few years since the economic recession, from 3.5 million Euros to only half of that amount now. That doesn’t seem to take away the enthusiasm and dedication of the members involved in the making of the floats.   There is a feel of camaraderie between them that is transmitted in the air.  They were happy and proud to show us their work in process.  Enormous metal structures, original works of art that are designed new from the ground up every year after the theme of the parade has been announced.  The locals then have an opportunity to express themselves freely by building these characters that sometimes could resemble a public figure.  There is welding involved in the making of these metal structures that are mostly wire frames.

We could see how these structures get transformed from naked wire frames into colorful floats, step by step.  After the frame is finished they apply in some cases clay, or first polyester and a second layer of clay.  There are also other techniques like applying a layer of foam first and then paper on top.  Each one gave a different look and shine to the final product.

Perhaps this is the most complex part of the float design; the selection of materials to cover the structures and the number of hours of work in the application of different materials. With this process they can obtain different finishing and finally they can apply colors.

It was very interesting for all, and especially the kids, to see the hydraulic engines that actually move some parts of the characters that are part of the float.  There was a chance for us to take pictures and ask questions.  We shared snacks and wore the handmade masks provided by TIC.   We were happy to learn about this old tradition and to somehow feel that we were also part of it.

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