CARNIVAL craziness hit Spain last night and, although the world-famous celebrations are held in the Canary Islands, many towns and villages on the mainland hold much more low-key versions on the last Saturday night before Lent.
Unlike in Tenerife and Gran Canaria, where the spectacular costumes and pageants rival those of Brazil, 'local' takes on the carnival elsewhere in the country are effectively just fun fancy-dress parades followed by open-air discos.
And get-up tends to be 'themed' rather than as flamboyant and showy as on the islands, more in keeping with outfits worn at costume parties and making great use of cut-price knick-knacks from Chinese bazaars, the stores which have taken over from the one-time 100-peseta shops.
Massive, outsized head-dresses three times the height of their wearers and often equally as wide, adorned with mirrors, feathers, Swarovski crystals and glitter in a bid to win the honour of Carnival Queen take centre stage in the Canary Islands, but famous people, super-heroes and cartoon characters using hand-made cardboard cut-outs, cheap wigs and face-paint are more typical of local versions.
This year, predictably, saw a huge number of Saturday-night revellers dressed as Pablo Iglesias, leader of the relatively new independent political party Podemos, complete with goatee, ponytail and lumberjack shirt; and also as the young infiltrator dubbed 'Little Nicolás' by the media – Francisco Nicolás 'Fran' Gómez who, at 21, claims to have been working under cover for the government and secret service and who has been pictured with top-ranking politicians and even at King Felipe VI's coronation.
Those disguised as 'Little Nicolás' – who confesses he hates his public nickname – wore wigs with brylcreemed side partings, suits, ties and shirts, going for the 'Etonian look', whilst carrying huge wads of Monopoly banknotes and thrusting themselves into every possible photo being taken.
Others bought frizzy white wigs from Chinese bazaars and made themselves up to look like the late Duchess of Alba, who passed away in December aged 87 and who was said to own more land in Spain than anyone else in the country before handing over her inheritance to her children whilst still alive.
Black humour frequently abounds at carnival time and somewhat near-the-knuckle costumes included zombie versions of the Duchess of Alba, given that she is now dead, and even Ebola victims or doctors in biohazard suits.
Celebrity TV presenter Belén Esteban often crops up at local carnivals, although she was seen more than usual this year due to her taking part in VIP Big Brother – her now-famous purple leopardskin-patterned pyjamas seen on the show, which have sold out in El Corte Inglés, became her typical costume among dressed-up carnival-goers last night.
Parodies of bankers, politicians and former PP treasurer Luis Bárcenas, who has just bailed himself out of jail after 19 months, were spotted in abundance, as well as plenty of send-ups of the infamous Caja Madrid bank corporate credit card expenses scandal, known as the 'Black Card' racket.
In fact, one shop in Alicante sold plastic costumes allowing revellers to dress up as Caja Madrid credit cards, and reported sales figures of 300% higher than expected.
Famous faces were not all controversial or topical characters at last night's carnival, however – Katy Perry, Jack Sparrow, Freddie Mercury, John Travolta, Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator and Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction were seen throughout Spain.
Fictional characters which have been spotted at practically every carnival in Spain for decades include Batman and the main figures from Star Wars, but this year they were joined by Thor, Captain America, characters from Frozen, Piccolo – the 'green friend' of Goku in Dragon Ball – and timeless classics like Rambo and Alice in Wonderland characters, from Alice herself through to the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts.
Some simply dress up as random objects for a laugh – bananas, hot dogs and post boxes were spotted last night in several locations – and firm favourites among generic costumes include pirates, brides and grooms, nurses, tigers, clowns, fairies, hippies, devils, motorbike riders, and flapper girls.
Typically, the children's carnival parades would take place somewhere between 17.00hrs and 19.00hrs, then the adult ones much later – sometimes after midnight.
All ages were out on the street, from 18 to well over 70, and some tying in their themed costumes with those of their children.
Fancy-dress shops, where costumes retail at much higher prices than the more simple 'ingredients' from Chinese bazaars, say the average customer spent around €30 to €50 on get-up, but that the total bill for each ranged from €18 to €75 depending upon budget and imagination.
Until recently, carnival celebrations outside the Canary Islands were few and far between, with one of the largest on the mainland being in Pego (Alicante province) a town of just 10,000 inhabitants which sees busloads of revellers in costume turn up from the provincial capitals of Valencia and Alicante, around 100 kilometres away, and sometimes even Madrid.
But in the past two or three years, more and more towns are beginning to hold their own versions, although Pego remains one of the best-loved and continues to attract upwards of 30,000 party-goers every February.
Photographs 1 and 3: Clowns and zebras at the carnival in Pego, Alicante province
Photograph 2: Cruella de Vils in Dénia, Alicante province
Photograph 4: Drag queens in Cádiz