Barbara Ehrenreich has been a columnist for the New York Times and Time magazine and has authored several books including This Land is Their Land, Nickel and Dimed and Dancing in the Streets, about the history of collective joy, as celebrated in carnivals and other festivities around the world. She contributes to Harper’s, The Nation and now Smithsonian. “I tend to gravitate towards topics that either infuriate me, and this includes all kinds of things on economic injustice, or fascinate me and arouse my curiosity,” says Ehrenreich. Her feature story “Up Close at Carnival” in Smithsonian’s February issue, falls under the latter.
You went into this experience of Carnival with nine years of research under your belt. But what still surprised you about the celebration?
I expected to be dismayed by signs of commercialization, and was surprised to learn that this is something that keeps Carnival relevant and evolving.
Why had you waited until now to attend?
I don’t know. Carnival in Trinidad was something I’ve wanted to see since my research for the book Dancing in the Streets, and at a certain point I decided, hey, let’s do it!
What was your favorite moment during reporting?
Definitely Jouvay. Although getting up at 3:30 in the morning is my idea of hell, I was soon swept up in the merriment and the beat.
Were there any memorable or funny experiences that didn't make it into the story that you'd like to share?
Breakfast after Jouvay was one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, partly because I was so hungry, and partly because I felt completely at peace.
What advice, if any, would you give others going to Carnival for the first time that you wish someone had given you?
Don’t bring any clothes that you have any hope of ever wearing again.