The first ever winner of the Drag gala at the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Carnival dusts off his platforms and his memories
Evening starts to fall on the bay of Las Canteras, in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Hundreds of people soak up the last few rays of sun down on the beach, as do some crabs in their prívate hide-outs, in a corner of La Puntilla, where the ocean laps over the age-old strips of volcanic lava giving them a polished finish like a skin covering a thousand year old black, dormant dragon. Nearby some fishing boats bob up and down, in view of diners from all over the world who are finding out what a papa arrugada salted potato and a chunk of sea bass taste like.
It is, in effect, just like any other day at Las Canteras. Suddenly, this idyllic setting is disturbed by a man wearing a fur coat (not dragon skin, in this case) and carrying a large backpack. Inside are two huge black coloured boots which were once the base of platform shoes for a character called Drag Heaven in the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Carnival. This man now posing proudly alongside such illustrious shoes is Carlos Menéndez, the winner of the city’s first ever Drag Queen contest back in 1998, a competition which is now into its twentieth year.
Carlos moves around the sand, fishing nets, boats, puddles and rocks as he tells us just how Drag Heaven came about. “I used to dress up every year with recycled materials on a Drag theme”, he recalls. Some friends of his encouraged him to go in for the first contest. For that year he stuck some horns on a fancy dress from the previous year, added a tail and made a few other adjustments. Neither he nor anyone else were aware at the time that he was putting together much more than a fancy dress. This would have launched him to stardom and the start of a mass spectacle.
Before the public could see what had never previously been seen, Carlos had to face the odd difficulty. The added height of his outfit due to the horns sticking out and the platforms meant he couldn’t rehearse at home. “I banged into the ceiling and if I moved I was in danger of knocking things over”, he laughs, twenty years on. Then his great moment arrived. “People just went mad when I came out, which really got me going right until the end, when the press surrounded me and asked me why people were getting so excited”, he explains.
So, these two boots which show off his silhouette with Las Canteras in the background made a real impression on the history of the Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Carnival, and specifically the phenomenon of the Drag Queen Galas, which are an internationally acclaimed event these days. The inaugural event hardly made local television first time around, although somehow a photograph of Carlos Menéndez made it onto a Dutch newspaper.
Some of the diners have been left open mouthed at the photo session starring Carlos Menéndez. We had better not tell them that their jaws would snap off in astonishment if they were to come along to the Drag events in the Carnival programme this year. On 25th February at 21.00, Santa Catalina Park in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria will be the venue for the Drag Queen eliminator contest, a prelude to the main Gala Drag Queen on 27th at the same time. Sandwiched between these, on 26th February, from 18.00 onwards, will be the craziest and most daring parade called Cabaldrag, a tribute to this joyous madness and to all those who have made it possible.