Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Gasparilla insanity: As Tampa as Tampa gets

Today is Tampa at its merriest and most mad, at its lightest of heart and richest of history, its quirkiest, truest self. Today is Gasparilla.

And what says Tampa better than ships on the bay and rich guys in pirate pantaloons taking over the city? Better than cheering masses under impossibly blue skies? Better than cheap beads and cold beer?

Even veterans of the parade and ensuing partying that have been part of Gasparilla tradition for more than a century — I've done a dozen or so myself — have a hard time explaining its history to newbies:

See, these prominent white guys got all dressed up for this big to-do, and the city pretty much shut down for it, and … no, no, the Republican National Convention came way later.

Last year Town & Country magazine assessed Gasparilla as "perhaps the most eccentric — and politically incorrect — civic festival in the country." We're working on it, okay?

Explaining Gasparilla is like describing scachatta, that cold platter of pizza-like bread cut in squares and served at many a Gasparilla party. (Alessi Bakery alone anticipates selling 300 giant sheets of scachatta for today, plus about 1,000 Cuban sandwiches, another proud tradition.) Scachatta is said to be born of Tampa's Sicilian roots, and I've never seen it exactly the same in another town.

And how do you explain to outsiders that those jaunty, life-sized skeletons sitting cross-legged atop Hyde Park bungalows or leering from the balconies of Bayshore mansions aren't just tacky Halloween decorations we never took down?

Don't ask. Enjoy.

Like Tampa itself — which once featured a squat Curtis Hixon convention center, a river hidden from anyone who might want to look at it, and, as its most memorable downtown architecture, a building best described as either a stogie or a beer can — Gasparilla has grown. Gotten better, even.

The history: Ye Mystic Krewe, the first, most prominent and important bunch, was steadfastly all white and all male, a bugaboo that got the whole thing canceled once. In true if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em spirit, some 50 krewes of all flavor now partake.

In other improvements, police started cracking down on public peeing and other distasteful behavior that had become the scourge of surrounding neighborhoods, and also Tampa tradition.

Speaking of progress, the city itself keeps surprising us.

Downtown is no ghost town, the river no longer invisible. We're about to get an urban bike rental program like the kind Manhattan has embraced. A seriously hip hotel — with a rooftop bar, even — just opened across from storied Bern's Steak House. Tampa? Really?

Now, two things about Gasparilla do not change: imbibing and beads. The first is self-explanatory, the second harder to get unless you find yourself in the throes of it. Normal folk with lives and jobs and dignity scream, dance and dive nonetheless, some even flashing body parts, lore has it, to get strings of cheap plastic beads thrown their way. Did I mention there's beer? Tradition!

So today we gather along the winding ribbon of Bayshore Boulevard to party and play, to see our ship and our parade of pirates (and also politicians. For identification purposes, pirates are the ones with the eye patches.)

Today, we are lighthearted, historic, evolving. Tampa, really.

The Jose Gasparilla makes its way with guns blazing for the  2007 Gasparilla Invasion. Today Tampa celebrates Gasparilla, what one magazine called “perhaps the most eccentric — and politically incorrect — civic festival in the country.”

SKIP O’ROURKE | Times (2007)

The Jose Gasparilla makes its way with guns blazing for the 2007 Gasparilla Invasion. Today Tampa celebrates Gasparilla, what one magazine called “perhaps the most eccentric — and politically incorrect — civic festival in the country.”

Gasparilla insanity: As Tampa as Tampa gets 01/24/14 [Last modified: Friday, January 24, 2014 7:56pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. College basketball scandal dips into Tampa Bay

    Preps

    Tuesday's national college basketball scandal has recruiting ties to Tampa Bay.

    In this March 15, 2012, file photo, San Diego State assistant coach Tony Bland, left, talks during NCAA college basketball practice in Columbus, Ohio. Bland was identified in court papers, and is among 10 people facing federal charges in Manhattan federal court, Tuesday in a wide probe of fraud and corruption in the NCAA, authorities said. [AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File]
  2. Datz to open in St. Petersburg, join the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art

    Food & Dining

    Now Datz news.

    Get it? Tuesday, Datz, the longtime line-out-the-door, oft-Instagrammed and -Yelped Tampa stalwart known for shock-and-awe sandwiches and oh-so-much bacon, announced it is coming to St. Petersburg.

    Lunch guest eat at Datz Deli at 2616 South MacDill Ave. in Tampa. Times files.
  3. Republican leader McConnell pulls the plug on latest Obamacare repeal effort

    WASHINGTON --- Sen. Mitch McConnell on Tuesday officially pulled the plug on the latest plan to repeal the health care law, telling senators they will not vote on the measure and effectively admitting defeat in the last-gasp drive to fulfill a core promise of President Donald Trump and Republican lawmakers.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. listens during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2017, after the Senate confirmed Betsy DeVos as education secretary. DeVos was approved by the narrowest of margins, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-50 tie in a historic vote. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) DCSA119
  4. Lightning's Brayden Point could be perfect fit alongside Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov

    Lightning Strikes

    SUNRISE — Brayden Point ended last season as the Lightning's No. 1 center, thrust into the role as a rookie due to injuries.

    Lightning center Brayden Point (21) advances the puck through the neutral zone during Friday's preseason game against the Nashville Predators. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  5. For starters: Rays at Yankees, with Blake Snell starting, Wilson Ramos cashing in

    Blogs

    The Rays open their final road series of the season tonight at Yankee Stadium, which is also where they played their first of the season.

    LHP Blake Snell will be on the mound for the Rays, looking to continue his successful late-season run, in which he is 4-0, 2,57 over his last eight starts.

    Tonight marks Wilson Ramos' 55th start of the season.