Across the Equator

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Street Carnaval in Rio
losmorris
Sitting back in Denver, Colorado oh-so-long-ago I would have never assumed that I would particularly like Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro. My image would have been of crowds, danger, noise and a bunch of drunken party goers mixed up with people in costumes parading around. Not appealing to this former accountant.

Well, thank goodness that old fuddy duddy got ripped from her comfortable existence and was thrust into a world where Carnaval happens! It is a total blast. And it is hard to explain well to those who have not yet had the experience – but I will try my best.

First of all, Carnaval (yes, this is the correct Portuguese spelling) is not just an event and is not just for a few days; it is an experience that happens over a period of several weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday (or Mardi-Gras). The dates change every year but it is always during the summer season in Rio.



Carnaval season kicks off several weeks before the big Carnaval parade with rehearsals at the Sambodromo and hundreds of parades/parties (Blocos or Bandas) in the streets of Rio. The difference between a banda and a bloco is that in a banda the musicians play traditional Carnaval songs that date back to Carnavals past. A Bloco, much like a samba school, has a special song created for the current year’s event.

Street carnival has apparently exploded over the past 10-20 years and the city government now requires them to register the time and routes of their parades to ensure that traffic will at least be aware of the closure of streets and to allow the city to put in place chemical toilets along the route. The latter is a good idea but covers only a fraction of the demand. Picture this – a big party with samba music, festive carioca singing and partying and lots and lots of beer. What comes next? Of course, xixi (she-she), or piss. Again, drunk people in a big crowd at a party. Lots of palm trees, fire hydrants and walls nearby or a long wait in line for a chemical toilet….. You get the picture. The scent of street carnaval is very distinct and unpleasant – so you drink another beer and move past it. As you can see, this had been a particularly dry winter so pity the poor grass if its only liquid nourishment is recycled beer….



Carnaval is the time when we really came to appreciate the Carioca spirit. Anyone is welcome, the mood is upbeat, and attire is whatever you find to be fun or outrageous or just comfortable. The people in the crowd are every bit as much fun to watch as the parade and – except for the pickpocket artists – are pretty friendly and helpful.

Anyway, our first street carnaval experience happened right outside our apartment building with the arrival of chemical toilets and the distinctive sound of drums and samba music.



It was a late Saturday morning so we went out to see what was up. As it turns out it was the newish Spanta Nenem bloco.



It began in a semi-orderly fashion with the police escort leading the way.



The crowd gathered and I developed severe hat-envy. Those blue hats are Antarctica beer (the sponsoring brewer) freebees and I was never able to find anyone giving them away. Next year I will be more diligent!



Speaking of Antarctica…… They missed no opportunity to market the heck out of their brand and had to have made a fortune during these several weeks. The only “official” beer sellers at the blocos and parades were Antarctica. It isn’t our favorite beer but, like all Brazilian beers we have tried, is pretty pleasant and perfectly refreshing in the heat of the summer.



Mixed in with the Antarctica marketing costumes however, is the “grown up” voice. The sign basically says that if you are going to drink and/or party then take a taxi.



Participants in pretty much all the parades include a variety of drag queens – this was a pretty tame bloco as were the cross dressers.



The baianas element is represented as well – here on stilts by a very coordinated lady. Bahia is a Brazilian state to the north of Rio that was a major slave port and home to much of the heart of Brazilian music and dance.



And here comes the Bateria (the percussion instrument group that is a major part of the blocos and samba schools).



And the sound truck with signers and speakers and confetti machines. Each bloco and samba school has its own song that is sung over and over through the whole parade. After a while even the non Portuguese speakers can at least sing the refrain, even if they have no idea what it means!





Note the significant sized speakers – and this is for a pretty small bloco!



How do you get energy to those speakers and microphones? With a mega-sized mobile generator of course!



After a few hours getting in the spirit we decided to retire back to our balcony and watch the happenings from above (where the bathrooms were much cleaner).





Don’t get the idea though that we were total party poopers. No, we had to prep ourselves for our next bloco – the famed Banda de Ipanema.





Banda de Ipanema is a very “traditional” (which does NOT mean conservative but rather refers to the music and format) banda that, as you can see, has been around for 47 years, and draws enormous crowds to its Ipanema parade. The event started around 4pm and was still a big party 4 or 5 hours later.

Funding these events goes on pretty much year round. The city chips in for samba school support, fund raisers are held throughout the year, and the bandas and blocos design and sell T-shirts. We thought the design of the banda’s 2011 T-shirt to be a bit busy so passed on the purchase.



The banda, as is true for the samba schools, has a theme each year. This year was apparently to honor Chico and Paulo Caruso, former political cartoonists from Brazil’s history.



This banda is famous for having the highest number of drag queens according to one of the local websites. These guys put the Spanta Nenem guys to shame!



But I am always a little troubled when they look more womanly than me!



The mob at the banda’s parades (they do 3 during Carnaval season) draw tens of thousands of people and we learned from this experience to get out of the way when the crowd starts moving to follow the banda. We learned by not moving and getting trapped in a crush from which we literally could not move for a few minutes. Of course that is the moment when pick pocketers move in but our losses were negligible.





While these were two of the street carnaval events that started off the fun for us, the blocos were pretty much non-stop, particularly during the weekends leading up to the official Carnaval kick off and on the 4 days preceding Fat Tuesday. More pics and stories in the next couple of blog postings.

My brother Jim and family joined us for Carnaval. Among other fine qualities, Jim is a great photographer and not shy about getting the perfect shot. So…. With great thanks to Jim, here are some shots of street Carnaval in Ipanema and Copacabana…..

Yes, this charming hat is a condom…. Why not? What Jim doesn’t show here is the condom hat that I bought for him – it just seemed like the right thing to do.



The Taxi girls – and we were pretty sure that they were actually girls.



These on the other had are just casual Carnaval cross dressers. But you gotta love the patriotic yellow and green bikini top!



I am sure their mothers are proud…



Me and the Wonder Women.



Well, the guys were hoping to see topless!



This was classic! We were walking back from the grocery store in downtown Leblon and just happened to run into these guys who loved being asked for a photo.



Perhaps this fueled some of the eccentricity and offbeat behavior?


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