Across the Equator

South American Adventures

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CARNAVAL!!
losmorris
This blog post is probably the toughest one I have ever done. The simple reason is that the Carnaval parade is overwhelming in all senses. The music, the colors, the samba rhythm, the large number of paraders, the sheer physical exhaustion of pulling an all nighter. There is no way to capture it all short of actually participating. So I will take a shot but highly recommend that some day you come to Rio and attend.

The final – and biggest - event of the Carnaval Season is the parade and competition at the Sambódromo. The purpose of parade is for the top samba schools to compete with each other. The top 12 have been chosen from the prior year – 2 of the prior year’s top 12 were eliminated and 2 of the second tier moved up. Since each samba school has thousands of members and represents a huge population from the respective communities (typically favelas) this is a huge honor and one that is taken very seriously.

Each school chooses a theme (or “enredo”) for their annual entry. The samba schools prepare for months to build floats and design costumes to represent their themes as well as creating music and an enredo song that will be played by their band (the “bateria”) throughout the parade. Each school's entry includes six to eight floats and thousands of participants. There is a special order that every school has to follow with their parade entries and, similar to an Olympic competition, each of the required components is judged individually and a composite score is developed to determine the winner.

The site for the big event is the Sambódromo, a “structure” that was built in 1984 and consists of a central street for the parade and several buildings to house the viewing stands, the luxury boxes, the judges and the various services that the 60,000 or so viewers might require (burger & beer stands, bathrooms, medical facilities and such). It looked kind of shabby when we were there for rehearsals but was pretty dolled up for the big night. Or rather nights….. The competition takes place on Sunday night for 6 samba schools and Monday for the final 6 schools – the winner is announced the next Wednesday or Thursday after the scores are compiled. The parade is scheduled to begin at 9 pm and end at 4 am with each school being given about 50 minutes (plus or minus) for their parade. In fact, it ends closer to 6 am and the last school parades in with the rising sun. Needless to say Red Bull is an essential ingredient for this event!

Way back in December Richard and I had purchased tickets for a “Frisa”, a seating area for 6 attendees that sits right down on the parade runway. Unfortunately Bonnie was unable to join us as her health gave out after all the blocos, so the clan that set out on Monday night was just the 5 of us. Here we are looking fresh and awake:


And here we are in our Frisa, ready for the big event to begin. Note the wide awake, Red Bull energized faces.


As you can see, the 9 pm start time was more a suggestion than a rule. This is, after all, Rio. Also, our seating was near the end of the roughly half mile Sambódromo parade route.


So we all waited for the arrival of the parade with all of our soon to be best friends!


Still smiling....


Snacks were available for the hungry and just plain odd among us...

The first school out was União da Ilha and their theme was Darwin and the Origin of Species. So here is Master Darwin.


Their entry began with the single cell and moved on to sea monsters.


Complete with the ladies of the float...


Interspersed with the “ladies” of the street...


Sea life evolved...


And continued to evolve...



And after several interim measures, the mammals entered.


In the mean time, we mingled with the former parade participants who came into the Frisas after their performance was completed. I considered joining a samba school as a way of celebrating Carnival this year, and may do so next year. Joining a school is a commitment of money and of time for a portion of the parade. Should I do so, I too would own a costume and have the privilege of still being able to buy a seat to watch the subsequent samba schools.


The parade format includes the floats, large groups of “theme based” marchers and the special celebrities.


More schools, more floats...



This float was especially fun...


Particularly the “back end”...


Every school had several porta-bandeiras - the very important ladies who are in charge of the samba school flags. She is joined by the mestre-sala, who is supposed to draw everyone’s attention to "his queen", the porta-bandeira.


And yet more visual stimulation.....







About half way through the evening – a little after midnight – the rain let loose. It poured through one entire school’s performance but, as you can see, did not deter the crowd.



Remember the Baiana ladies from the rehearsal? Well now they are all dolled up in full costume. Each school had their retinue of 80 + elderly women dancing their way down the avenue.


And more floats....



This one was particularly interesting. This large balloon came in with the floating angel who had waited, while floating, through the rain for an hour before entering the Sambódromo. After getting drenched she still came through to announce the arrival of the school and to float elegantly until –we hoped – she found a dry, fleece bathrobe at the end!



But meanwhile..... what were we doing in the Frisa while all this parade action was going on? Well.... our neighbors danced


And we joined in – rocking way into the morning!


The younger, and not yet Carioca, generation had forgotten their Red Bull.


Honest to God – the next picture on my camera.... it’s now like 4 am and we’re hungry!


In fairness to my brother, he was there till the end, taking the pictures, rocking and dancing and enjoying. My camera battery gave out and stopped taking stills so don’t have the "Rockin’ Jim" on film – he was great and a fine tribute to our generation.

The final school was Beija Flor (meaning humming bird or, literally, flower kisser). So their first float, obviously, had lots of humming birds. Note that the sky is starting to turn blue...



Children were featured on many floats, but particularly in Beija Flor. I just hope these young ladies had some opportunity to sleep!


And still more floats – the night (or morning) is not yet done!


This woman had so much more energy than I. By now I was starting to fade....


But the elderly Baiana ladies put me to shame!





So, the parade ended around 6 and we (plus the other 60,000 attendees) hauled ourselves to the metro and the mile plus walk from the last metro station to our apartment. As my feeble memory serves, I recall looking at the “morning people” starting their days in Ipanema and feeling great envy about the fact that they had actually had a good night’s sleep. But – they didn’t have the fabulous night of a lifetime at Carnival!

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