Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Carnival Is OK I Guess

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

Two years ago when we were putting together the plan for this trip, Carnival in Rio was one of the "must-do" events that we built all other travel around. You can not really claim to have seen it all without attending the world's largest party. Right? Out of keeping with the best traditions of the OC, we made hotel reservations months in advance, and like West Hollywood's finest preparing for Halloween, I started thinking about a costume shortly thereafter. We even sent out a blanket invite to friends and family, but nary a person could be suckered in. You would think that the combo package of the most uber of all uber-fiestas and the company of the OC would sell itself. Go figure.

Cariocas (citizens of Rio) celebrate Carnival in a couple of different ways. Probably the most visually famous is the samba school competition in the purpose-built sambadromo - a long, narrow stadium complete with all the luxury boxes, vendors, and amenities you would expect to find at a major sporting event. The image called to mind by the idea of Carnival is probably one of a nearly nude Brazilian beauties in sequined peacock outfits. This is the place to find them. The competition is between different samba schools. It starts at 8 and ends at 6, with each school given one hour to parade their hundreds of imaginatively costumed dancers, complex floats, tremendous drum corps, and the aforementioned peacock ladies. We went on Saturday night to see the lower ranked schools. The action is apparently not as good, but the prices are also not as great. No matter, though, I am quite certain I could not tell the difference between a first tier and a second tier school and I only managed to make it to about 02:00 AM. Six hours of overwhelming spectacle and constant dancing was enough for me.

Brazilians seem to love a good street party and they are not hard to come by during Carnival. Local groups organize themselves into drum-heavy bands called blocos that gather at an appointed place and hour to parade through the streets with dancing followers. Some of them also include a big truck filled with speakers topped by singers and non-percussion instrumentalists. We participated in one of these. It took a circular route to and from Lapa in the center of town and drew a mixed crowd of gringos and locals. I enjoyed it, but by the end my legs were tired from slow marching and I was feeling a bit annoyed that I could not join in with the crowd's enthusiastic sing-a-longs. In addition to organized blocos, neighborhoods organize big street fairs with music stages, food stalls, and many places to buy drinks. One of our most memorable outings was to a Carnival fair way off the beaten track far beyond the borders of the Lonely Planet map.

Elaborate balls are another Carnival tradition. These vary from the posh black tie to the gritty gay disco variety. We went to one self-described "ball", but it was really more of a concert than a party at the Van Trapp's. The city organized a free samba show in a central square from Friday to Tuesday. We went on Friday. The music was good, the dancing interesting, and we met some girls who took us to a samba band drum practice and on to a hip hop club straight out of a 50 Cent video to round out a very complete evening. We ended up hanging with those kids for the rest of our time in Rio.

There are a few Carnival details that transcend the type of party. One is costuming. Almost every kid is decked out as a pirate or gypsy. Adults get in on the action as well. Big groups dress in identical jester outfits and run around in mobs. Individuals take on the guise of everything from diapered babies to super heroes from the future (in my case). The gay community is specifically well represented in the form of a nonstop stream of surly drag queens. Ubiquitous access to very cold, but very bad beer is another constant. You never have to walk more than about 30 feet to get a frosty Skol - a beer that goes down so hard you wish it would come back up. Last and not least, Brazilian street food is everywhere and varies in quality from horrifying to merely deep-fried.

Carnival was a good party, but it was not the be-all, end-all, booty-quake that I thought it would be. I have no idea how to dance to Brazilian music. It requires to move your feet much faster than normal North American humans are capable off. I can not talk to Brazilian girls. Portuguese is like Spanish in a blender. I hate Brazilian beer. Consequently, I could never reach the level of inebriation necessary for my least marketable skills to really shine. Most importantly, I kept seeing big groups of friends together and feeling nagging jealousy that I was not with my own mates. Just like New Year, it requires the right company to transform an experience from a good time to the time of your life.

3 Comments:

Blogger Juan C Nuno said...

OMG, they have a fucking Sambadrome?! I want to learn a dance that has its own drome!

3/06/2006 6:59 PM gmt

 
Blogger jason said...

I'm not sure the samba is for you, Nuno. When Brazilian ladies do the Samba shuffle, their bronzed booties quake you into a blissful oblivion.
I don't want to imagine what your booty would do. It frightens me.

3/11/2006 3:29 PM gmt

 
Blogger Juan C Nuno said...

I guess I'll have to settle for the swing and DDR. Which I do well. Even Lehra says so. And nothing impresses her. SO FUCK YOU.

3/18/2006 7:34 PM gmt

 

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