Carnaval opened officially in Rio de Janeiro Friday night in the midst of summer heat and humidity.
Carnaval opened officially in Rio de Janeiro Friday night in the midst of summer heat and humidity. The muggy weather seemed to put somewhat of a damper on the festive spirit. The corwd of spectators was considered one of the smallest in recent years. The parade of samba groups started almost an hour behind schedule, and only a handful of clubs turned out. The dancing in the streets got underway about 11p.m. and continued until about 3 a.m. Saturday.
The tempo of the celebration will pick up over the weekend as the bigger clubs make their debt. The height of the festivities will be Sunday with the parades of the samba schools. Carnaval fun will end with Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent in Brasil, the nation with the largest Catholic population in the world.
Carnaval began in Brasil sometime early last centure, with the idea of pre-lenten partying brought form Portugal. In the last 150 years or so, Brasilians have made Carnaval their own. Today, it is the biggest popular celebration in Brasil, outside the continuing pageant of soccer competition As for Carnaval, Rio still boasts the most elaborate, spirited and most famous in the world.
Critics are lamenting the passing of Carnaval as the people's festival. But theopening night, Friday, is one of the last vestiges of times past. It's a wide-open street parade and dance, with no admission, no barriers or blockades, and the spectators readily join the singing, yelling, hand-clapping and sinuous dancing of the samba groups backed by the blaring brass and pounding percussion instruments of the bands. This Friday night spectacle down Rio Branco Avenue is full of the enthusiasm of the people and their spirit of fun.
This year the downtown activities are policed by more than 10,000 armed policemen who make sure the crowds don't get too carried away with the excitement, and to direct emergency first aid requirements. This year too. strict rules were laid down prohibiting use of masks, bikinis or of costumes disrespectful to the clergy and military officials.
The decorations, organising and getting ready for Carnaval camsed serious dislocations in the already congested downtown area. The city government is realizing more than ever that Carnaval costs dearly despite the influx of tourists and their money. The grandstands for parades and the decorating takes over blocks and blocks of main avenues. Streets are barricaded, buses rerouted, all of which makes a greater mess of an already chaotic traffic situation, and causing a slump and even closing down of businesses in the parade area for some two weeks or more. In the end, the protesters say, only some 50,000 lucky and richer ticket holders get the benefit of a night at the carnaval parades. The majority, the poorer, have to be content to watch on television or make do with simpler neighborhood entertainment. There's more talk than ever now about moving the big parades out of downtown next year, possibly to a wide stretch of highway in the open country along the Atlantic shore south of Rio.
Rising costs are putting Carnaval fun out of reach for the majority of people. The parade tickets may go form $5 to $50 and even more on the black market, this in a country where the minimum wage is $50 a month and only half the working population earns that or above. And entry to the masked balls can start around $50 and go to near $200. Even the traditional confetti tripled in price over last year due to the shortage of paper. A kilo of confetti now goes of $3, the same as kilo of good quality steak in a local market.
Still, most people say it's certain Carnavl is not about to die. It may be evolving and changing its form, but Carnaval will remain. Because while the cariocas (natives of Rio) did not invent Carnaval, they are the ones who really charged it with most of its wild, electrical excitement and sensuous allures. This spirit of Carnaval will continue, it is said, because this happy celebration is the streets is part of the carioca's soul.