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Why Not Try Carnival in Rio? (Update)

by Shayla Pandava


Beautiful bodies, topless or scantily clad women and men in the streets, sun, sandy beaches, rock beaches, mountains, all night parties, all types of people, sexualities, music, floats, and costumes -- Rio De Janeiros four-day (officially), three week (unofficially) celebration of pre-Lenten excess has begun. But you still have time to get there for the official celebration. If you like samba music, that rhythmic percussion-driven music with the nasty offbeat that seems to crawl up your hips like an aural snake, Rios famous samba schools offer the hottest samba music in the world and they provide it non-stop, dusk till dawn.

The "samba schools" are actually bands of neighborhood musicians (complete with neighborhood parade), since Rio is a place where your homies wear music like colors, and where year-round music lives on the streets. All through the year each neighborhood practices for this culminating event, Carnival, which sponsors a competition between the schools at the large stadium called the Sambodrome. At $1000 US per box seat and $235 US for the bleachers, this is no casual event. The cash prizes, the recognition, the rankings of the bands are all huge issues at stake for the neighborhoods. Not only is the music specialized and the costumes elaborate for each banda, but choreography is sometimes complex and technical, and it can include acrobats and professional performers. Some people have devoted their entire lives to their neighborhoods Carnival production year after year. Usually after a lifetime of dedication, these people march by special invitation in a group called Velha Guarda -- every school has a Velha Guarda. The judging of the neighborhood bands goes on for two days, and like other tropical fests (Reggae Sunsplash, for example) it runs through the night -- 9 p.m. - 6 a.m. Thats the sort of place Rio becomes during Carnival. But you dont have to go broke to see the bands and enjoy the wildest festivities. The huge bands start setting up on the street in gatherings called Concentrations -- you can catch an early run there or wait and watch the bands march through the streets of Rio, each with its own route and starting point, depending on the neighborhood it comes from. The bands are followed by neighborhood floats (also put together over a year of planning and building) plus sometimes thousands of costumed followers -- and these are expensive, original, painstakingly designed, home-made costumes, beautiful on the eyes, but often topped by weighty headdresses, held together by painful wires, and very difficult to move around in.

There are balls and parties; theres plenty of dancing in the streets, and the Cariocas, or local folk, are very touchy-feely, so bump and grind is a literal reality. Of course Carnival has an international reputation for attracting the loose, fast, and easy crowd, and for encouraging similar behavior in spectators, who get swept up in the "heat" of the moment. Its spring break for adults. But it is also known for romance and for getting couples together for the first time.

This year, the organized festivities start on Friday February 20 with the crowning of King Momo and they end Tuesday (the same "Fat Tuesday" of Mardi Gras fame) February 24 with massive all-night balls across the city while the Sambodrome rumbles with final band competitions. Depending on the ball (and the expense youre willing to incur, plus some balls have mandatory costume and tux dress codes), you may meet all manner of celebrity or political, from the president of Brazil, to international movie stars, millionaires, and politicos.

The streets, the beach, and the square at Ipanema (a favorite tourist destination) host one of the most active and prominent bands. Famous for exotic costumes, outrageous characters, and great friendly openness, the Ipanema band has already kicked off the street action (February 7), so people are partying there as you read this -- remember that its summer in Rio.

Just in: This year, the hot float is from the Grande Rio samba school (Grande Rio and its director Joaosinho Trinta have been stirring up controversy for years). With a theme of "Lets Wear the Little Shirt [read: condom], My Love," the float will be parading around with the sculpted counterparts of Adam and Eve in Kama Sutra postures. Apparently the Catholic Church had that familiar reaction, "I dont want to think about my fore-parents doing it." They came down on Trintas float with warnings. Back in early January, Trinta said he wasnt going to change a thing. "Look, the sculptures are reproductions of the Kama Sutra," he said, "Im not to blame if ancient art from India is in bad taste." The church reminded everyone that if Trinto didnt clean up his sculptures acts, "we could enter with a court order to have the float banned from the parade." So Trintos latest statement is "were going to cover some things with leaves and vines and roots." Sounds like the ending of the Eden story; or is it West trumps East? However, many of Brazils AIDs organizations are behind Trintas lovers, er, support Trintas lovers. Given the fact that Trinta is a bit of a rebel, and that gravity and wind can do "inappropriate" things (just ask Marilyn), and given that leaves, vines and roots are all that stand -- OK rest -- between thousands of half-naked, gyrating parade followers and the terrifying sight of people making love, well, Id be watching the float towards the end of the parade.



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Part 3: Sex Sells
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