I was in Rio for carnival so have neither written much nor posted for almost a week.
Being in Rio was great, especially because of the huge interest in street carnival, known as blocos. There were more than 400 blocos this year and what amazed me most was how people were dressing up like never before.
One obvious way to subvert norms was dressing up, particularly men dressing in drag. This year I saw hundreds of men in outrageous drag and many hundreds more in other costumes. It was a marked change from years gone by. People were definitely getting into it more. Carnival 2010 was more participatory than I had ever seen.
One of my favourite stories from Brazil was written during carnival 2007 on the return of street carnival. I consider this piece to be one of the best I’ve ever written during all my time here. I filed it to my editor at Time, who wrote back with a one word reply, saying: Delicious. It was a response I’ve never forgotten. The story starts:
It is 6 p.m. on a Saturday afternoon and I am standing in a public square in Rio de Janeiro surrounded by babies in fancy dress costumes. On my left there is a woman dressed as an angel and on my right is a bearded man kitted out as Alice in Wonderland. Next to them I am a picture of sobriety; the only sign that I might be infected with the same madness as those around me a custom-made belt around my waist holding bottles, drinking glasses and twizzle sticks. I tell people who don’t know carnival that it is the same ritual every year, just two weeks of happy, drunk people cavorting around the streets half naked. And like every year, my innate Scottish reserve stops me from jumping into the fray with the same abandon as everyone else. Yet as I slip my cocktail back in my belt and watch grown adults spray each other with foam, I know that if I really want to enjoy myself, I must join the ranks of those happy drunk people cavorting around half naked. “Carnival is interaction,” agrees my friend Tatiana Guimaraes. “You have to get in there in the middle of it.”
More and more people are taking Guimaraes’ advice this year as carnival returns to its roots and the street parties that were once the staple of the pre-Lenten festival. Until the 1980s, Rio’s big samba schools paraded through the city center, their dancers, drummer and floats feted on all sides by enthusiastic revelers. But when the celebration moved to Oscar Niemeyer’s sambadrome in 1984, it marked the beginning of the end for the spontaneous carnival of the people. Authorities began selling tickets to what had been a free show, pricing out many. Corporate clients reserved large parts of the arena for the rich, famous and, this being Brazil, beautiful. Around the same time samba schools themselves moved away from their roots in Rio’s poor communities, giving awards to sambas sung by outsiders and adopting themes sponsored by multinationals. In response, the Cariocas, as the residents of Rio are called, have chosen to go the other way, local instead of international, familial and not corporate.
In a nice wee bit of symmetry, I met up with Tatiana Guimaraes and her husband Onaicram at the Bloco de Segunda in Botafogo on Monday. She gave birth to their first child three days later. Baby Artur is a carnival baby for a carnival couple.