Sunday, January 31, 2016

the Carnaval season is upon us

If there's one thing Rio is best known for, it's probably Carnaval. And the Carnaval season has descended upon the city, almost as heavily as the thick, humid air that surrounds us here these days.

Having lived in two other Brazilian cities, we thought we understood a little of Carnaval: the country shuts down for a few days, people party really hard or use the few days as an excuse to go elsewhere, etc.

That's like saying the New Year's Eve celebration in Des Moines, Iowa is similar to the New Year's Celebration in Times Square.  (No offense if you're from Des Moines as I'm sure they have a fabulous NYE party, which is probably much more my speed than NYC's.  Let's just agree that most people don't travel from around the world to go to Des Moines on December 31, just as they don't travel from around the world to go to Carnaval in Brasilia.)

Carnaval officially starts Friday, February 5, and goes through Tuesday morning, February 9.  Unofficially, there have been neighborhood blocos (street parties) going on for the last couple weekends, and vendors are out in full force, selling costumes, hair ornaments, tshirts, etc.

We attended what was billed as a neighborhood bloco two weekends ago (in our neighborhood), but it was pretty lame with a small group of drummers, singers, and some dancers, and didn't give us a feel for what a bloco really was supposed to be.

Jimmy was insistent we needed to experience a real bloco so we chose an afternoon one to attend last Saturday in Ipanema.  I don't have any photos to show because I'd been warned a thousand times about shifty robbers working the bloco crowds so I left my phone at home.  The bloco was supposed to run from 4-8pm, but in typical Rio fashion, things didn't really get rolling until 5.  There were masses of people, many in costume and nearly all drunk or on the way there, and two large trucks, one that was purely for sound at the front of the parade and the second with singers and dancers that drove along surrounded by the masses of people who walked and danced in the street.

I can't really describe this experience to you except that it was unlike anything I'd ever been to and I don't know that I need to experience it again.  There were what must have been a thousand people in the street, drinking excessively, singing and dancing in the 100+-degree temperatures.  That was it.  We watched the two trucks and a lot of costumed people in between, around, in front of and behind the trucks go past our vantage point and then we fought our way back to the car.  It was VERY hot, VERY humid and I really didn't see the point of doing any of it.

On Sunday, the newspaper highlighted this particular bloco and said this year's theme of the bloco was "tolerance" (in support of a famous Brazilian singer who apparently was maligned for his actions and beliefs by intolerant people).  Whatever.  I didn't get the tolerance theme, but I might have been so hot that my brain was too fried to recognize the theme.

The blocos very much are neighborhood driven and generally feature samba schools that aren't good enough (or moneyed enough) to play in the big leagues at the Sambadrome during Carnaval itself.  There are two tiers of samba schools that get chosen to parade at the Sambadrome.  The bottom tier schools (which are still well above these neighborhood schools that parade in the blocos) parade in the "preliminary parades" on Friday and Saturday nights, and the more elite samba schools parade in the main parades at the Sambadrome on Sunday and Monday nights.  Those are the samba schools you see on television news clips with the ultra-amazing costumed (or barely clothed) dancers, drummers, floats, etc.

After the bloco experience, we came home to rest some before Jimmy and I went out to visit a samba school that will parade on the Sunday night of Carnaval.  The Unidos da Tijuca samba group, like all the other first-tier samba schools, host what are basically dance halls every weekend starting in November.  These events are usually open to the public and feature live samba music played by the group's drummers.  This was the final one before the official parade at the Sambadrome during Carnaval.  It was packed with people, dancing samba and singing the school's song over and over and over, many of whom will parade with Unidos da Tijuca next weekend.  Since we were guests of the school's president, we got to go down on the floor to see the presentation of the school's flag.  You have never seen such crazy, cool footwork by the male flag bearer!  (It's important to note that the flag bearers are VERY important on the night of the Sambadrome parade as their performance is worth a good bit of the whole score.)  Unfortunately, I didn't get any video of the flag bearers.  They were just moving too fast over too much of the dance floor for me to get them in action.

Some of the singers, up close and personal
The whole evening was great fun and an interesting cultural experience.  People are very loyal to their samba school, in much the same way they're loyal to their soccer team.  Many of these schools are in very poor areas and the schools provide a source of great pride and entertainment for the residents.  There were all ages out there from what looked like teenagers all the way up to older senior citizens.  It was great fun.

We are going to the Sambadrome on Monday night and Unidos da Tijuca is parading on Sunday night.  Since we won't see them perform officially, it was nice to see their flag bearers dance, meet their Queen of the Drums (famous Brazilian actress Juliana Alves) and soak up their very enthusiastic energy.  It was a completely original experience and I'm so grateful we were able to go.

But let me now tell you how unbelievably hot it was and how that triggered my self-diagnosed medical disorder of excessive sweating.

The building is large, and there are many fans and misters located throughout.  But add all those people dancing it up in already hot temperatures, and it was miserable.  I had tried to choose my outfit accordingly, given the heat and knowing that I don't glisten; I sweat.  Big-time.  I wore a loose linen dress because I figured even if it got sweaty wet, the linen would quickly dry out.


Water was dripping off of my body.  Literally.  I looked like I had just stepped out of the shower.  I could feel all the Lubriderm lotion I'd rubbed into my legs just melting off.  I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I could feel drips of sweat rolling down the backs of my legs. There is nothing more disconcerting than feeling sweat dripping down the back of your legs.  Trust me.  It was like my underwear were crying tears of hot, salty sweatiness.

Jimmy tells me that sweating is a sign of a  healthy body.  If that's true, I could be the poster child for any hospital's "healthy body" campaign.  If sweat glands on the backs of your thighs that actively release drops of liquid mean you're healthy, I win the prize.

This photo shows the pure-T heat in this building.  I am appearing fresh as a daisy only because I had just spent the last 30 minutes in front of a mister fan so I could cool down. I was called over to take this photo with the Swiss Ambassador (who had to buy a tshirt at the concession stand to change out of his sweaty shirt, the Queen herself (who actually has a little forehead glistening going on), and Jimmy who appears to have stepped from a shower that he took fully clothed.  This is what I looked like later in the evening when I had to leave the comfort of the mister fans.  
When we were down on the dance floor, watching the flag bearers dance an interminable song, I honestly thought I was melting.  I looked down at my dress and could see the sweat spreading as the turquoise fabric turned darker. Gross.  (For the record, everybody but the queen and some of her entourage were sweating so I was in good company.  Nobody else seemed fussed about it but I was grossed out by myself.)  As I was practically dying from the heat, I remembered that I'd heard you could get botox injections for excessive sweating.  I wondered a) how one gets diagnosed for excessive sweating; b) how many botox shots I'd have to get all over my body since I seemed to be sweating from every single pore on my body; and c) whether the botox-administering doctor would charge more to administer botox shots on the back of some middle-aged super-sweaty woman's thighs.

It should be noted that this excessive sweating was occurring at 1:30am in the morning.  It is unnatural to sweat that much in the middle of the night.  On the plus side, I weighed myself this morning when I woke up and I weighed less than I have in years.  Three cheers for Carnaval if only for water weight loss.
This was the "feels like" temperature OUTSIDE the building at 1:37am.  Inside the building, it must have been at least 115, and I am seriously not exaggerating.  

More to come as we enjoy more Carnaval festivities next weekend with friends visiting from Bogota.