Let me take you down...to Crazy town !!! A tale of two cities !
15.02.2012 - 23.02.2012 34 °C
There is a line from the play "Charley's aunt" by Brandon Thomas that has resonated with me since childhood ..........This being when Charlie Wykeham speaks of his relative , Donna Lucia d'Alvadorez ,as being " from Brazil .... Where the nuts come from !!!!!"
Well ! Indeed !
Always attractive .... This sentence assumed epic clarity during the six days of mind numbing frenzy....endless samba driven backside jiggling......shameless hedonistic endeavour....and plain wall to wall party madness.... Unpuctuated by any semblance of rest.... That is Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro.
This is, my friend...where the nuts come from !
Moreover, it is not only in Rio that Carnivale takes over : indeed the whole country succumbs to Carnivale lunacy during the six days of the festival.....It is ,however ,only in Rio De Janeiro that Carnivale is celebrated and crystallised on such a grand ,energetic scale ,with round the clock dancing ,singing, carousing....and very often stimulation by various illicit substances to keep the whole juggernaut rolling for six days and nights without respite.
Be assured, ye who have not been privy to this event that the saying "slow and steady wins the race" simply does not apply....for whilst sleep may take you in its blissful embrace variously during this six day party....this vast river of celebration continues unabated...round the clock for the entire festival....ready at any time for the visiting reveller to jump right back in.
It seems somehow incongruous that Carnivale is actually the Latin way of preparing for Lent......that 40 day period of self imposed abstinence which is supposed to mirror Christs 40 day period of fasting and self examination in the wilderness..... and I'm sure that given the deeply Catholic leanings of this country for some individuals at least this significance is retained ! For the vast majority however it's just a huge opportunity to party hard.
The secular way of marking this religious calendar event in Britain and Australia is to eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday......In hindsight this custom might be considered slightly conservative considering that the Brazilian way is to assemble 10 million participants from around the world (many Rio natives...having seen this all before willingly escape the madness by heading out of town) in the unashamed pursuit of fun .
The next step is to clad said participants in the compulsory crazy garb...... (Everyone wears a costume of some description ranging from the flamboyantly expensive and glamorous costumes on display at the official sambadrome parades to the simple addition of a novelty item...usually a hat ....to ones wardrobe ).
My modest contribution to this vibrant and remarkable pastiche was a pirates hat red bandana and an eye patch ....which accoutrement was eventually rejected in favour of the much needed benefits of twenty twenty vision .It has to be said that I felt somewhat guilty given the planning and effort that had gone into most of the costumes on display around the clock......all ages ...children...dogs...everyone seemingly digs out the cossies and gets into the swing of things.
Maybe its the fact of my British heritage and stiff upper lip...as I'm not normally shy and reserved....but strangely enough most of the British and Australian participants in Carnivale ,whilst enthusiastic observers don't seem to have the appropriate party credentials to look good doing the samba.
Obviously there are exceptions to this rule...but as Tom....an Oxford graduate sharing my digs at the Rio Hostel was heard to intone " I wish I could .....but I cant seem to bring myself to let go and dance in the street ".
Obviously...whilst the City of Rio is extremely well planned and prepared for this onslaught of humanity......some things slip through the cracks......and in the sea of "Antarctica" beer cans and through the palpable odour of urine that descends upon the entire city as the toilet facilities are tested to their limits and eventually fail ( I have never seen so many people ...of both sexes openly urinating in the street) the reality of poverty and the ugly face of humanity rear their heads like the double headed Carnivale monster they undoubtedly are.
It is difficult to comprehend the number of people literally sleeping in the gutter.....not because of any over indulgence in most cases...but because this is their natural habitat......consigned to sleeping in a sea of beer cans , cigarette butts and flowing urine whilst the rest of party hard and snuggle down between freshly laundered sheets when it all becomes too much.
With this as a backdrop , therefore it hardly seems surprising that crime...particularly pickpocketing and petty theft become a reality that is the rule rather than the exception.
I was the victim on two occasions of being relieved of personal items...which incidents I am about to relate..and in a fresh spirit of looking at the world from a positive standpoint will endeavour to imbue these incidents with a positive slant.
Firstly my I phone !!! Myself and Paul ,a fellow Australian staying at the Rio Hostel in St Theresa were attending the opening procession of Carnivale and I was excitedly capturing some of the color and eccentricity with my apple device.... This obviously made me a target, since bitter experience would eventually inform me that standing too close to the vanguard of a procession ... To get a better look, is pure follly ... Putting you firmly in the path of the "I phone pick pocket detail" who seek to utilize the passage of the procession and the consequent press and loss of balance as an opportunity to relieve you of your connection to the outside world.
Surprisingly they didn't take my wallet !! Which would have has more far reaching implications..... however four people within a couple of meters of myself suffered a similar fate.
The sight of four people within a couple of meters of one another scrabbling in the gutter in search of their lost phones brought home to me what had actually happened ... Yet caught in the throng and with nowhere to go ... At least until the procession had passed.... All you can do is shrug your shoulders and marvel at the professionalism of the thieves .
Fortunately I insured the phone ahead of my trip... And I guess that's what insurance is for.
The second incident was on the final Night of Carnivale...... It was 1am in the morning and I had ventured from the hostel to the street to soak up the madness in Lapa one final time.....
I was aware of a completely different vibe.... The drunkenness of the populace was the sad drunkenness of several days of excess taking its toll and sharpening the atmosphere with a sad brooding malevolence which was palpable . The exhortations of the drug salesmen .... "cocaine hash Marijuana you try... Good blow" became almost frenetic and insistent to the point of being threatening . Similarly the approaches of the professional ladies of the district became more persistent ..... Not because of my wit and charm but because the commercial window of opportunity afforded by the festival was rapidly closing and by the looks of things some quotas had not been achieved .
I was approached by a Brazilian lady of a certain age ... Accompanied by a ring of dirty henchmen.... My white shirt and blonde/ white hair made me stand out I guess and for this lady I became a target .... She began to hurl profanities and obscenities at me from 15 m . And whilst my Portuguese is weak to say the least the vehemence of her outpouring whilst unintelligible to me left nothing to the imagination ... And even in the midst of the crowd I felt that bitter flow of adrenaline that tells you something is wrong...
Soon she was screaming right in my face and whilst she might have only been five foot 3 or so I felt the violence in her explode as she pushed me backwards with both hands simultaneously striking my shoulders..... Not knowing what to do ,I stood my ground and this is when she reached for my neck..... Grasped the chain and Argentinian peso which hung there and ripped it away.... She then held it up in front of my face with a blank evil stare and a gurgle of laughter which spread to her henchmen..... All of them poised for me to challenge her for its return.
I had purchased the chain at Ipanema markets for 10 reals so it was a cheap bauble ..... Had it been an item of some personal significance I might have pushed back for its return.... As it was I held up my hands.... Turned on my heels and legged it back to the refuge of the hostel.
I had heard tales of similar incidents where the individual trying to retrieve the item had been viciously beaten .... And in the case of one unlucky French photographer only three days previously lhad lost his life because he had refused to surrender his camera. So on this occasion discretion as opposed to valour was definitely the order of the day.
My Mate John Cowles captured it succinctly when he said ...." dont worry Paul think of it as a direct tax on those rich enough to attend carnivale .....going directly to the poor"... I do hope this is actually the case.
All told I dont think I really saw the real Rio.....the romantic Rio of Carmen Miranda.....the Rio that inspired Mike Nesmith to pen the words " Its only a whimsical notion to fly down to Rio tonight"....
I did catch a fleeting glimpse on my final day there before I moved down the coast....somehow within the space of twelve hours the beer cans had been removed....the urine washed away and the undoubtedly beautiful city of Rio emerged ,like a butterfly from its chrysalis, from beneath its blanket of party revellers.....
Thus revealed I could finally see the golden sands of Ipanema and Copacabana....glimpse Christ the redeemer presiding famously over the city from his mountain home and Sugar loaf mountain breathed a sigh of relief unburdened by its constant procession of tourists.
Brazil is a wonderful place...as I was to discover in surf country down the coast......with great people,fantastic food and an unbeatable climate.
Carnivale is not the real Rio....but Crikey...its one hell of a shindig !
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