*Blog written on February, 27th 2006*
Carnaval (deliberately spelt the local way) is something that Brazilians wait for and plan for the whole year. Costumes vary in price, from relatively expensive to exhorbitant. Many of the participants save the entire year to pay for their costumes.
This year, I was invited to participate... sort of third hand ;) Our consulate went as a group and Tatiana was invited to join them by her godmother, as it was taking place on her birthday. What a birthday gift. The godmother in question got sick the day before, but her costume was already bought, so I was asked to step in and, of course, it was handy having the camera going.
We went by taxi to the Vai Vai meeting hall in Bela Vista. For someone not used to the sensory explosion of color, smell, noise, and movement, it came as a shock. I think I must have stood gawping like the inexperienced foreigner I was for just long enough to get jostled out of the way. Fortunately, help arrived in the form of Audy, who showed us where to go, what to do and how the heck to get the costumes on. Trust me, it was an exercise in flexibility!
The sights were amazing. It was 2am, but sleep was furthest from our minds. Color everywhere! Sequins and glitter being the order of the day. Everyone was totally consumed with looking 'just right'. Cries of 'mind the feathers' were heard (of course, in Portuguese) constantly. In the parade, points are deducted from the school (what the teams are called) if any damage to the costumes is noted. At this point, there was already a fair amount of tippling going on among some of the participants.
The time then came to board the buses. I think each school must have had about 40 buses (it certainly looked that many!), with each group within the school being divided up among the buses. We eventually found our bus and the next challenge began. How on earth does one store all that sequin and feather on a bus seat without damaging any part of it and still be able to make yourself at least remotely comfortable??
The ride in the bus was boisterous and fun. The theme song was practiced over and over with great gusto. Each school has a theme they work on. Ours was the early history of Brazil, with the colonists and slaves. The song tells the story reflected in the costumes. Our part of the whole story reflected the slaves from Africa, thus the choice to put the Consular participants in that group. The group which followed were the 'cane cutters'.
We eventually arrived at the Sambadromo, the specially designed carnival 'stadium'... if you can imagine a stadium in a strip instead of a circle. At this point, we had to wait in the buses for what seemed like an eternity because one of the other teams had caused a delay. The group became more subdued and the 3 to 4am timezone was shown in the drooping heads murmurs, which replaced the shouting and singing.
It was a rather tired group that was eventually let out of the bus. We had to make sure our costumes were on and in place in preparation for parading. Here, we faced another delay, which took us through to daybreak. Sadly, the costumes, which are designed for night time under the spotlights, did not show up as well as we would have liked during the parade. In the early morning light, we shuffled into the Sambadromo itself. A transformation took place and all signs of tiredness disappeared. We danced and sang our way through under the huge spotlights and cameras, between the dancing, waving and shouting spectators, who were urging us along all the way. I wish I could have photographed or filmed the sights in the sambadromo. The floats were spectacular. The singing and dancing was as vibrant as one would expect from a carnival procession. We were hot! We were tired... we had fun. We paraded for 20 minutes, timing being crucial. Needless to say, I didn't know more than two lines of the song, but mouthed along with all the gusto I could. Who cared if I was singing anyway. There were more than enough other voices to make up for my lack :)
Carnival, Brazil's melting pot, where the rich and famous are best of friends with those from the favela's.... where who you are and what you are doesn't matter anymore, as long as you do your school proud. In 20 minutes of pure adrenaline, a year's hard work is displayed. The costumes, which dedicated seamstresses slave over for a year, are tested to their fullest. It was a very tired group that stumbled to the bus for the ride back to the hall at 7am. Costumes were piled one on top of the other this time and getting a seat to rest your aching feet became priority.
It is over now, until next year. Already Vai Vai has the beginnings of Carnaval 2007 displayed on their site. The photos of our little bit of the carnival can be seen on my site. I hope they convey at least some of the excitement of the night. Vai Vai came in second and was to parade again the following weekend, but we were travelling, so didn't take part. Congratulations Vai Vai!