I've been asked a few times over the past few days why I'm not taking part or at least watching carnival. I'm dragging out the details of our one carnival experience here in São Paulo. You can read about it here if Yahoo cooperates.
Carnival here is extremely expensive for all concerned, except those hanging out at home participating via TV broadcast. They have it lucky, really. The costumes range from R$100 into the millions. The poor save all year for their costume, which they'll get to show off for a whole 20 minutes. The moment one carnival is finished, the organisers, designers, composers, and seamstresses start work on the next year's display. Tickets to watch range from US$88 to over US$1000. I'm not exaggerating. Tomorrow is the official carnival, though business and schools closed Friday and will only open after noon on Wednesday again.
Our carnival experience was in 2006. Carnival fell on Tatiana's birthday. Her godmother thought it would be a great idea for her to experience carnival as part of her birthday. Tatiana and I were among those representing the South African consulate, who thought the theme of the progress of the slaves was fitting. Early on the Tuesday evening, we had to meet at a hall in the center of town. It was an ants nest of moving feathers and sequins, yelling, last minute snacking, temper tantrums when feathers got broken... in short, a cacophony of humanity. Around 10pm, we headed to the buses. We were meant to enter the Sambadrome at midnight or by latest 2am.
Confusion. No one knew who was to go in which buses. The 'lead' dancers got first choice, then the pushy dancers, then the confused masses. A small riot would break out whenever a feather or sequin was damaged, as points would be taken off for the 'school'. The actual carnival procession is a competition with the different regions (they call them 'schools' for some reason) competing for the much-coveted Samba award. Points are given for precision, music, composition, presentation, and more. Points are taken away for being under or over the allotted 20 minutes you are given to display your parade, for losing parts of costumes, stepping out of sequence... and more. Our 'school' was Vai Vai. We packed ourselves into the buses. I mean... packed! I do have a more 'artsy' photo, but this photo gives you an idea of the level of comfort we were in for the next 6 hours. That '6' is not a typo.
The costumes were well made. I was surprised more didn't fall apart. The costumes were HOT! We toasted in our layers of nighty material. I don't know what else to call that fabric. It is thin, shiny, slippery, sweat-inducing, awful stuff. The shoes were of a very thin vinyl... a wear-once-and-toss item. In fact, everything fell in that category. The headdresses were heavy, held onto our heads with brackets. Having your eye poked out a few times during the course of the swirling and dancing wasn't unheard of. The 'thing' over our shoulders had a huge metal bracket anchoring it in place as well. What didn't stick to us, scratched. Not the most comfortable outfit I have ever worn, but what a night!
It turned out that a few of the previous teams were late and messed up in their 'shows', so there were major delays. Our time to enter the Sambadrome came and went. The atmosphere in the bus went from "Let's practice at the tops of our voices" to "Shut up, I'm trying to sleep." We got into the Sambadrome, the actual parade area, around sunrise. Yes, we had been up all night, waiting.
I have a video up on Youtube of the 'practice' singing in the bus. What I wanted to show here was the sheer volume of the actual procession and the energy needed. No, I don't know how many calories get burned, but trust me, it is a Lot! The bouncing on the feet is kept up the entire time, non-stop, along with the twirling and singing.
At the end of the procession, we danced out of the Sambadrome. We could only stop once we were out. We found ourselves looking out over the freeway and over the carnival graveyard. As dancers were leaving, they were dumping their costumes on a heap for the refuse and recycling people to come by and pick up. It looked sad, in a spangled, feathery way. A year's worth of savings and preparations lying abandoned on the side of the road.
The whole Sambadrome experience is something that everyone in Brazil should experience at least once. Many thousands do it year after year. As for me, I've had my once-in-a-lifetime experience and frankly, it will stay a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I enjoyed it once it really got going, though the endless waiting was a killer. I'm don't like noise and the noise of carnival was definitely not enjoyable. At least I can say I did it. It is a story to tell the grandchildren, if you know what I mean.
The main carnival points are places like Rio and Salvador, though it seems many are going to the beach towns to celebrate in smaller crowds. São Paulo isn't a touristy place at all. Outside of the Sambadrome, if it weren't for the tabloids and television, we'd be blissfully unaware of carnival. I think I like it that way : )