Now let me tell you a colourful tale….
On the eve of Carnaval the call of relentless drumming echos all around. I’m staying in Santa Teresa, a maze of cobbled streets perched on a hill overlooking Lapa and Centro. The view from this part of the city is great – helicopters, jumbo jets and birds from the Tijuca park cruise across the panorama of blue sky day in day out.
And, in memory of Raiders of the Lost Ark, a rhythmic cacophony rises up. It’s like you’re being summoned. There’s a great feeling of ritual. Submission. A call to abandon yourself to the season of madness.
Like an enjoyable itch!
Excitable whispers are all around about which bloco? when? where? Now this really does feel like a marathon of sorts. Both locals and traveller friends all exchange advice on how to go the distance during Carnaval so you don’t burn out after 2 days
It’s Thursday night and I pop along to L’Argos des Neves. (literally: Square of the Snows, from the Catholic Maria of the Snows).
Friday – ‘Carmelitas’, Santa Teresa
A gang of us make-up, mask-up, dress-up and walk fifteen minutes to Praca Gomez for the Carmelitas bloco. It’s thrilling. The streets are heaving with the colourful joyus rabble. It’s impossible to resist this affectionate wave of energy and camaraderie.
The fews cars daft enough to attempt access down this part of town are covered in jovial bodies. I’m squashed against a VW Beetle (engine running, driver looking pissed off, revving the motor) …by loved up revellers, my Danish, Argentinian and Canadian compadres and I being some of them. All we can do is look at each other and keep repeating the same words: “this is amazing – this is amazing – this is amazing!!!”
Juan and I agree to rise early and catch another local bloco, Ciel na Terra. We’re there at 8am and the gorged parade is already in full swing as it actually started at 6am.
Okay, so I’m becoming accustomed by now to the Wonder Women, the men dressed as Nurses, Mario Brothers, all round eclectic fancy dress. BUT! then come the huge puppets and banners, floating along above the umpteen people beneath – WOWee!! Trumpets sound, chants are called. My bottom lip begins to quiver, my face rushes with sensation, I start to weep! This is overwhelming and wonderful!
I’m across the globe from my sleepy rural home in ye olde labyrinthine Santa Teresa; it’s early morning and all these people are absolutely fully committed to looking incredible, coming together, finding an instrument and playing it, hearing a rhythm and dancing to it, seeing a face and kissing it.
This IS the pyschedelic storm I anticipated!
Sunday – ‘Boilata’, Praca XV and Praca Tridantes
Word on the street is that the hoe-down at Praca XV is gonna be good today.
A bunch of us head down and catch the last of it. We perk ourselves up with salgados and acai to the terrific sound of drums around us.
I bump into Marisa and leave my hungover friends to go with her to Praca Tridadentes where another bloco is underway.
The walk across this central business district is an event in itself. There are few cars around, lone skyscrapers stand. Crazed packs of Carnavalistas occupy the streets. I’m reminded of one of my favourite zombie films ‘28 Days Later’ where London is deserted.
The universal ´we´ are all walking in the same direction teasing, chasing, playing with each other, marching on to the next sound cloud somewhere in the distance.
Vendors selling popcorn, hotdogs, coconut water are here and there. Stood by their barrows, they too are happy!
The Afrika Folk Pop dancers are busting out some great moves. I’ve seen them around the city in the weeks leading up to this, busking around the city.
Monday – ‘Sargento Pimenta’ (Sergeant Peppers), Parque do Flamengo
There’s a bloco at Flamengo today. The theme: Sargento Pimenta/ Sergeant Peppers, a samba band playing the Beatles. I have reservations about such a combination: Sambarised Beatlemania?!
The bus journey there is colourful. The holiday vibe is so normal now – the whole city is at the mercy of Carnaval! I’m in love with this.
Parque Flamengo is expansive. Peter, Juan and I join the crowds walking along. You can´t hear the music yet but the magnetic pull of the bloco draws us in to worship.
Ah-ha! As we get closer the excitable samba bateria drums call out, “…You got to admit it’s getting better, it’s getting better aaaaalllll the time….” is sounding really bloody good with the added dimension of this bossy rhythm! Oh heck! I know the words! I spent many a day as a teen gobbling my way through the Beatles back catalogue, whilst absorbed in art homework – I know ALL the words – hurrah! No more attempting to mime my though a marchinha.
Despite warnings of a potential camera snatching I clutch my prized DSLR baby and snap away in the heaving crowd. More colour – more energy – more enthusiasm – with a sassy Beatles soundtrack. YES – I think this works!
Tuesday – Final official Carnaval day
……and I wake up feeling sick. Aching body, sore throat, headache. I stay in bed and wonder if this has all been a dream. I prop myself up with herbal tea and porridge and sleep and sleep and sleep.
To conclude? it’s been brilliant fun. I’m already planning my return and a more ambitous costume for next year.