Carnaval: Part 1 (An Opening Parade & A Birthday Bloco)
On the morning of my 34th birthday, I woke up to the sound of horns honking outside the apartment window.
Ja-dee and I fumbled with the blinds in the Airbnb until we lifted them up to expose the blue sky over Copacabana beach.
On the street down below, people were parading up the sidewalk in films of glitter, yelling, clapping, blowing whistles and small toy trumpets.
I could hear samba music blasting through the air but I couldn’t see where it was coming from. It was a mash of ballerinas with thick hairy legs and mermaids in sequinned bikini’s down there.
People had painted their faces in swirls of colour like those round, old school lollipops you see in the movies. We looked down at bright wigs, white sailor caps, red devils horns, plastic gold crowns and a couple of bald heads decorated with jewels.
Drunken laughter carried up to our apartment window and mingled with our squeals while we jumped up and down on the bed, in time with the drum beats below, until the parade turned a corner and everything faded out with it.
That was just one bloco, on one morning, while we were still in our p.j’s. The great thing about Carnaval is there’s blocos (street parties) all day, every day, all over the city.
They move around like a fiesta driven Pokemon and finding out where they are requires a mix of on line sleuthing, knowing the right people, and luck.
We found the bigger blocos online, the smaller ones by word of mouth, and got swept away in a few simply by being in the right place at the right time.
It’s like everything that happens behind closed doors is blown wide open into the street for all to see, and no one cares.
Good thing we glitter-ised every day, so we were always dressed for the occasion.
Carnaval’s a week long celebration of life with all the rules tossed out.
The official parades run from Friday through to Saturday, but the blocos start in early Jan and continue until the end of Feb, so you can unbutton your everyday self and head out as someone new for most of the summer.
We’d gone to the opening parade at the Sambadrome the night before.
We waited in the queue dressed in the results of a Pinterest inspired affair for two hours before we got to our seats. They were just one box away from the 700m long and 13 metre wide runway. We watched a river of glitter fuelled floats pass by until 2am that first night.
Because it’s so hot in Rio in February, the parades start around 10pm and run until 5 or 6am. Each school parades for about an hour, and you can have up to 12 schools in a night.
The parades were like the best stage production I’ve ever seen, on crack. Better than Broadway.
The Samba schools prepare for Carnaval for an entire year. Each schools’ theme was expressed by huge, sparkling floats upon which dancers in lavish costumes were shimmying, marching beside, or orbiting around courtesy of steel attachments.
On either side of the runway, people were packed into bleachers or upfront in the box seats, cheering, clapping or sitting back with their feet up, eating popcorn and enjoying the show.
At the time, we couldn’t of imagined things getting much more strange or beautiful, but as everyone we’d talked to had told us, Friday night really did turn out to be the warm up for Sunday’s closing parade.
After the noise of the bloco below had given way to the usual sound of traffic, we celebrated with a champagne breakfast, fuelling more creative inspiration that culminated in what we felt (and this may of been the early morning champagne talking) was our best make up effort yet.
We fell out of the elevator in the late afternoon and made our way down towards Ipanema beach.
The roads had been closed to make way for the human train that was jumping down the street.
Painted, gloved and costumed hands reached out towards us, grabbed ahold, and pulled us inside. We bounced down the street crammed against bare skin and mesh, catching glimpses of the ocean that came and went with the movement of the afternoons human tide.
Things get pretty wild inside a human train and being small, we got caught in the middle for awhile.
Caipirinhas appeared from nowhere and everywhere, like the grinning head of the Chesire Cat that people soon started to resemble.
Before we knew it, these two glitter bombs were down.
We avoided being trampled thanks to two Brazilian men, who scooped us up with the ease that comes from having incredibly bronzed biceps. We congo-ed all the way back to Copacabana, and woke up the next day with grains of sand stuck in place where the sequins should of been.
It was magic.