Carnival is under way in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and it’s the last
blast before Lent.
“Lent is more like a brief pause during a year-long party,” says Brazillionaire architect Rodolfo Doubek-Filho who
designed the ultra-modern city of Curitiba. “The entrudos (pre-parties) begin in October, and just get bigger until five
Fridays before Lent when the samba schools errupt and take to the streets.”
Incidently, Doubek-Filho and other veterans of the annual madness do what the late Peter Allen did: They go to Rio.
Cariocas — the residents of Rio — are among the most gorgeous specimens on the planet, a product of their Portuguese,
French, African and pre-Columbian diversity. Clearly, God mixed the human formula perfectly here: Cariocas work
hard and play hard; the female of the species almost elevates thong-wearing to an art form on the nation’s beaches, from
Ipanema to Uba Tuba.
This national ‘un’dress continues to inspire the costumes not quite worn by Carnival revellers. “Which makes it all the
more amazing that a straight, single man-about-town, Candido Claudio Vasse, would cover up these perfect bodies by
inventing Rio’s first Fashion University,” adds fashionista Anna Maria Tornaghi, reigning Queen of the Carnival’s
Masqued Ball, one of Rio’s hottest tickets. Tornaghi seemingly chairs everything social in Rio, and heads the committee
for the city’s 400th anniversary.
Imitations of the attire worn by the country’s first export to Hollywood, Brazillian bombshell Carmen Miranda (aka:
Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha wasn’t even Brazilian), are sometimes available in the shops and stalls, downtown
called “Saara”, but the Carmen Miranda Museum is being relocated to Copacabana Beach where it will continue to
attract film addicts and drag queens of every nationality. Some of the best (and briefest) costumes are still designed at
Casa Turuna, Carnival central since 1920. Others can be purchased or rented through the Samba Schools. Incidently,
the average cost to perform inside the sambadromo is between 5 to 7 million “reais ” (USD$3 to 5 million) for each of
the big samba schools.
“The late Peter Allen was Carmen Miranda in drag,” asserts carnavalista and author Angela Bowie whose ex-husband,
David, credits Allen with shaping his career.
“Peter and his then-wife, Liza Minnelli, loved Carnival: Its influence on his
performance could be seen in every, flamboyant rustle of his frilly samba shirts. But the entire population of Rio is
further out than either Peter Allen or David Bowie.” Amen, sister.
“Keeping up with the cariocas isn’t for the feint of heart,” she added.
There is a kind of Carnaval endurance course to complete before Rio’s banks, government buildings (even Paulo
Mamede’s performance space, in the historic section, downtown) and various businesses around Rua da Alfandega, Rua
Buenos Aires and Rua Uruguaina pull in their Welcome mats and lock their doors for the celebration. People who
want to see the early parades will be up early. For others, it goes something like this: Unless you’re headed for a job,
rise at the crack of Noon and proceed directly to Marius, barbecue joint extraordinaire. Bring a thirst for a late
lunchtime caipirinha (traditional Brazilian drink-cum-paint-stripper), caipiroska (relatively harmless, made with vodka)
or chopp (beer) as you pick your salad from Marius’ rooftop garden. Graze and talent spot: The place is always packed
with famous faces, a few redesigned by the now-retired famous plastic surgeon, Dr. Ivo Pitanguy, who received the
Legion d’Honeur for his invisible seams, but his gorgeous kids are now in the family business.
Treat a hangover to acai in any beach bar (or train by drinking Sambazon before you leave home) or guarana, the
Amazonian energy bean available in everything from chewing gum to cigarettes and soda.
You’ll need a reliable taxi (like that manned by Tony, the driver who never met a red light he didn’t run): It takes nerves
of steel to ride in one of the many altered VWs that dart through the city. Roll to Arcos da Lapa, and eat your way from
one end of the menu to the other (Fundição Progresso is now responsible for the organization of the open-air Carnival
event “Rio Marchinha”, in the area near Arcos da Lapa from March 4th through 8th.). The national dish, feijoada, is a
long-running hit at the Casa de Feijoada, Caesar Park, the hipper-than-ever Hippopotamus or the very cool (and very
pricey) Colombo Coffee Shop. Be seen at the Palm and El Turf in the Jockey Club on Tuesday, the best night for the
There are also gafiera dance halls where you can hear cavaquinho (guitar) and pandeiro (banjo) music. Most feature
Batucada — song and dance that requires foot-stomping, hand-clapping and enormous quantities of alcohol.
Weekly gay and lesbian parties happen all over town as Rio is very gay-centric. On Saturdays, head to Lapa’s nightlife
district — and the Fundicao Progresso, (a whole different scene). On Sundays, Bracarense in Leblon is so jammed you
can only get in with a whip-and-a-chair. Consolation prize: The Hippy Fair in Ipaenema, and impromptu food fairs from
beach to beach, all over town. Try the ramps: Since the French catered to their Napoleonic Royals in Brazil, cariocas
developed a taste for escargot. Now, the University of Brazil has developed a method for harvesting snails in only two
months, rather than France’s two years. Add garlic and drawn butter to taste and samba.
“Think of the movie ‘Orfeo Negro’ (‘Black Orphaeus’) as a kind of training film for Carnival,” affirms the Supreme
sambanista, Mary Wilson. “Antonio Carlos Jobim’s score for the film put samba’s bossa nova beat on the international
music map,” which is why Rio’s most famous saloon may be the Bar Garota de Ipanema where Jobim and Vinicius
de Morais composed ‘The Girl From Ipanema.’ Samba along the undulating, sea-wave roadway from Copacabana
Beach uphill to the sidewalk outside famous late samba-music man, Noel Rosa’s home, where it turns into musical
notes that comprise his compositions.
From this perspective — or any of Rio’s lofty viewpoints — take a long look at the Tijuca rain forest (planted by a
princess, a general and five slaves over a century ago at the behest of Emperor Pedro II), the ‘lungs’ of the city; Sugar
Loaf mountain which dominates the entrance to the harbor; the art deco Christ the Redeemer on the hunchback
Corvocado mountain, reigning high above the skyline. Every structure seems to be occupied, pulsating at every hour,
the perfect backdrop for the phalanx of hang gliders who follow the air currents to the ocean where a 24-mile beach
party begins each New Years Eve and runs until Lent.
The Terreira o do Samba’s concerts are surrounded by food stalls, singers, dancers, acrobats on every beach.
Appearances of various bands — including the Ipanema Band, Carmen Miranda’s Band (comprised fabulous drag
queens), as well as the popular Simpatia e Quase Amor, Corda o do Bola Preta, and Survaco de Cristo — are announced
in the local papers (and, occasionally websites).
When the Cidade Marvilhosa’s 19th century elite held formal bailes (masquerade balls) and processions, they excluded
the poor of the favelas (Rio’s slums). And yet it was there that the most famous escolas de samba (samba schools)
would be born; there that the local jongo music would evolve into timpanic Ze Pereira bands that give Carnival it’s
urgent, irrepressible beat.
Many of the important Masqued Balls samba in Copacabana (the most famous sambas aqt the Orient Express
Copacabana Palace Hotel) and along Ipenema Beach. Good luck getting into Anna Maria Tornaghi’s Ball, the tickets are
distributed by invitation only, This year, there will be a revival of a famous celebration at the Port, alongside several
Carnival Balls sponsored by Devassa Beer (they are being called Devassa Balls and all of them will be held at the
renovated warehouses at the Port of Rio. The City of Rio official opening Gala Ball will be the first one in the city, and
the last — but certainly not least – is the Great Gala Gay Ball, on Tuesday, March 8th, the last day before Cariocas get
Book a samba class to get your Carnival muscles in shape. The most expensive occur on weekends when tourists feel
obliged to appear en masse in Rio’s poorest neighbhoods. Whether to observe or participate, take a week-night class at
Beija-Flor, Imperio Serrano, Imperatriz Leopoldinense, Mangueira, Mocidadle Independente and Portela schools in the
Zona Sul (southern Rio) which often create the richest and most colorful high-energy performances with flawless
spontaneity. Classes cost an average of R20 in the beginning to R$50,00 (USD $12-$30) in the last days before
Carnival in the main samba schools like Mangueira, Salgueiro, Unidos da Tijuca, Beija Flor, etc.The last rehearsal date
was Thursday March, 3. Each Samba Sch$ool has a different week day for its rehearsal so check their own websites and
Samba school ranchos and desfilars are parades that may require tickets available from September, on, but the only
parade that requires a ticket is the main one. It’s expensive to participate in a parade, but the schools’ parade ticket price
often includes costumes and a seat in the stands. Check the fine print. The smaller samba schools of the bairros
organize Blocos, informal street processions. You don’t need a costume or a ticket, but there performance schedules are
very, very flexible. Many of the schools samba all the way from the favelas to Ave. President Vargas
to show their stuff at the massive, sculptural Sambadromo (designed by Oscar Niemeyer), the real location of the
parade as samba schools don’t do any formal parading before that. Just take the metro to Largo do Carioca or
Cinelandia: many streets are closed to traffic as the participants are inside the sambadromo, at the “concentracao area”.
Inside the enormous structure, performances begin before an audience of about 90,000 every single night, foul weather
or fair (a great deal of alcohol is available from the VIP section to the nosebleed seats, high above). On Carnival
Sunday, be at Avenida Rio Branco and Boulevard 28 de Setembro for amazing displays that begin at about 7:30 in the
evening. On Sunday and Monday nights, the top 12 samba schools compete for the grand prize. The jury announces the
top three winners on Ash Wednesday, and on the Saturday after Carnival, a Champions’ Parade is held, starring the best
samba schools of the year. If you’re still alive, don’t miss it: these are the people to watch for next year..
If you’ve had too much fun, and wish to repent: Catholicism is the official national faith, but true believers have made
Soccer, Samba and Santoria — not necessarily in that order — a religious experience. The downtown Benedictine
monastary with it’s eye-test disco floor is presided over by St. Benedict and his sister, St.Scholastica, imported to the
Southern Hemisphere by the Jesuits whose monastaries flourished wherever there were indigenous souls to convert.
Some terreiros (traditional houses of worship) are as open to the public as cathedrals. Book Tenda Espirita or Palacia
de Iansa. You can arrive unannounced at Jeronimo.
As for entering a futbol stadium: Pele is a national treasure. Samba accordingly until the first entrudo begins in the
How to get there:
Book American Airlines for faultless, direct service in and out of Rio, fly Delta via Atlanta or sail in to Rio’s enormous
harbor on one of the small Azamara or large Celebrity ships: you’ll hear the music and see the lights before the ship
docks. Remember: a Visa for Brazil costs $100 and can be purchased through your local Brazillian Embassy or