RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -- Brazilians scrambled on Wednesday
to sew the last sequins on skimpy costumes and towering parade floats
ahead of Rio de Janeiro's lavish Carnival celebrations, due to draw
record numbers of revellers.
Popular samba tunes played in shops along Rio's picturesque beaches as
of thousands of tourists poured into the city for five days of pre-Lenten partying
and all-night parading.
"It's looking like this is going to be the biggest carnival of the century
history," said Armando Martins, a spokesman for the city's tourism
Brazil's devalued currency has helped lure a record number of visitors
showcase party whose theme this year is Brazil's 500-year anniversary.
Carnival will officially kick off nationwide festivities to commemorate the
arrival of Portuguese adventurers on April 22, 1500.
All the Carnival's fanciful floats and its music will pay tribute to some
aspect of Brazilian history -- from the courage of the Portuguese explorers
to the endurance of African slaves and marginalized indigenous tribes.
Same story, different dance
"We're all telling a part of the same story, but there's room to have fun,
to say something different about what Brazil is to us," said Mauro
Quintaes, designer of Salgueiro samba school's parade "The arrival of
the royal family."
Starting on Sunday, dozens of schools with enormous floats and
scantily-clad dancers will face off in nightlong parades in the sambadrome
stadium -- a long strip with bleachers and spectator boxes built especially
for Carnival. Judges will compare costumes, lyrics and themes and select
winners at the end of the internationally televised spectacle.
On the warehouse floor before Quintaes' office, workers hoisted sails
on a space-age looking galleon, adding gold paint to the handrails on
what will be the lead float when Salgueiro throws open the gates at the
"Everybody wants this to be the prettiest bloc so that we can win this
year," 17-year-old Monica said as she worked overtime to complete the
yellow nylon trim.
The samba schools, which grew out of Rio's impoverished slums and at one
point faced police crackdowns, have become a source of pride for
residents who save all year to buy glamorous costumes and ensure places in
the annual parades.
Practicing in Shantytown
Shantytown "favelas" caught Carnival fever months ago and are still dancing
until dawn in the last week of rehearsals in the labyrinthine streets.
In the downtown sambadrome, workers rocked their hips and shuffled their
feet to music blasted over the sound system, while they unloaded benches for
the thousands of spectators.
Down the street, seamstresses surrounded by mounds of pink and silver
headdresses and sequined capes measured a pair of pasty tourists for their
"This is the dream of my life," said Reese Evans, 30, an English traveler.
of the energy, passion. ... it's a phenomenon!"
But Carnival, and the 500-year anniversary of Brazil's discovery will not
without its critics.
After five centuries of racial killings, disease, and forced labor, Brazil's
indigenous tribes are protesting the costly parties planned to commemorate the
Even at Rio's licentious carnival, some floats will focus more on hardships
by Brazilian Indians and blacks than on the country's moments of glory. As one
samba school put it: "Brazil, the country of all or a no-man's land?"
Copyright 2000 Reuters.