By DIANA JEAN SCHEMO
RIO DE JANEIRO,
Brazil -- Financial centers may be worrying that Brazil's economy could
going down the tubes and taking the rest of Latin America with it. But in Rio, that's no reason
not to dance.
engaged in the last Carnival of the millennium, undeterred so far by driving
floods over the last few weeks, the arrest of the man in charge of the main Carnival parade on
charges of money laundering and an economic scene that already bears perhaps a bit too much
resemblance to the Big Top.
of the crisis is here," Eduardo Giannetti, a columnist at the Folha de
Sao Paulo, wrote.
"Half of me will grow delirious, the other half will ponder."
For four days,
beginning Sunday and ending on Ash Wednesday, official Brazil rolls down
shutters. President Fernando Henrique Cardoso went off to his vacation home after promising not to
spoil the fun by announcing any new policies.
A team from the
International Monetary Fund made sure to finish combing through Brazil's
and reworking terms for its standby loan before Carnival began.
And when buttoned-down
Brazil pulls back, party Brazil takes over. The streets fill up with dance
bands and costumes, known in Portuguese as "fantasias," in which the boundaries of convention
vanish. In the seaside neighborhood of Ipanema, where an out-of-reach 14-year-old once inspired
the song that is the bossa nova's anthem, the surest way to tell the men from the women is by the
feet: The women wear flats.
go, without judging anybody else," said Ilson Pinheiro, 39, who was selling
beer at a
free seaside concert. Every few steps, the peddler dropped his cooler and broke out dancing with
whoever was near, from a toddler to an older woman whose husband looked on, amused. "This is
marvelous -- I wish it were like this all year," Pinheiro said.
Sunday and Monday
nights, fourteen of Rio's first-ranked samba schools bring in the dawn
parades highlighting places like Natal in northeastern Brazil, musicians like Heitor Villa Lobos, artists
and political and historical figures. Here in Rio, the festival also features a growing number of
informal street parades staged by neighborhood bands and private celebrations around the city.
On the street
where Rio's top samba schools use warehouses to build the scores of "carros
alegoricos," as the mobile, multi-level stages that are used to present their performances are called, it
is easy enough to see why Carnival endures. A walk through a vestibule into one of the buildings,
heavily guarded to prevent spying by the competition, opens a world of four-story fantasies in
styrofoam and full color.
and go," said Joaosinho Trinta, the creative director, of the Viradouro
"but Carnival stays, because it's our soul."
Trinta, who is
65, likens the samba school's parade to a street opera. The samba schools'
told in highly stylized music, dance and more than a half-dozen mobile tableaux, usually accompanied
by 3,000 or more costumed revelers. The crowds react by singing the schools' lyrics, which radio
stations have been playing since New Year.
this year focuses on Anita Garibaldi, a Brazilian who was the wife of Giuseppe
Garibaldi, the hero of Italian unification. Trinta used a reference to Anita Garibaldi's rumored
involvement with sorcery as a springboard to illustrate different kinds of magic he associates with
Brazil. In his first float, witches turn into butterflies, while elements of another float illustrate the magic
of its African culture, and yet another, its indigenous tribes.
Down the street,
Rosa Magalhaes the only woman who is director of a major samba school's
production, created visions of giant tigers jumping out of a library to illustrate the life of the
17th-century Dutch naturalist Albert Eckout.
In one room late
last week, scores of women ran seams and fixed trimmings on the last of
costumes, while in another part of the warehouse youngsters pasted red and black feathers on giant
birds. "Fun?" she asked. "Carnival is exhausting."
of Carnival unfolds on the streets. Carnival's street parades have nothing
to do with the
processions that New Yorkers line up along the curbs to see. Rio's are more like roving parties with
blaring music, trailing coolers of beer. Conga lines of people inevitably snake along the sidelines,
growing longer with each block.
"Carnival," said Trina, "is a feast produced by the Brazilian soul."
This year's Carnival
also honors Carmen Miranda, the Brazilian who turned a fruit bowl into
wardrobe. The city threw a free concert of her music Saturday night, which ended with the audience
of all ages, colors and sizes dancing and gleefully singing "Mama, Mama I Want."
One samba parade
was dedicated to "the Brazilian bombshell," as Hollywood dubbed Carmen
Miranda, and so was the poshest ball in town, at the Copacabana Palace.
The falling currency
has made travel here cheaper, bringing many more Americans to Brazil. Some
them who ended up in black tie at the Palace seemed taken aback at first by the fast shaking
bacchanal on the dance floor. A drag queen dressed as a wedding cake, complete with table,
danced alongside Carmen impersonators, sailors who looked like Popeye and a man wearing
nothing but a Road Warrior headdress, a G-string and chains.
At 3 a.m., the
percussion section from the Salgueiro samba school marched in, decked out
and gold satin and leading a fresh infusion of costumed samba dancers from the slums of Rio.
Powerful nonstop drumming drove the inhibitions from all but the most diehard of wallflowers.
By dawn, more than a few bow ties had been loosened.
29, who worked on the samba school's scenery, said that while he worried
the economy, Rio would seem alien and cold if it were not for Carnival.
he said, "life would have no grace"
Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company