February 10, 1999
Crisis-weary Brazilians gear up for wild Carnival

                  RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -- The spirits of many Brazilians began to lift
                  on Wednesday ahead of Rio de Janeiro's unbridled Carnival that promises a
                  few days of distraction from the nation's troubled economy.

                  Secretaries, taxi drivers and even hustlers on the street whistled and hummed
                  the samba songs of Carnival as they looked forward to the five days of
                  indulgent celebrations that mark Rio's pre-Lenten festival.

                  Workers at the Ilha do Governador samba school cast aside economic
                  worries as they soldered the final glittering pieces of a giant typewriter on a
                  Carnival float and joyfully crooned out their theme song: "Go forward, my

                  The school's organisers said this year's Carnival would be as spectacular as
                  others despite an economic crisis that had jolted the stability of Brazil's
                  four-year-old real currency and sent it crashing down against the dollar last

                  The school, one of dozens that try to outdo each other in glamour and
                  extravagance during the annual bacchanal, had to scrimp on imported
                  feathers and sequins made expensive by the devaluation. It also suffered a
                  devastating fire that destroyed all six of its enormous floats a month before

                  But the mood was upbeat at the dockside warehouse where workers were
                  putting the finishing touches on the newly rebuilt floats -- most of which were
                  more than 20 feet high.

                  "This is the moment to show the world what we can do," said Cristiano
                  Goncalves, a Carnival float designer. "After you have spent so much money
                  and worked so hard, there are no words to describe the incredible feeling of
                  parading high up on something this fantastic with all the eyes of the world on

                  Nearly 100,000 people in showy costumes will join the parades for an
                  unparalleled spectacle of dizzying samba dancing and outlandish theme floats
                  that draws thousands of visitors and millions of television viewers around the

                  Tourists were already streaming into the city on Wednesday, filling hotels
                  and spreading around welcome dollars.

                  The multimillion-dollar parades, the highlight of Rio's Carnival, vibrate
                  through the Sambodromo stadium starting on Friday night with the top
                  samba schools competing in overnight processions on Sunday and Monday.

                  Carnival fever started building months earlier as the schools, which are
                  rooted in Rio's teaming shantytowns, held late night practice sessions of
                  samba dancing and worked around the clock creating the theme costumes
                  and floats.

                  Ilha do Governador based this year's parade on legendary journalist and
                  statesman Barbosa Lima, who the designers believe will serve as an
                  inspiration for Brazilians feeling inadequate about their crumbling economy.
                  Lima led protests that toppled President Fernando Collor in 1992.

                  "This is a lesson for the people of Brazil that if we had more like him we
                  wouldn't be such a third world country," Goncalez said. "He fought for his

                  The schools act like an safety valve for a population that daily struggles with
                  violence and poverty. There are fierce rivalries to mount lavish displays and
                  they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring their themes to life.

                  Funding comes from the city, corporate sponsors, ticket receipts and outside
                  -- often illegal -- sources.

                  "Even when times are difficult, they have ways and means to have their fun.
                  It's something that is part of our culture, part of our history," Rio's tourism
                  secretary Gerard Bourgeaiseau said.

                  The city campaigned hard this year to make the festival accessible to
                  everyone, even those who could not obtain dearly priced tickets to the
                  Sambodromo or the accompanying balls that are thrown in Rio's chic night

                  They added hundreds of neighbourhood street parties and a full programme
                  of alternative music for the younger set who have been rebelling against the
                  traditional samba sound.

                     Copyright 1999 Reuters.