i woke up the day after carnaval feeling soooo tired–like i had
walked to rio from durham. there were parties every 4 hours last week
and people actually were trying to go to all of them. i went to a
few. but this is probably the real reason i felt like that:
i went to the sambadromo on sunday night. like the name implies, it’s the
auditorium where the super-bowl of samba parades takes place. the
largest samba schools compose songs, called enredos (samba with a
plot). each school designs an hour long parade based on their theme
that both follows the plot of the samba lyrics and honors the samba
school. the themes this year were: nelson mandela, africa “from the
royal birthplace to the brasilian court”, photography, norwegian
codfish, games of chance, and other randomness. it’s a 3-day contest.
as each school parades down the 3/4 mile long corridor, the schools
are judged on their song, the enthusiasm of the entire cast of 5000
(yes) samba school participants, the lead, flag bearing couple’s
dancing, the lead singer’s voice, synchronization, and whether or not
the 6-9 floats (alegoricos) adequately illustrated the samba plot. on the third
day, the scores and the winners are announced and there is another
parade of the top 5 samba schools.
we haggled for tickets in the best section of the sambadromo. while i
was there, amongst all those mostly-dark brazilians, i got a glimpse
of how much this means to them. there were people screaming for their
favorite schools at the top of their lungs, there was crying, everyone
was singing the enredos over and over and over again (chanting…praying really)
and there were fights. i was amazed by the number of heavily pregnant women dancing in the parade–i stopped counting at 15.
apparently, you do not miss the parade for anything, not even labor.
this happens once a year and is the culmination of an entire year’s
worth of work and expense.
the family of black women who adopted me (literally. my last name is not curtis anymore–they didn’t like it) told me they had
each paid 250 reis ($175) for their tickets and that some people paid
more. they had also been sitting there since 8pm and would stay until
the end. they hipped me to how these schools get so many people
to volunteer for the samba schools and to give them so much money.
every one of the 5000 common participants pays for their own costumes (300reis or more for these concoctions co feathers and foam, glitter and glue called “fantasias”), practices for free, stays in shape according to the samba school rules, pays for
hair, makeup, plastic surgery, helps build the floats or make costumes, etc. there are also celebrities in the samba schools who get special treatment and much press after their appearance with a samba school.
the entire experience–actually being there looking up at this thing,
this monster, this beautiful terrible creature parade
by–was…wow…unbelievable. i didn’t know i could be so easily
seduced by feathers, sequins, greased naked bodies(yes, some weren’t
even wearing that jeweled bikini) and loud overly-patriotic music.
everything is soo much larger than life. so much more grand and
colorful and shiny and touchable but just out of reach. the images
scrape across your eyes like braille–absurdly vivid yet
the last school, beija-flor, who’s enredo was about the mystical african roots of the school and of all brazilians,
threw some d’s on slavery and on racism and on violence against women
and on oppression and on the whole myth making business. seriously, they had it on lock. the music video industry could really learn a lot from them. they had me
leaving the place, singing their song, on the verge of forgetting, or
at least excusing, the overt racism and sexism that i face on the
streets here–whoa! they won the grand prize, by the way.
sou quilombola beija-flor
sangue de rei, communidade
já raiou o sol da liberdade!
at the end, there is a telling refractory element. when the music ends
and the thousands of people parade out of the open-air auditorium, the
streets are filled with an eerie silence like the dreaded and yet
inevitable end of an orgy. the only difference is, in the case of the
silence between post-climactic (hopefully) naked bodies, the silence
is fleeting–most always one of the bodies will try to moderate their
discomfort with an impotent interjection (“so…how was it?”).
this silence after the sambadromo, however, is much more sustained and alienating. no one dared speak. meanwhile, the entire fantasy was being unceremoniously dismantled right before my eyes. the very costumes that had been worn with such pride just minutes before are strewn all over the streets; drunk street children ride the heads of paper-mache giraffes that had not long ago walked upright on stilts above the rest of the world. it is a very violent scene to the uninitiated eye.
i walked out into the morning air. the sun was rising over rio. it wasn’t particularly bright but i couldn’t help squinting. my eyes were adjusting to something–getting used to the absence of something like trying to recognize a woman without her makeup on. there was a one-sided intimacy in that moment. i was the interloper having seen too much. i rode the bus home at 6am wondering, “what just happened? what was all that for? what have i just witnessed and been a part of?”, sure that any audible question would have been deemed sacrilege. i think that’s what finally sapped my energy.