Thursday, February 25, 2010

A Carioca's First Carnaval Street Festival

With sleep still in my eyes, I stumble down to the corner one Sabado morning expecting to see a small band of local people celebrating a street Carnaval, one of many in the city. Instead I see a large samba band, a huge sound truck and hundreds of people in costume emerging from the shady borders of the street, including young and old dancers from Bahai performing in their traditional costumes. A group of young males wearing tight pink dresses dance among costumed females in their scanty plumage. Both sexes wear what can only be described as fantasy, as they march to the beat of their own drum, like Soshia Obama, parading as the US president.

The beer vendors on both sides of the street are doing well and soon I find a SQOL in my hand watching the crowd become one swirling tribe. It has achieved concentration. As if on cue, the music stops, The drummers take a breather. It is 45C at 10 in the morning. I’m down to beach wear. The break is just a space between the notes. Then suddenly the drums begin again and the mob contracts like a giant serpent and explodes into action. Several thousand faces are illuminated with smiles. The line between the crowd and the participants is merged into one electric samba.

In coming days I join two other parades. Again, the drumming and dancing pull me in with surprisingly ease. I am anonymous, a simple organism drenched in a flood of sweat between male, female, black, white and caramel enamel. I am swinging to a worldly synchronization I only half understand. The movement is chaotic, calling all to shed conformity.

We are a mob, cheek by jowl. The samba is seductive and pulls you in, but she is a fickle goddess and lets you go to your other life without a kiss. As the dance moves on I take a dip in the ocean to cool off. I dive under a dark wave, believing a conversion requires a baptism.
The wave throws me back on the beach, like an uninvited guest. I brush off the sand and listen to a beat in the distance.

Photos by Delma Godoy

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Foreign Body in a Brasilian Odyssey

In my short time in Rio de Janeiro I have enough information to sum up my feelings in the words of French poet Charles Baudelaire.

"That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal from which it follows that irregularity-- that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment-- is an essential part and characteristic of beauty."

Comparisons dominate my thoughts. Today, for example, the temperature is 38° C compared to the minus 5C I could be experiencing in the Rockies. People here tell me it is probably ten degrees hotter than what the tourist propagandists put on road signs and official weather reports. So the people talk about “feels like” temperature, which gives me pause, because I am often standing in a stagnant pool of my own sweat. Throughout the day I am either running in and out of a cold shower or swimming in the ocean. My beach clothes are strewn on the veranda to dry out near the red Bougainvillea. I remind myself that most of North America is under the grip of an arctic winter as major cities are shut down due to ice and snow. Snow drifts abound on the dunes of the North Carolina coast. However, in Vancouver, British Columbia, host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, and my home for the past 20 years, the region is enjoying an early spring and trees are budding. Trucks are going to bring snow to the events.

Brazil has been awarded the World Cup in 2014 and Rio, a city of six million, will host the final games. In 2016 Rio will host the Olympics. These are tourist facts only and they will soon fade once one sees the beaches, which host some 2.5 million on a stretch of beach 25 miles long. Most of the beach comprises pristine pearl-white ankle-deep sand washed by waves of warm aquamarine water. It’s hard not to be astonished when you first dive into a wave. Then there is sunset at the close of the day when the locals and tourists wait for crespuscolo, the time following sunset. The sky becomes a palette of colors to be thrown on a canvas by an artist gone mad.

I am but a casual observer, arriving in Rio de Janeiro with more baggage than I needed. I am learning the customs, struggling with a new language and enjoying the life of a temporary Carioca.

With the last of the day’s light I look up to the Corcovado on the mountain above. At night the Christ figure is lit from all angles, his arms spread in a welcoming gesture and expansive against a clear sky. I remind myself I am willing to sweat to enjoy the life of a tourist who is looking for blessings.