RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One more week! The glory of the worlds biggest party on earth is now in the zenith of excitement as the official Carnival weekend dates approach. The blocos have been in epic form, and the preparations for the Sambódromo show on Sapucaí are in their eleventh hour.
It looks as if there may be some changes in the future for the blocos, the public (and free) street parties that have recently grown with fervor and frequency in correlation to the cost and pageantry of the Sambódromo parades.
There were reportedly 500,000 people jammed into Ipanema on Sunday for the famous Preta Gil bloco. The energy is infectious, but at my age, it soon becomes uncomfortable, the sense of chaos and bad judgment escalates as you look at the faces (the median age of perhaps 19-years-old) get increasingly belligerent.
Granted, the purely festive and almost entirely positive attitude is an amazing cultural statement, everyone is there to have a good time. Public gatherings of this size anywhere else in the world would be either alcohol free and/or topple governments.
The year has not passed without tragedy though, a 21-year-old girl died on February 20th after making contact with an overhanging electric wire and falling thirteen feet from a Carnival sound truck in front of Copacabana beach, striking her head on the pavement.
Over this last weekend it was reported at least sixteen people were electrocuted when a power line fell atop a bloco in a small town in Minas Gerais. It seems as though with this, Rio and Brazil will make some changes to tighten up public safety (along with smoking in bars and drunk driving).
But Carnival feels so ingrained in Brazilian’s hearts it is hard to imagine it being any less exciting. After-all it is the last chance for merry-making before beginning abstinence during the forty days of Lent (Brazil being almost 75 percent Catholic, and 15 percent Protestant).
On a quick historical tangent, Carnival is generally considered to have started in 1723 when settlers from the Portuguese Islands brought the Entrudo, a street game of water, mud, and food slinging, which everyone in the city got mixed up in.
In 1840, masquerade balls started, where people danced to polka and waltzes. Street parades became part of the festivities about ten years later, leading to Samba becoming ingrained with Carnival by 1917.
In 1928, the Samba schools emerged as part of the Carnival culture and quickly began to shape the parading on the streets of Rio. As the popularity and competition between schools increased, the Sambódromo was eventually built in 1984 to house event, which continues to grow exponentially in splendor and extravagance. Current estimates are that 750,000 tourists come to Rio each year for Carnival.
The blocos never went away, but they did not explode to the scale of their current popularity until as recently as 2004, where some draw crowds in the hundreds of thousands. The attempts to start regulating the blocos has perhaps reduced the number of authorized events, but it has also increased the size of those that are sanctioned.
One more week…