RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – One month from today we will be so close to Carnival our teeth will be chattering from the bloco drums passing by, and our feet will be tapping to the familiar sounds of samba songs sung by crowds of summer sun soaked party goers. The formal Carnival dates are Saturday, February 18th through Tuesday, February 21st, but in Rio the party starts much sooner.
In Rio we officially get started on Friday, February 17th after the city mayor hands the key to Rei Momo (king Momo), the lord of Misrule and Revelry, at a ceremony Friday evening. But the fully democratic celebrations of the bloco parties start as early as next weekend.
A quick recap for those who are confused about how it is decided when Carnival happens (as it changes every year), is that is based on the Catholic Calendar. Somewhere along the line it was decreed that Carnival will always celebrated seven Sundays before the Sunday of Easter.
So because these dates change between March 22nd to April 25th, Carnival does also – for example last year Carnival was March 4th through March 8th. Next year, in 2013, Carnival will be February 8th until February 12th.
Carnival in Rio has taken on a life of its own, and the religious aspect seems to take a back seat for now. For now most are thinking about the last chance to get into trouble before beginning abstinence during the forty days of Lent (Brazil being almost 75 percent Catholic, and 15 percent Protestant).
In Brazil, Carnival is generally considered to have started in 1723 by settlers from the Portuguese Islands. Then in 1840, masquerade balls started, with street parades becoming part of the festivities about ten years later, leading to samba 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.
The samba schools that participate in the Sambódromo parade competition are not exactly “schools” in the sense that you go there to take classes, but rather communities most often associated with one or more neighborhoods. The schools in the Grupo Especial (Special Group) typically have big halls (or Quadras) where they meet up to practice and rehearse – and throw open rehearsal parties.
I’ve only been once, to Salgueiro, which is one of the more popular schools for attending rehearsal parties in Rio. It was fun, a mix of all walks of life, and despite the R$45 taxi ride (each way) and the late start (they get going around 1AM), it was something I might do again, maybe.
I have yet to go to the Sambódromo for the super-size show. This year it turns out the Sambódromo has been undergoing renovations – more seating and better access. Construction is set to end February 12th, cutting it a bit close it seems.
This is also effecting another pre-Carnival activity, the Technical Rehearsals at the Sambódromo, which are just starting up. This is a nice way to get a feel for the show and the music without all the crowds and fanfare, or maybe just a way to get oriented for the return on the big night. I’ll probably try to go some day, maybe when I have some family come visit.