Opinion, by Steve Spencer
RIO DE JANEIRO – Mid-summer Rio de Janeiro. Time for Carnival and, with it, the ever more ubiquitous “blocos” or block parties. Well over 100 are officially scheduled this year, and for sure these ain’t the pot luck, meet-‘n’-greet-the-neighbors events that can occur in Anytown, USA.
Rather, in keeping with the Carioca spirit and the Carnival, blocos are joyous, raucous, get down and boogie (i.e. samba) affairs with names that can reflect pride of place, but more often than not are irreverent, ironic, pun-laden or just plain profane. A few examples:
• Cachorro Dansado = Tired Dog or, if you please, Pooped Puppy
• Suvaco de Cristo = Christ’s Armpit (derived from Tom Jobim’s quote about living in Jardim Botânico, hence directly under Cristo Redentor’s right arm)
• Esse é o bom, mas ninguem sabe = This is good, but no one knows why.
• Meu bem, volto já! = Honey, I’ll be right back!
• Imprensa que eu gamo! = Press me and I’ll fall in love with you! (a bloco created by journalists)
• Rola Preguiçosa = literally, Lazy Dove (Portuguese slang, though, for male genitalia)
• Que Merda é Essa!? = WTF is this!?
Okay, we know Rio’s CarnIval attracts tourism and that’s great for the local economy. Bem-vindo! Unfortunately, blocos don’t just take place during the four days of CarnIval. They start a couple of weeks before the big celebration, carry on during, and end about a week afterwards.
What’s more, no matter how hard the city’s authorities may try, blocos will spill over into adjoining streets, sometimes major thoroughfares. And with blocos mushrooming in the past few years, this makes getting around town in February a potential nightmare. There are times when locals just want to scream, “Hey, y’know some of us live here!”
Of course we don’t, because raining on another’s parade is inhospitable and bad form, except by wet blankets.
The burgeoning of the blocos has thus escalated into an ongoing political debate. The interests of homebodies versus those of local merchants and the tourist industry, not to mention those Cariocas who just love an excuse to go out and party. It’s an issue yet to be resolved.
Steve Spencer is a 30-year public broadcasting veteran. He has managed NPR member stations in the U.S. and spent most of the last decade as an international public media development specialist. He is currently the Executive Director of the Brazilian Public Radio Association. Steve lived in Rio de Janeiro for a year in the mid-1980s and has been a resident here since 2004. He is a Flamenguista and, this year as always, he will be rooting for Beija-Flor when they come parading down the Sapucaí.