February 21, 2004

Carnaval: Graduate School for Mardi Gras-vets
Janet and I have both experienced the craziness of Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. I during my senior year of college (making my tolerance for crowds and alcohol all the greater) and Janet a few years later. However, both of us agree that Mardi Gras is the appetizer for Carnaval’s entree. Bahians make New Orleans look like child’s play – nay, infant’s play. All of Brazil – from the most rural country town in the interior to the glitzy scene of Rio – get in on the act.

Carnaval in Salvador is a good deal different than that of Rio or Sao Paulo – both featuring what many foreigners typically associate with Carnaval – parades with beautiful women costumed in those large and ornate headdresses (the name of which is escaping me) shaking their hips wildly to Samba. Salvador’s version of Carnaval is more active. Instead of watching 30 or more ‘Samba schools’ perform from bleacher seats, Salvadorians and tourists alike can join the action directly in what are called ‘blockos.’ Each of the Salvador’s parade routes (one in the upper region of the city, the other in the lower) are made up of blocks – usually 2 semi’s, one towing a(n often famous) auxe band or a “trios electrios.”

In addition to the massive speakers, the other truck typically carries bathrooms and food and drink. Admittance to each blocko is limited to those who purchased ‘abadas’ for the blocko – a colorful, funkily-designed shirts which essentially serve as your ticket to join a given blocko. Each blocko is sectioned off by a number of workers, actually carrying, pushing or pulling a heavy rope. Another group roped off the area in front of each semi so as to prevent revelers from being crushed by the slow-moving trucks. There are day and night parades with the day one beginning around 11am – 7pm. The night parade begins around 6ish and ends in the wee morning. Sometimes 4am, sometimes 5am, sometimes 6am, sometimes it bleeds right into the afternoon parade

The blocko scene is generally exuberant: people drinking, laughing, and – above all – DANCING. One of the local Salvadorian TV channels ran a little clip from last year’s Carnaval (that I believe was genuine, not canned) in which 5 Germans who had just arrived in Bahia stepped out into the street for the first time and were overwhelmed by the sheer joy on display en masse – so much so that it moved them to tears. I definitely related to what they felt – the Carnaval scene is electric, it’s intoxicating with or without the gallons upon gallons of cervajes consumed by it participants. The beats, (no beads ;)) rhythm and even the Portuguese lyrics are infectious: one can’t help but be swept up by them. Seeing blocko after blocko pass the packed sidewalks and streets with the onlookers and participants singing and dancing as one was truly an unforgettable experience.
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