Carnaval in the streets of Rio

This Carnaval weekend in Rio de Janeiro, Momo rules and mockery and irreverence are the law.  In the big bloco, or street parades, everything is parodied and pilloried; celebrities and dignitaries, religion, Carnaval stars and Carnaval costumes, Carnaval itself.

Bloco at Barra Beach
Bloco at Barra Beach

On Carnaval Saturday the Cordao Bola Preta (the Polka Dot Bloco) takes Avenida Rio Branco by storm with thousands of caricatures of Rio entities all flaunting their uniform black and white underwear. Later, up in the hills of Santa Teresa, thousands of habits and veils in the Carmelitas Bloco play out an old Rio tale of nun who skives off from her convent for the three days of Carnaval. The next day, at the banda de Ipanema “stars”, “sambistas” “queens of the drummers” drag queens and speedos in masks follow a make-believe vanguard commission of chaps in white top hats and tails.

In contrast, in the Condomble religious parades, reverence and appeasement reign . Late on Saturday afternoon, the followers of Yemanja, goddess of the sea and one of the seven orixhas of Condomble, make their way along the promenade at Copacabana. On the beach a small flotilla of fishing boats, yachts and pleasure craft waits to take them out to sea. Navy ships watch off shore. Out on the ocean the faithful throw their offerings to Yemanja. Those she accepts disappear into the deep, the rejects are tossed on the sands by the incoming tide. On empty, early Sunday morning Barra Beach we skirt around a small sodden bouquet. Further on, a blurred card washes lazily in the shallows.

Yet, for all the colour, life and traditions of the streets,  the iconic Sambadromo is Carnaval’s centre stage, the Samba Schools’ parades are Carnaval’s finest expression and the Special Samba Schools’ parades are Carnaval’s star turn.

But the sambadromo, that’s quite another country. The Special Samba Schools’ Parades, that’s quite another story.