Sunday, February 10, 2008

New Kid on the Bloco

In true Roman fashion, it is impossible to visit Brasil during Carnaval and not do as the Brasillians do -- thus I drank lots of caipirinhas, danced in flip flops, and was groped by strangers. Mostly of the male kind. Thankfully, we arrived in Salvador on Fat Tuesday, giving us one full day and night of the big celebration, which was plenty for me. Seeing the sun rise over a party is not the kind of life I can lead on a daily basis, nor would I really want to. Especially given the cab ride home which involved 8 of us in a small VW jetta circa 1991.

In case you are wondering, Bahia is a region in Brasil with Salvador as the capital. A girl in a tank top and pink havaianas flops, complaining of the filth, suggested that visiting Brasil via the Bahia region is like visiting the USA and landing in Detroit. To be more accurate, it would be the equivalent of visiting a place like New Orleans. It is primarily black, and primarily poor -- with a nice, cobblestone "old town" area called the Pelourinho that hosts festivities, gentrified flats and overpriced art. An estimated 1.3 million slaves were imported into Bahia before slavery was abolished in Brasil in 1888, which is consequently double the number imported into the entire United States of America. Top that, flip flop girl.

When I think of carnaval ... i think of big garrish costumes involving feathers and beads. This is actually the carnaval of Rio de Janeiro, so I learned. The festival in Bahia is a combo of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade and Lollapalooza, with a smidge of Oktoberfest thrown into the mix. Over 3 million people descend upon the streets -- drinking, sucking face, and following behind these large moving rigs that act as a floating stage. Not quite as sophisticated a set up as the New Life Church in Colarado Springs, but close to it.

People pay anywhere from a hundred to thousands of dollars to join a "bloco"-- which is essentially the block surrounding each moving concert. Some sit on top, dancing around the entertainment, and hundreds dance around them on the streets, sectioned off by a rope. Each bloco has its own shirt, which makes the people "inside the rope" easy to identify. I have no idea what the punishment is for crossing the line, but one student reported that he saw a man lose his hand by machete for stealing. Sounds a little Jean Valjean to me, but who knows.

I spent the evening toggling between the street and our camarote -- a viewing platform you pay money for. Dancing along the street is all good and fun until a member of the Filhos de Ghandy approaches you. These are typically beefy men in white tunics and fur hats (with furry mudflaps) that molest women on the street, one after another like it's their job. I actually think it somehow is their job, and the amount of blue and white beads around their neck has something to do with the number of women they've attacked. Don't get me wrong, the furry molesters were part of the fun. But the Brazillians could take a lesson from Macy's here -- some people just like to watch.

Probably given their rich Afro-Brazilian history, the Bahians are very patriotic in terms of including everyone on the streets in their celebration, including the homeless.To show this, and to honor their saints, they hand out a melange of bright ribbons that are generously tied to your wrist and anything you purchase. According to legend, you make a wish when the ribbon is tied on during carnaval ... and it comes true when it eventually falls off. So don't be surprised when Saint Belinda Carlisle shows up at my door. That's all I'm saying.

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