I’m still not quite sure how we went from “nope, not staying in Rio for the Carnival” to “hey, it’s Sunday morning, let’s go partyyyyyy!”
Life is funny. Plus, we usually end up doing the exact opposite of what we had planned.
After a good night’s sleep, we felt ready for another bloco. Or at least, Feng was—I still needed a cup of coffee to get in the mood.
“Where is this one?”
“Are you fucking serious?”
Rio’s Central Business District is the cultural and economic centre of the city, home to arts and history museums, cultural centres, churches and shopping malls. However, in Rio, the aspect of time matters. The city centre is okay during commercial hours—it’s crowded and there is a police presence (i.e. four of five cops here and there with machine guns, checking their cellphone). But after the shops close, when it’s empty, it is one of the worst places to be. It was Sunday, so everything would be closed.
“Are you sure there is a bloco?” I asked. “It’s not some kind of trap to lure dumb foreigners into Centro?”
The subway cars were dirty, the ground sticky and there were empty beer cans rolling under the seats at every stop. We got off at Uruguaiana.
Okay, there was definitely something going on, somewhere—unless Cariocas typically wear festive blue hats and dress as women on weekends.
We found the party, the Bloco da Preta, in front of the Assembleia Legislativa do Rio. The building was guarded by the military police standing behind fences. The rest of Centro belonged to Carnival revellers, an impressive tide of people in costume, drinking, smoking, dancing, partying.
We went around the block, trying to find a way inside the crowd. We stood there, mesmerized.
Compared to this bloco, yesterday’s party felt like a quiet neighbourhood gathering. There were thousands of people, pretty much all of Rio’s working class. This was the other noticeable difference. The bloco in Ipanema had a slightly edgy, preppy and hipster feel. Men were tan and muscular, women were fine and athletic, they had the latest accessories and were clearly middle-class and upper-class, much like the area they were partying in. It had reminded me of a boozy college party, in a way. But this time, the crowd was more black than white and the kids from the favelas were here as well, selling booze and accessories. The atmosphere was more raw, more electric. Drinking wasn’t the main goal of the party. It was about letting it go, expressing yourself, getting back at life.
An image comes to mind: a black couple kissing in the middle of the street, completely lost to the pounding drums.
Then the crowd started to march along. The rhythms beat through my soul—Feng felt the same, I think. We kissed like we rarely do.
Nothing else mattered but the music.
We stood there for a long time, under the heat, sweaty and happy to be part of something. We only started moving when the streets were being cleaned—a messy business.
Later, I read the bloco had drawn over 500,000 people.
If there’s safety in numbers, I guess we were just fine.