No wonder Advil is sponsoring the Rio Carnival. After five days of party, plus pré-Carnaval, we woke up cranky and with a headache or various other ailments.
Can you have a hangover even though you’ve been sober?
It was over. In a way, it was almost a relief. Carnival is exhausting. We didn’t sleep much lately and it showed. The streets were a mess with an omnipresent smell of urine. The subway was constantly packed, supermarkets and lanches were running out of food and Copacabana was dirty.
It had to end. I knew it but I don’t deal with endings well. Most of the books on my Kindle are 98% finished because I can’t bear to read these last two pages—pathetic, I know.
We had one last day in Rio de Janeiro after Carnival. Let’s just say it wasn’t memorable. Dark clouds were looming over the city and we were waiting for a major downpour—it finally did happen late in the evening and yes, of course, I managed to get soaked.
It’s going to take me a bit of time to digest Carnival. I didn’t have the chance to think about what it meant to me until now.
Really, it’s most than just binge-drinking in the street.
To me, Carnival was first a celebration of people as individuals, where bodies were exposed and skills are shown. It was a time to dress up, dress down and cross-dress. Honestly, it’s impossible to feel self-conscious when you see so many body shapes, body sizes and skin colours around you. I found people in general beautiful—yes, even guys wearing pink tutus, even seventy-year-old women in tiny thong bikinis. Happiness makes people look good. I’ve seen smiles I won’t forget.
Carnival is also a celebration of people as a community and as a society. Rio de Janeiro has a very bad reputation—there are areas when you’re not supposed to go, way too many favelas making headlines, and everyone has a story about a mugging, a kidnapping, a cold-blooded execution. Cariocas are very paranoid about personal safety. But Carnival isn’t a VIP event when only the happy few get to party, it’s an open invitation without bouncers around. And guess what? I felt pretty safe during Carnival. I’m reading articles about the military about to take over security after violence during the event, deepening insecurity and a city marred by violence, and I’m wondering whether I’m completely naïve or irresponsible because this wasn’t what I saw in Rio.
Favelas aside, I walked everywhere with my camera (and occasionally a five-year-old kid). Centro, Lapa, Gloria, Catete, Flamengo, Botafogo, Copacabana, Ipanema… We even ventured in places we usually avoid because for once, they weren’t deserted. Beyond the Arcos da Lapa, for instance, and in Centro, where one unlucky cop car sent to police a few thousand people was driving around with machine guns pointing outside the windows.
Beyond petty crime and violence in favelas, Carnival is an exercise of trust. When a giant city like Rio is mobbed by hundreds of thousands of bloco-goers who drink beer as if it’s water, things could go very wrong. But Brazilians seem to be the “happy drunk” kind, they behave relatively well. And when you’re swallowed by a giant crowd, you’re hoping it won’t turn into a human stampede but what I saw were people watching out for each other.
We skipped all the major sights in Rio this year. No Pão de Açúcar—my favourite tourist attraction—, no Corcovado, no Maracanã. I did swim in both Copacabana and Ipanema before beer cans started to appear in the waves during Carnival if that counts as a tourist thing to do.
But I feel I experience something bigger.
Meanwhile, here are pictures taken all over the city in—gasp!—places you should avoid (according to popular wisdom). Common sense was used when wandering around, don’t worry. I’m not completely innocent…