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Fev 10, 2018


Carnaval in Rio

By Harold Emert
 (additional editing by Phylis Huber )



It is that time of year again: Carnaval, Rio's 126th since it first began in 1892.

When I first came to Brazil over four decades ago, I thought that four days and nights of dancing , singing and revelling in a nation which was once called 'underdeveloped 'and today is'developing' was a big waste of time.

Weren't there supposed be more important things to be done?

Wasn't this prolonged event. -which begins on Friday evening (9 February) and ends this year 14 February, Ash Wednesday when the vote that announces which"school" has won the Carnaval parade competition — too long and tedious?

But then I attended the Carnival/Mardi Gras in New Orleans which has a 24 hour life span.

I was not quite satisfied with the American version of the ancient European/pagan ritual of Carnival: It felt too organized and static and not as varied when compared to Carnaval in Rio

Once, a very LONG ago, I actively participated in Carnaval pretending to sing and dance while dressed in the same costume as 1000 other revellers. This was for the Villa Isabel school. We didn't go "onstage" until about five in the morning. I carried a small flask of water to prevent myself from drying out while I pretended to sing the lyrics and music of our Carnaval enredo/or script.(I didn't go to rehearsals like the others, but simply paid for my costume which included a pointed hat and gave me a right to parade down the Sambodromo ).

My participation was as great a spiritual moment as any concert I have ever performed !

That exhilarating experience of dancing and singing for the fifty minutes of fame it takes to complete the parade convinced me that Rio' s Carnaval is indeed the greatest show on earth!

This was also confirmed by my participation in 'blocos,' or blocks including that of the' imprensa ,'or media , or the odd gathering in Santa Teresa, where participants dress as Carmelite sisters, dancing and singing the samba of the ' bloco’. The bloco Simpatia quase Amor, (Sympathy is almost Love) parades through various parts of Ipanema. There is no denying that something vibrates within and without when participating with a large multitude marching through the streets as observers open their windows to applaud.

Another positive Carnaval experience i had was fom the 'perch '--the best one at the sambodrome at the Praca XI sambodrome--of the press/ media box. I was allowed on the field to watch and listen first hand to what we don't see on Tv., and I must say it was marvellous: watching the parading players of the cuica
(a Brazilian percussion instrument which is pulled and makes a mewing sound), observing the dressmakers put the final touch to their creations, the floats with old-fashioned wooden wheels which carry various stars of Carnaval being prepared to enter the revelling at the sambodrome as the tv cameras air the event to the whole world.

The author accompanied by Ana Maria Emert at Carnaval

And then there are all the unexpected international celebrities who suddenly appear to witness first hand the greatest show on earth.This has included , among others in my time on this planet called Rio de Janeiro , filmmaker Godfather Francis Ford Coppola, pianist/arranger Quincy Jones,. Luciana Gimenez, the mother of Mick Jagger's love son , Lucas, who has headed a samba school and last but not least ,a tribute to the great Brazilian star of the Metropolitan Opera house, Bidu Sayao.

** Working for a British tabloid newspaper, I spent one unforgettable Carnaval following literally Chelsy Davy , the Zimbabuense girlfriend ( 2004-2010) of England's Prince Harry.The assignment was to watch Chelsea and her chaperone brother literally minute, day and night in order to try to discover--as the London tabloids love--if she was having some secret romance in Carnaval city (during an epoch when 'secret' romances are an accepted part of the pagan ritual).

With a taxi cab waiting I met up.with a top reporter and ace photographer from London and Los Angeles and we tailed like investigating detectives Chelsy's car to an Ipanema hotel.My assignment was to sit on the beach and watch the door of her hotel to discover when she and her brother--or possivel admirers--departed.As I am always concerned about my musical career, I brought a composition I was orchestratingcwith me on the beaches of Ipabema and worked on it occasionally as we watched the mysterious Chelsey.

Nice work if you can get it!( title of a Gershwin song).

The ace photog for his pictures of Xhelsy swimming in Ipajema and the top reporter breathlessly ran after her up to Christ on the Mountain.
My job included following Chelsy's taxi departing Rio and ending up in....Buzios, the local coastal version of the French Riviera.On a hunch I visited one of Buzio's most panoramic beaches and who should show up there? CHELSE AND HER BROTHER !

A pity we didn't have cell phone cameras during this epoch!

But getting back to this essay on Carnaval.The fete is also an excellent time for many of these beer companies and others hosting camarotes to do good business and public relations for their wares.

And fortunately for the good being of the Municipal Theater it's gala balls are no longer held at the house of opera and ballet but at the ballrooms of the city's many hotels.I recall how I was horrified to see Carnaval revellers throwing beer bottles on the floor of the same Municipal Theater where the great musicians, dancers and opera singers usually appear.

Invited to Salvador,Bahia for Carnaval I found myself in a strange dilemna: for four days and four nights I didn't have to anything but swim , watch Carnaval parades , eat and drink with everything paid for, in what I had thought was a poor part of Brazil ..... But I admit here that overdose of idyllic pleasures can result in boredom.

Odd customs often fill the air during this bewitched period including the Carnaval love affair which at end of the gala means you never see each other again ; prominent politicians attending Carnaval parades during which they sometimes get themselves in hot water .

Witness the late former President Itamar Franco, a bachelor, inviting a Carnaval reveller to his box/ Camarote with her being photographed without her calcinha/panties.That samba dancer subsequently rose from being an entirely unknown to instant fame and went into exile as a model in Italy. Despite Brazil's supposed moral flexibility, Itamar was almost impeached for the incident.

I find a bit difficult to swallow the fact that Rio's current Mayor , Marcelo Crivella, an Evangelical minister and former missionary in Africa, is Not a fan of Carnaval ,didn't appear at Carnaval 2017 and dances the samba like a gringo.

Crivella seems out of place as mayor of the city of Carnaval.

As oldv(er) age approaches, this observer usually flees Carnaval city for the peace and quiet of the mountains of Teresopolis. Somehow the noise , heat and possibilty of being a victim of a crime during these hectic days are too overwhelming as one gets older.Never mind that there is more policing of Rio' s streets during Carnaval than other times of year and that most persons encountered are in a festive mood, there is always a possibility of some hedinous crime occurring.
Nevertheless something within me misses Carnaval in Rio, and even although the chance to celebrate the event exists in the mountains and other parts it is not quite the same.

There is something to be said for dressing up ( or down) in a costume, abandoning the routine and logic of everyday life to parades, singing and dancing like children for a few days with the banks closed and no one delivering bills to your post office box.

And the music of a Carnaval incentivates great composers like Noel Rosa , Nelson de Cavaquinho, Ary Barroso (composer of ' Brazil')among others.

Speaking of Ary, when the Orquestra Sinfonica Nacional-Uff celebrated the composer's 100th birthday in 2003, we had the pleasure to accompany Carnavalesque Jamelao.

His voice without a microphone had more strength than Pavarotti, with whom I performed twice in Brazil.

During Carnaval in Rio one discovers that-- like in my native city of New York where would-be actors,actresses, dancers,singers and musicians often work as waiters or waitresses , taxi drivers and other ' practical' profession-- everyone in Rio seems suddenly to be in show business .

BOTTOMS UP and a Happy Carnaval!



Text: Harold Emert (contact)


Cover photo: Roberto Carelli


(Any views or opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/opinions of the publishers/website)






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