The World’s Most Lavish Party
Say “Carnival” and the world thinks Rio de Janeiro. Each year, the whole city becomes a stage, hosting one of the great free-for-all productions of street theater and embodying the exuberant Brazilian spirit. Carnaval, as it is spelled in Portuguese, is constantly being created and re-created, sexually charged and fueled by creative passion and, to some degree, the ever-growing commercial need to entertain tourists from everywhere. There are three distinct ways to experience it, not all of which are expensive or require advance planning.
The major events are the grand parades of the eighteen lavishly costumed samba “schools” (actually teams) and their floats on the Sunday and Monday before Ash Wednesday. The televised parades begin at 6 P.M. and last till dawn, filling the 70,000-seat Sambódromo with music, passion, and unbridled frenzy as the samba teams compete for the year’s championship. Certain bleachers are reserved for foreign visitors. Elsewhere, indoor samba balls (often black tie or in full costume) are held in upper-crust clubs and hotels, the most exclusive being at the Copacabana Hotel. But perhaps the most authentic experience of all is to join the tag-along bands that snake through the beachside neighborhoods of Copacabana, Ipanema, and Leblon. They wander noisily until there is no audience left – only to reappear later on another corner.