We've all seen the Rio and Sao Paulo carnivals on TV - the splendour, the party, and the dancing - but what's carnival like when you are actually in Brazil?
Well, for the most part, in the smaller cities people appear (to my layman's eyes) to find it a bit tedious and a good excuse to stay at home. Mind you, I don't tend to mix with the young and single crowd. Wikipedia for example states that 80% of all the country's beer sales are over the five days of carnival.
In Quirinopolis for example many people (mainly between the ages of 18 and 25 I suspect) had a big party at the lake. I didn't opt for this option as I value my life, and the chances of getting into a fight and shot are relatively high. Add to that, with all the drinking, and the lack of any worthwhile police force, afterwards the roads are particularly hazardous.
That said however some of the other local cities do have a similar sort of parade (but not to the same degree as the major cities). I was reliably told by the nextdoor neighbour of some friends that there were 'mulatas sem vergonha' (roughly translated as 'shameless mulattos') in Sao Simao. I took this to mean ladies scantily clad and with a lot of bare flesh. Due to lack of transport and a disapproving wife however I was not able to go there and experience this for myself - no matter how many times I stressed that it was for my 'readers'. If I had, I'm sure I'd have many pictures to show, and probably increase the readership of my blog manyfold due to the level of bare flesh. But you'll just have to suffice with the video above of an advert which was shown at about 2pm on a Sunday (and repeated for many days after).
As you can see, the carnival is quite far removed from its British pancake counterpart. When I mentioned to someone that for Shrove Tuesday all we did was have sweet pancakes (they're usually eaten as a savoury item here) they replied 'legal' which means 'cool'. I think they were being polite as although there mouth was effectively saying 'wow', their face was saying 'my god, you people really don't know how to have a good time'. That's a good example of pragmatics right there.
For me, Cristina, and Daniel however Carnival was a somewhat tame affair. All we (read "I") did, and this may surprise some of you, was go to some friends in a bigger city called Rio Verde and drink and play cards for the full five days. It was a bit of a chore, but I battled on through like a brave little soldier. From the looks of it Rio Verde has even less to do over carnival than Quirinopolis. In fact, it appeared as thought they didn't do anything.
I was slightly concerned with taking my over-enthusiastic son (Daniel) to this family as their two and a half year old daughter (Valentina) has a heart condition that is apparently inoperable until she is older. Apparently if she gets too excited/nervous/panicked she might quite possibly die. With Daniel there I wasn't entirely sure she was going to last the full five days as he is quite boisterous.
Whilst I was consuming various alcoholic concoctions (largely to my displeasure I must add - I was being a slave to my polite British upbringing), a lot of Brazil was watching the Rio and Sao Paulo carnivals on TV. To the uninitiated this is a wholly boring experience as the parade goes on, and on, and on. I was told that whilst it is very annoying watching it on TV, it is amazing if you are actually there. I imagine it is difficult to get the atmosphere across on the box. To liven up the proceedings though, the parade is treated like a sporting event in which samba schools compete to stay in their divisions. "What??" I hear you say, "The carnival is not just an excuse to ogle ladies and jiggle flesh?" - nay sir it is not!
This is how it works as I understand it...
There are several large Samba Schools in the major cities and in particular Rio. Each school takes part in the Grupo Especial (the Premier League if you like) and Grupo A (the First Division) respectively. If you come lowest in the Grupo Especial you are relegated to the division below. Obviously, you are then replaced by the winning samba school from Grupo A. The champions of the Grupo Especial (apart from getting lots of Kudos) then get to have a special parade all to themselves on Shrove Tuesday (pancake day to us).
burned down a month before the actual parade. This was quite a blow to the schools as they'd spent the previous 11 months actually making the costumes and floats. The judges however were not critical, and the schools who had to create last minute clothes were given a free pass for the year (thus paving the way for future samba schools to burn down their clothing section if they decide they can't be arsed to put on a good show).
After all schools had concluded their yearly spasms, the judges judged and it was decided that Beija-flor ('flower kisser', or hummingbird to the rest of us) were crowned the grand champions (despite their parade lasting 11 minutes more than it should have, and the general populous apparently not too impressed with them). 'The King' of Beija-flor's parade was Roberto Carlos (singer not football player) who I get the impression is like a Brazilian version of Mick Jagger (read 'craggy faced').
For me it was largely an uneventful holiday - I don't need much of an excuse to drink on a normal day, but at least I guess Cristina couldn't be too critical.
As for Valentina, she survived... Barely...