February 20th, 2007

(no subject)

It's Carnaval. I'm also just about to leave São Luis and go to Rio. I spent a month here. I'm not totally sure how long I'll spend in Rio. I'm actually a little sad about going, because I've liked some of the people here.

I think something must have changed in my time here. When I first arrived, I was American. Now, I'm French. I'm not sure that serves me so well. Now, instead of walking up to me and talking to me in English, people try out French. When they learn that I'm American and don't speak French, they sometimes try to translate Portuguese to English for me.

So, what's Carnaval like. Let's start with the rain. It started raining. A week before Carnaval, I bought an umbrella that is too big to travel with. Of course, that meant that it stopped raining. It started raining again for Carnaval. I thought about buying another umbrella. It has rained every night of the party, but most people seem to not mind. If I had, while considering buying that second umbrella, that the rain is what makes the termites come out, I would have bought it.

Commercially, Carnaval is the local equivalent of Christmas. All of the media and business build up to Carnaval for a long time. When it comes, people seem to have, “The Christmas Spirit”.

There was a big parade. It had bands on buses. Ropes were sent around the buses and for some length in front and behind. The ropes were held up by lots of security guards. People had to have a certain shirt to be allowed inside the rope. Most all of this is organized by the individual neighborhoods, so the shirts are neighborhood specific.

There was another type of parade. In the sambadrome (like a long football stadium that is open at the endzones) they had the famous type of parade. People put on costumes that were totally over the top and then did performances. This event only seemed popular with performers, there was almost no audience to speak of.

In Madre Deus, near the sambadrome, was the big block party. I had expected one huge party. Instead, there were many smaller block parties. There were probably a half dozen stages set up. They had music almost constantly. There were no real lines between the individual parties, people would be partying in restaurants in between stages.

This gives the impression that Carnaval is a formally organized event. That doesn't capture most of the energy. Got an instrument? Got some friends? Have your own parade. When you pass another parade or show, the loudest group keeps playing.

Security is a big deal. The main entrances to Madre Deus were patrolled by police and people were being searched. It wasn't feasible to patrol all of the entraces. I think that's why they chose to have so many snipers on the buildings and men with automatic weapons in helicopters

A good ice-breaker in Brazil is, “Do you like Carnaval?” From the outside, I had never heard about people who didn't like Carnaval. I would estimate that about half the Brazilian world doesn't like Carnaval very much. The first night of Carnaval, I stopped by the hotel at around midnight and found a Brazilian reading the phone book. He read for much of an hour. I think it is clear that he would answer, “No.” to my icebreaker.

I finally managed to pick up a ticket to Europe. I tried to buy an around the world ticket. There is a really neat tool online to help build construct tickets and estimates prices. It leads to some great travel fantasies. When I submitted my ticket, the final price was roughly twice the estimated price. Flying to or from South America is expensive. I hadn't realized that in advance. I looked hard, and managed to find a ticket to Madrid from Buenos Aires for $775. Based on the other prices I was seeing, I felt like a made a big accomplishment. I'm also very pleased because this means that I don't have to have to invest any more hours looking for tickets. The only disappointment was that I had hoped to catch up with a few people in a layover in New York, and it looks like that won't happen.