Though I frequently reminisce about the ‘old days’ living in Brazil (I relocated to New York City almost 11 years ago), the only time I truly miss being there is when Carnaval rolls around.
I remember being excited about having a full four-day weekend off to pretty much do whatever you wanted – dance, drink, listen to tons of music and watch the samba schools parades on TV.
Not that I was a big partaker of the festivities back then. As far as I can remember, I only really went out to party four or five times in all the years I was there.
In Fortaleza (where I lived for a decade) there wasn’t much of a Carnaval scene, since most of the action happens outside the capital. But I did enjoy the fact that I pretty much had the city to myself, and that the movie theaters would give everyone enormous discounts because they stayed open through the Holiday.
I do recall going to my oldest aunt’s house one year (I think 1997 or ’98) and joining my younger cousins during the daytime ‘mela-mela’ thing, when people threw a mix of water and flour at you, which was pretty yucky but fun nevertheless.
The following night, I found a ride back to town and was back in town and headed right to the movie theater to watch a couple of movies. In a leaner year, I joined my Beatle covers band mates and just hung out at Fortaleza’s Beira-Mar avenue, where a really bad band played as a bunch of female dancers (probably strippers whose clubs had no clientele during that time) in thongs and body paint pranced clumsily on stage. It was not the best experience, but hey, we were all close friends and had a blast anyway.
On the very last Carnaval I spent in Brazil in 2000. I didn’t join the fun. It was the year when I got married to my now-former wife, so we timed the honeymoon (you get a paid week off there) with Carnaval and drove up to the mountains, where people go to escape the craze of the festivities.
I remember that we did drive down to a nearby beach town after a while and got our Fiat pounded with ‘mela-mela,’ but in at night we were able to walk the streets to the sound of a mix of samba-reggae, frevo and other Northeastern Brazilian sounds.
In hindsight, if I had known that I would be leaving just six months later, I would have done things differently. These days, I can only live vicariously over Internet broadcasts of the party in Brazil – and no, I don’t go to Carnaval in New York at SOB’s or places like that during this time because it just feels fake to me – a bunch of expats trying to relive the spirit of something they left behind long ago.
Also, it feels unnatural to walk out of such party and face 40 degree Fahrenheit weather – Carnaval is supposed to be enjoyed in the summer. If I were in Miami or something, maybe I would feel differently.
But who knows, someday I might just go down there in spite of the high cost of traveling there during this time. After all, you do only live once, right? Also, I feel like I need to introduce my Polish-born wife to the craziness so she’ll understand what it’s all about.
Ernest Barteldes is a freelance writer based on Staten Island, New York. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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