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Free Condoms and 12 Other Things You Might Not Know about Brazilian Carnaval

Carnaval in Santa Teresa, Rio 1. If you decide to watch the Carnaval parade in Rio and rent a box that may be covered or not and fits between four and 24 people, you will pay something between 18,500 reais (US$ 11,100) and 83,000 (US$ 50,000), according to Liga Independente das Escolas de Samba do Rio (Liesa).

2. Last year, 600,000 condoms were distributed for free by the government to the crowd who was celebrating Carnaval in Olinda, state of Pernambuco. The city, that has around 380,000 inhabitants, received 1,5 million visitors who left behind them 266 tons of trash in the historic quarters.

3. There are several versions for the origin of the word Carnaval. Some authors say that, in Ancient Rome, during the festivities in honor of god Saturn, cars that looked like ships (“carrum navalis”) would cross the streets transporting naked men and women. Other sources believe that it comes from “carne vale” (farewell to flesh or meat). It would refer to the period of the year when Catholics don’t eat meat.

4. The Church, despite an initial opposition to Carnaval, decided in the year 590 to give the festivities its blessings, under one condition – the day after, Ash Wednesday, should be dedicated to repent and sin expiation. Today, it is mainly dedicated to hangover.

5. Carnaval is not celebrated every year on the same day because it depends on the Easter calendar (which follows the lunar calendar). Ash Wednesday happens exactly 46 days before Easter Sunday.

6. Brazilian Carnaval descends from Portuguese entrudo, a street festival where people fights with buckets full of water.  It used to happen in Rio, where the Portuguese court was stablished in the early 19th century. Later, entrudos became more aggressive and participants would throw dirty water, flour, limes and oranges in whoever happened to be on the streets. In 1854 the police of Rio obliged entrudo participants to abolish the use of liquids, not to destroy expensive clothes. Then it evolved to the present version of Carnaval.

7. The first Brazilian Carnaval parade happened in 1855, when Rio was the capital of the Empire. A group of intellectuals went to the imperial palace to invite the royal family to watch their parade. Emperor Dom Pedro II accepted.

8. All around Brazil, social and sports clubs promote early balls, generally in the beginning of February, that receive the name of Grito de Carnaval (Shouting for Carnaval might be a decent translation).

9. Beija-Flor de Nilópolis and Imperatriz Leopoldinense are the most successful escolas de samba to participate in Rio’s Carnaval competition since 1985.

10. Last year, Beija-Flor invested 8 million reais (4.8 million dollars) in its presentation, paying homage to Brasília, the country’s capital.

11. In the 30s, the so-called ala das baianas – the section of each escola de samba, during Rio’s Carnaval parade, composed of elder ladies in big, round skirts – was integrated only by man, all of them carrying  a shaving blade attached to their legs, used to protect the other dancers in case of fights.

12. The costume worn by the porta-bandeira – the lady that dances carrying a flag, during Rio’s parade -, believe it or not, can weigh over 40 kilos (88 pounds).

13. To follow Camaleão, one of the most popular blocos – over 200 groups play music during street Carnaval in Salvador – you will pay 840 reais or US$ 506 per day. Sorry, it’s being sold out for some time now.

Street Carnaval

There are several ways of celebrating Carnaval in Rio, if you are lucky enough to be there when the festival begins.

You can be in the audience of the huge parade of Escolas de Samba – at the Sambódromo (built specifically for the yearly event) -, you can attend some indoor ball, or you can participate in one of the hundred street manifestations that happen all around town. These blocos, as they are called, are semi-spontaneous, normally include a group of percussionists and may be thematic.

Their names can be really inspired:

“O Negócio tá feio e o teu nome tá no meio” (Things are getting ugly  and your name was mentioned)

“Meu amor, vou logo ali” (My love, I am going next door – and I won’t come back before the party is over, it should add)

“Butano na Bureta” (Butane in the Burette, inspired by [sexual] chemistry)

“Xupa mas não baba” (Suck but don’t drool – no comments about this one)

“Lavou tá limpo” (If you wash, it will be clean again)

“Parei de beber, não de mentir” (I stopped drinking, not lying)

“Simpatia é quase Amor” (Liking is almost Love).

Brazilian born, French citizen, married to an American, Regina Scharf is the ultimate globetrotter. She graduated in Biology and Journalism from USP (Universidade de São Paulo) and has worked for Folha de S. Paulo, Gazeta Mercantil and Veja magazine as well as Radio France Internationale. Since 2004 she has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the US. She authored or co-authored several books in Portuguese on environmental issues and was honored by the 2002 Reuters-IUCN Press award for Latin America and by the 2004 Prêmio Ethos. You can read more by her at Deep Brazil – www.deepbrazil.com.

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