Rio carnival returns for the first time since the pandemic

RIO DE JANEIRO — Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes ceremonially handed over control of the city to King Momo on Wednesday, a ritual representing upheaval of the status quo — but it remains to be seen how much post-pandemic partying is in store during the first Carnival in two years.

Elaborate samba school floats and feather-adorned dancers will parade between the packed bleachers from Wednesday evening. As for the more than 500 street parties that are usually unleashed in the city, the town hall refused to grant them permission, saying they lacked time to prepare.

This dissonance has sparked a debate over whether City Hall is stifling the essence of carnival and whether locals should make the streets their own. Some organizers don’t care what is allowed; they will show up anyway — part party, part protest — and Mayor Paes, an avowed carnival enthusiast, said he would refrain from deploying the City Guard.

“City Hall won’t stop people from being in public spaces, partying, but there’s no way that will happen at such a (large) size,” Paes said in response to the question. from a reporter after giving King Momo the key to the city.

His statement echoed comments on Sunday during visits to samba schools that were putting the finishing touches on their floats. Competing schools were herded from the streets into the Sambadrome in the 1980s and became the epitome of Rio Carnival for tens of thousands of willing attendees to shell out tickets. Their parades will continue until Sunday evening.

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In the shadow of the Sambadrome are the free parties called “blocos”, which flock to the streets and spill into the squares, many of whose members amuse themselves by upsetting the established order. What blocos lack in glamor, they make up for with glitz and grit. The costumes range from the racy to the extravagant, and are sometimes clever digs at authority figures.

Blocos had largely disappeared as samba schools claimed the limelight, but their resurgence in the 1990s was accompanied by a redemocratization after two decades of military dictatorship, according to André Videira, a sociology professor at the University. Federal Rural of Rio de Janeiro who studied the blocos.

Later they began to take shapes akin to American marching bands, without the need for sound trucks or drum sections that impeded mobility. The Blocos were free to move.

“They are important vehicles for the democratization of access to culture and access to the city,” Videira said.

Since 2010, more than 150 blocos have refused the institution of a registration process by the town hall, with many seeing it as an attempt to formalize something informal in nature, Videira said. They insist that the celebration of Carnival does not depend on the consent of the authorities – not this year, or any other.

On April 13, dozens of musicians marched through the city center blowing their horns, banging their drums and demanding to be heard. The euphoric protest was organized by Ocupa Carnival, a group that days earlier drafted a manifesto decrying perceived attempts to commodify and crack down on the blocos that was signed by more than 125 of them.

“It is important to collectively lobby the government, so that Carnival is recognized and supported as it should be,” said Karen Lino, 29, while wearing a jaguar-print outfit that reflected her role as a dancer in the block of Friends of Jaguar. But she’s also part of the troupe that will lead reigning samba school champion Viradouro through the Sambadrome this year. “It’s hypocritical of the government not to pay attention to other sectors.”

On Tuesday, a columnist for the city’s main newspaper, O Globo, wrote that the mayor’s office was washing its hands of its policy-making duties by leaving the blocos in legal limbo.

“Apparently the ban didn’t make much sense, as the blocos bring the soul of carnival to the streets and are fundamental to the spirit of the city,” wrote Leo Aversa. “If he (Paes) thinks it can’t be done, it’s not possible, the consistent thing would be to seriously ban it. If he thinks there’s no problem, the good thing would be to release them with conviction.

Paes fired back on Twitter“The good thing is not to have blocos! They are not allowed and we will not have the party structure.

During the 2020 edition of Carnival, just before COVID-19 hit Brazil, more than 7 million people celebrated in the so-called “Street Carnival”, according to city figures. Crowds are dense, bottles are shared and kisses are a custom. That is to say: a paradise for partygoers, and a vector of viruses.

The Blocos were hardly keen on showing up last year as Brazil’s catastrophic second wave of COVID-19 took shape. It was the first time in a century that Rio’s pre-Lenten festivities were canceled, and Paes granted the key to the city to health workers instead of King Momo. With the spread of the omicron variant in January, Paes proposed that blocos be relegated to closed, controlled spaces to check for proof of vaccination upon entry.

This idea went against the freewheeling nature of the blocos, and some organizers expressed concern that it was yet another attempt to “privatize” the carnival by associating them with the sponsorship of businesses. Most opposed it. But with daily COVID-19 deaths near zero for more than a month and the mask mandate lifted, people want to celebrate. Some blocos performed last weekend and times of their unauthorized performances are circulating widely on WhatsApp.

Spokeswoman for Rio’s tourism promotion agency, Cecilia de Moraes, defended the city’s decision to deny permission, saying it takes months to coordinate and contract the supply of fencing, toilets laptops and additional dump trucks to keep street parties from becoming party fouls.

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“When things (with COVID-19) get better and people survive, the blocos see it’s okay, they want to get out. But we can’t flip a switch,” she said.

Rio’s largest blocos, which attract tens and hundreds of thousands of revelers, lined up. They use sound trucks and rely on the city for traffic detours, garbage cleanups and more to limit disruptions. Rita Fernandes, who heads the Sebastiana des blocos association, said she was holding the fire for 2023.

“We don’t want to go out at all costs, our sponsor canceled, we were discouraged by omicron. In the end, everything was demobilized,” Fernandes said by phone. “We don’t think the city will withstand the volume of blocos over four days. We don’t want to create chaos in the city.

Others are not convinced, like Tomás Ramos, saxophonist and member of the group that organized the April 13 demonstration. He cited a city ordinance that came into effect last year determining support for Carnival as a “guaranteed right”, and said the town hall had no plan B to guarantee this without its main sponsor, Brazilian brewer Ambev. .

As the protest ended, Ramos shouted out to musicians and spectators gathered on the steps of Rio’s Municipal Theater, rallying them for the Carnival festivities.

“Down with the turnstiles that transform the city into a big business, where profit takes precedence over life, where money is freer than people!” he thundered, and the crowd echoed his words. “By capitalizing on reality, we socialize dreams! Long live the energy of rebellion!

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