April 18, 2024

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Carnival celebrations are back in Brazil after a pandemic halt


RIO DE JANEIRO – For Faber Paganotto, the social isolation brought about by the pandemic was harsh, but never more “painful” than during the period of Carnival, the samba party and pre-Lenten sensuality.

Brazil’s celebration of Mardi Gras has been canceled in 2021. After the omicron variant emerged, organizers postponed and scaled back last year’s event, allowing samba schools in their edgy costumes and floats to parade, but preventing hundreds from roving street parties called blocos.

Paganotto, a 40-year-old geography teacher, understood the decisions. He was wary of putting himself and his family in danger. But he thought of his 7-year-old daughter. She has spent nearly half her life in a world upended by a global pandemic, a world without a proper carnival.

But this year, at long last, the event is back. It couldn’t have come at a better time.

After a hiatus caused by a pandemic that claimed 700,000 lives here; bitterly fought presidential elections in October that deepened the country’s political polarization; And an attack on the capital last month by supporters of the loser, Jair Bolsonaro, the carnival was a release valve of sorts.

When Paganotto took his daughter to the first block this year, he felt overwhelmed. his wife cried.

“We were afraid that at some point in her life she wouldn’t be able to experience this,” Paganotto said. “We didn’t know how long the pandemic would last, if we did get back to some level of normalcy… Now, it’s so nice to know we’ve finally got it back.”

Law student Victoria Rodrigues called the carnival’s return “a breath of fresh air”. She had stopped along a sequin-strewn oceanfront promenade to dab a purple glitter on a friend’s cheeks.

“It’s like a new birth,” she said.

Brazil’s government expected 46 million people – more than a fifth of the population in Latin America’s largest country – to attend Carnival festivities across the country. Rio’s celebration is the largest anywhere, according to the Guinness Book of Records—larger, even, than New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration.

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Politics crashes the Brazilian carnival

For those who may be out of practice, Patriotism News site O Globo ran Carnival-related stories about whether it’s okay to ride the subway shirtless or a bikini (no) and about diseases that can be transmitted through kissing (mononucleosis, among others).

“No kiss is 100 percent safe, especially with strangers,” the article warned, although there was little evidence that it deterred many cariocas, as Rio’s natives are known. “So, the more mouths kissing, the greater the risk.”

By tradition, Carnival falls on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, when Christians begin the fast of Lent. But in many countries, what was once a meal using family meat and dairy products before fasting — Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday — has evolved into a multi-day celebration with few restrictions.

After the 1918 flu pandemic, Rio’s Carnival of 1919 was one of the biggest carnivals the city had seen, a party so epic that one writer called it “the great revenge of the plague.” Will this be Carnival Revenge 2.0?

Eduardo Paes, the mayor of this city, declared that it would be a “carnival of democracy” and a celebration of the heroes of the pandemic. His predecessor was a Christian Pentecostal and former gospel singer who cut funding for the carnival.

Jair Bolsonaro, the former president, was also not much of a carnival. He dissolved the Ministry of Culture and cut funding for artists. In one of his most popular tweets on social media, he posted a video showing a male reveler urinating on another, reportedly during the Sao Paulo mass.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who defeated Bolsonaro in the October elections, has vowed to reverse those changes. On Sunday, his culture minister accompanied the samba school.

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Brazil is racing to restore art that was damaged in the capital riots

The change did not go unnoticed.

“We are in a climate where culture is valued,” Leonardo Donner, founder of the Sargento Pimenta bloc, told the Folha de S. Paolo newspaper. The name of the block is a reference to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the Beatles’ alter ego. It performs hits by a British quartet, with a samba touch.

“We feel a revival…a greater respect for the work we’re doing on the streets, which we haven’t felt before.”

Lula did not attend the carnival festivities. he They cut short a holiday in Bahia to visit the state of Sao Paulo on Monday, where devastating floods and landslides have killed at least 44 people and prompted officials to cancel some Carnival events there.

Many samba schools celebrate indigenous and black Brazilians, including the country’s first black woman to write a book. One of them referred to the struggle to demarcate the lands of the indigenous people and enslaved Africans who had been excluded from Brazil’s independence two centuries earlier. Of all the countries in the Western Hemisphere, including the United States, Brazil took in the most enslaved Africans, and was the last to abolish the practice in 1888.

Patrick Pontes called the carnival’s return “surreal”. During the last carnival, the 22-year-old refrigeration mechanic was in a relationship. Now he was single and ready to mingle.

He had dyed his hair, had a pink beard, and was wearing nothing but devil ears and a red tulle miniskirt a size or two too small.

“I couldn’t properly enjoy the carnival,” he said. “So this year, I’m putting it all out there — everything I’ve kept inside me all the other years.”

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Nearby, a small crowd had formed around a young woman in a silver dental floss bikini and black fishnet stockings. Around her neck she wore a tag: “A shooting star. Make a wish.”

At Brazil’s Carnival, Rio declares war on a dreadful enemy: public urination

Since 2019 Paganotto and his friends have chosen to wear carnival costumes that refer to political events. As a federal civil servant, he feared he would face “some kind of retaliation” for his clothes. Options during the Bolsonaro years. But not anymore.

This year, Paganotto and his comrades dressed up as “imprisoned patriots,” a reference to the more than 1,200 people arrested after attacking Brazil’s Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace on Jan. 8 in a failed bid to restore Bolsonaro to power.

Paganotto said the attack “was revolutionary in every way”. “But we tried to make it a joke now that people have been arrested and gone to jail.”

The costume featured a black retention net, supposed to resemble the bars of a prison cell; fake stools attached to the back, a reference to the rioters who defecated in government offices during the assault; And a green and yellow shirt emblazoned with the word “mané” – “dummy”. This is a reference to when Bolsonarista approached a Brazilian Supreme Court judge to reprimand him for what he allegedly did Election fraud, of which there was no evidence. The judge replied, “You lost, Manny.”

Paganotto was, by chance, posing with a small samba school this year dressed as an imprisoned man. He was recreating this outfit, which featured a black and white striped jumpsuit with gold trim and glitter-encrusted cuffs with disco balls strung on them.

“Carnival has always been a form of resistance, and that hasn’t changed in the past four years,” Paganotto said. “What has changed is…the feeling of being in a democracy again.”