In Rio, even the ban cannot keep the revelers from the carnival streets

RIA DE JANEIRA – The pandemic may have disrupted plans for the Rio de Janeiro carnival for the second year in a row, but revelers flocking to the Brazilian city for sun, sea and samba still found ways to hold a party on Saturday.

Thousands of people challenged the official ban on street parties by dancing, singing and mingling to the rhythm of samba, sometimes while police watched.

Others attended more formal events that moved into the room this year after the mayor’s office banned “blockades,” crowded street parties traditionally crowded with those who can’t or don’t want to bargain for expensive tickets to the official parade at the Sambadrome. this year was postponed to April because Brazil has yet to pass the Omicron wave.

“I think it’s unfortunate that this has to happen that way,” said Tulio Brasil, a 29-year-old music marketing director who found one of the unauthorized street parties downtown.

“There is no point in pushing everyone into a closed place when the street, open space, much more airy, is prohibited,” he said.

Indoor parties – and admission fees – are a heresy for many Brazilians who say that Block Carnival parties are essentially and historically are parties for people and for people.

“There’s a lot of hypocrisy in all this,” said David Domenico, a samba composer associated with the Mangeira Samba School. “In January, when the amicron wave peaked, there were no public measures to limit the spread of the virus; bars and restaurants were still open. But the carnival was canceled. “

The city’s decision to postpone the carnival has disappointed many professionals and creative people whose livelihoods revolve around one of the world’s largest festivals – all the more so as large indoor gatherings have gone smoothly.

“Stadiums are full, churches are full, evangelical temples, concerts, bars, restaurants, hotels, AirBnbs,” said Rita Fernandez, who heads the association of street blocks from the city’s most touristy areas. “It seems quite contradictory, as if the virus had spread only on the streets and at the carnival.”

Large crowds at concerts similar to those held in the last few weeks by Brazil’s biggest pop star Anita, embarrassed both the carnival organizers and the revelers.

For many, paying for visiting “blocks” indoors is just out of place.

“Carnival here in Rio is a party for black people, it’s a party for the favelas (residents of big neighborhoods of the working class), it’s a party for homosexuals, it’s a party where women are valued, criticized and the government is satirized,” he said. Domenica. “Carnival has roots, carnival has a history, an essence we can’t forget.”

Almost all samba schools in Rio are closely linked to working class communities. Many of those who create the carnival, from costume designers to music composers, from samba schools to security and transportation agencies, are experiencing financial pain.

In February 2020, before the pandemic hit Brazil in full, more than 2 million tourists traveled to Rio, bringing in 4 billion reais (then about $ 1 billion) – a record number, authorities said.

Only about 70,000 people can be accommodated at the Sambadrome every night. Others may attend some of the 500 city parties that run for 45 to 60 days. Much of the appeal of street parties is the variety of themes: any costume or no costume at all is good.

Then came the pandemic, and in 2021 the mayors of the largest country in Latin America were forced for the first time in a century to cancel the carnival. Authorities threatened to sue those who warned of a ban on parties, so many groups turned to online events, music and dance broadcasts for their fans.

But this year, when parts of the world with high levels of vaccination have returned to some normalcy, online activities are no longer attractive. “People are tired of it,” said Fernandez of the bloc.

Indeed, this year, despite the virus, tourists from abroad and all over Brazil have appeared in large numbers. According to the Rio Hotel Association, as of February 24, hotels in Rio were up about 80%.

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