Friday, February 16, 2007

Carnaval from afar

So this marks the first time in two years that I will not be seeing Rio de Janeiro’s just famous bacchanalian Carnaval celebrations first-hand.

It’s hard to describe the cumulative effect of days upon days of events such as participating in the city's blocos (street parties) as they parade through Rio’s sun-soaked avenues. Some of my favorites, such as the journalist’s bloco Imprensa que Gamo, the Escravos de Mauá that cavorts around the Praça Mauá near the docks, the Cordão da Bola Preta ("Black Ball Krewe," so named because its members had been kicked out of all the other samba associations) concentrated in Cinelândia and the Banda de Ipanema with its outrageous drag queens would each easily qualify as “party of the year” in any normal city, but for Rio, they are just part of two weeks’ worth of steam-letting that has a transformative and joyous effect on an often embattled and joyous populace unlike anything else I’ve ever seen anywhere else in the world.

But of course all is not joy in Rio, one of the most violent cities in the world, and I spent a good part of last week one year ago speaking with members of the Comando Vermelho drug cartel in the Zona Norte's Vigário Geral favela, and this week tragedy befell one of my favorite escolas de samba, the Acadêmicos do Salgueiro . In the fall of 2004, I spent many nights watching Salgueiro’s incredible percussion section and dancers (and thousands of supporters) practice in the run-up to Carnaval in a working-class neighborhood in northern Rio. That year, the group’s patron, Waldemir Paes Garcia, known as Maninho or “Little Guy,” a fellow who ran an only semi-legal gambling empire in the city, exited this world in a hail of bullets from (at the time) unknown gunmen. This year, Paes Garcia’s cousin, Guaracy Paes Falcão, was killed in similar circumstances.

Though Rio de Janeiro can often seem like a violent, brutal place (and, having lived basically in a favela for a few months, I can tell you that it certainly is), the cariocas that inhabit the city have a true genius for forgetting about their troubles, living for the moment and savoring what pleasure life has to offer. So, in honor of them, of Rio, my favorite city, and for Thad Blanchette e Ana, Roberta Lemos, Gustavo Pacheco, Carlos Pontual and Mia Tuttavilla, I am posting the lyrics (in Portuguese) of Gilberto Gil’s immortal hymn to Rio, Aquele Abraço.

O Rio de Janeiro continua lindo
O Rio de Janeiro continua sendo
O Rio de Janeiro, fevereiro e março
Alô, alô, Realengo - aquele abraço!
Alô, torcida do Flamengo - aquele abraço!
Chacrinha continua balançando a pança
E buzinando a moça e comandando a massa
E continua dando as ordens no terreiro
Alô, alô, seu Chacrinha - velho guerreiro
Alô, alô, Terezinha, Rio de Janeiro
Alô, alô, seu Chacrinha - velho palhaço
Alô, alô, Terezinha - aquele abraço!
Alô, moça da favela - aquele abraço!
Todo mundo da Portela - aquele abraço!
Todo mês de fevereiro - aquele passo!
Alô, Banda de Ipanema - aquele abraço!
Meu caminho pelo mundo eu mesmo traço
A Bahia já me deu régua e compasso
Quem sabe de mim sou eu - aquele abraço!
Pra você que meu esqueceu - aquele abraço!
Alô, Rio de Janeiro - aquele abraço!
Todo o povo brasileiro - aquele abraço!


Anonymous said...

Thank YOU, Michael....beautiful, beautiful tribute! To an adopted city
from a highly thinking and feeling man...that is you. You are missed.
Adorei! Love, Mia

Anonymous said...

Hey you forgot Carmelitas on your favorite neighborhood Santa Teresa ;-) I missed it yesterday, and now I'm about to catch Bola Preta! Meet you there :-)
Roberta Lemos