CARNIVAL IN RIO – Leighton Gage from Murder Is Everywhere

Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, a period of reflection, prayer, and sacrifices to elevate the soul and focus the mind on eternal life, not this life.

For the forty days of Lent, the Catholic Church has dietary restrictions, though no longer as stringent as when I was growing up.  There should be two small meals during the day, which together should not be the equivalent of the main meal of the day.  Eating between meals was not allowed.  Prayer and personal sacrifice are encouraged.

New Orleans goes back to its French origens and prepares for Lent by hosting a street party that in every way encourages excess before sanity is restored on Ash Wednesday.  But New Orleans cannot come close to Rio in celebrating life before the focus turns to preparing for the next life.  Last year, on February 7, 2010, Leighton posted to Murder Is Everywhere a piece he called “The Greatest Show on Earth”.

Enjoy Rio if vicariously is the only way you can be there.

The Greatest Show on Earth

Not the Ringling Brothers Circus.
The parade of the great samba schools during Rio de Janeiro’s annual carnival.
Six schools perform each night; it takes place on the Saturday and Sunday before the beginning of lent, from about ten at night until long after dawn. This year it will be on the coming weekend.
Spectators and participants alike take the Metro (underground/subway) to get to the sambodrome. It’s part of the fun. You can count on the cars being packed with people in full costume. If you go, I recommend that you plan a year or so in advance, get together with three other people and take one of the tables that front on the barrier. They’re only an arm’s length away from the action.
If you’re like my wife, you’re going to arrive in costume and, when the time comes, you’ll join your samba school.
Anyone can participate. You send them money, and they’ll make you a costume. They’ll also send you the music and the lyrics. You’re expected to attend at least one rehearsal, but you’ll want to do that anyway, because it’s a lot of fun..
If you’re positioned anywhere near the front of the school, you’ll be back at your table before the last participants go by.
Even moving at a pretty good clip, it will take them an hour and twenty minutes to cover the ground.
Exactly an hour and twenty minutes, no more and no less.
If it’s less, you lose impact.
If it’s more you lose points.
And the points are important because in addition to being a show, the parades are a deadly serious competition. Each year, one of the twelve schools of the first category is demoted and one of a lesser category is raised. Schools are judged on many parameters including music, rhythm section, floats, costumes, the performance of the Porta Bandeira (the lady who carries the school’s colors) and even the degree of enthusiasm of the participants.
You want to win, of course. But, most of all, you want to avoid the disgrace of having your school expelled from the first group.
My wife’s school (oh, yes, there are loyalties here, just as there are in futebol) is Salgueiro, or more properly (as below) G.R.E.S. Acadêmicos do Salgueiro.
Their colors are red and white.
As they’re about ready to kick off, she’ll be down there amid the massed ambulances and medical personnel (a number of heart attacks are suffered each year) surrounded by a lot of very nervous people.
And I’ll be sipping a beer and waiting for the red and white skyrockets to go off. Then, over the loudspeaker system that lines the Avenue Marquês de Sapucai, there’s a shout from the guy charged with singing the samba. “Here comes Salgueiro.”
And they come indeed, all 5,000 of them. Click on the link to get a hint of how Salgueiro sounded last year. But it’s only a hint. There is no way to capture the sound of 5,000 people in motion singing to a battery of 500 rhythm instruments.
By the way, they won!
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3 Responses to CARNIVAL IN RIO – Leighton Gage from Murder Is Everywhere

  1. mirabrown says:

    This is incredible.
    Thanks, Leighton.

  2. Hello there, simply was alert to your weblog through Google, and found that it is truly informative. I am gonna be careful for brussels. I will appreciate should you continue this in future. Lots of folks can be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  3. Beth says:

    I am glad you found the blog. this post was written by Leighton Gage, the author of the Mario Silva mysteries set in Brazil. He is one of seven authors who have a wonderful blog, Murder is Everywhere (

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