When the Orthodontist signed his contract with me last year promising to go to Carnaval 2007, he did not anticipate having to fulfill it. He expected us to move. This was a miscalculation on his part. He really, really, really did not want to go to Rio. He said it was unsafe and dirty, points not readily disputable. The thought of wearing a costume with feathers likewise did not appeal. He had prevented Maria from going 20 years ago and this time she said she’d go without him if need be. So he signed on the dotted line and committed himself to the fates.
On Sunday, we woke to cloudless blue skies and, after breakfast, descended to the pool area. A samba quintet played songs, old and new, while we drank Devassa beer and swam in the pool. It would be accurate to say that Mr. Understanding and I were the only gringos in this middle aged, middle class milieu. The fact that Mr. U was not wearing a tsunga was a huge tip off. Eventually we rallied for a late afternoon power lunch at a churrascaria, Porçao Rios, which has a fabulous view of the backside of Paõ de Açucar.
Then we rushed back to the hotel to fix the costumes and prepare ourselves. Maria added more black eyeliner to my eyes, an act for which I am eternally grateful – it improved the overall visual immensely. I must admit I was getting a little anxious at this point, being a first time parader.
We then descended to the lobby in our attire for a photo (see above) and to find a cab big enough to fit us all. We arrived within 15 minutes to the location – the driver spotted right off Mangueira’s floats. Garbage bags in hand, we crossed the street to the floats, looking for other Mangueirans similarly attired. Finally, Maria stopped a girl carrying a flower headpiece and a custom made pink and green bag and asked if she knew where we were supposed to be. The girl was wearing a hot pink tank top, white short shorts, and Havaianas.
“Come with me,” she said. Along with two of her friends from the Mangueira samba school, we trekked through the crowd and garbage back across the street and down another one, passing the exact spot where we’d been let out by the taxi.
The girl finally stopped at a barracaõ, a streetside beer shack, home to the pre-partying Mangueirans and told us to sit at one of the tables. She introduced herself as Ionara and introduced us to her friends. Mr. Understanding and Fernando immediately ordered cans of beers all around to combat the sweat literally pouring off us all. I went up onto the curb and asked if I could take a few more chairs to accommodate our costumes.
“Com certeza,” an old woman replied.
It was at about this point that I had the following epiphanies:
1) don’t go to the parade in your costume. Dress like Ionara and throw away your ratty flip flops when you put on your dancing shoes. The flip flops will not be missed in the 200 tons of garbage thrown on the ground. Better yet, give them to one of the vendors in exchange for a beer.
2) Not drying my hair was a good decision, as was wearing waterproof makeup.
3) Fake tan or no, I was not blendable. There could have been a neon sign over my head saying “GRINGA AQUI.”
Ionara was fascinated by the fact that a white American woman could speak Portuguese and would want to participate in Carnaval, had gone so far as to take samba lessons. She kept bringing me around to people to show off my singing, which was terrible. An embarrassment. But whatever, it made her happy. I was the white girl who had been invited to the ‘hood. Not every one shared her enthusiasm, I am sure, having the gringos sitting drinking beer with them but she made us feel welcome.
Ionara then proceeded to do the real samba. She told me she loses 4 kilos dancing in the parade and that she had been going to the Mangueira samba school since she was seven years old. She was parading in the last ala of the school, one of the professional ones reserved for true Mangueirans. She and Maria were about the only ones who knew every word of the song.
Eventually Ionara told us it was time to leave and handed us over to the other couple who were carrying a different set of costumes. We snaked single file behind them through the thickening crowd and vendors selling cold drinks or grilled meat skewers back to our original starting point; the couple made sure we were behind them all the way. They said good-bye when they found us a group of people wearing our costumes. We were now in the area referred to as “pre-Concentraçao”.
Earlier in the week, before I left for Rio, I prepared the church bulletin for the first Sunday in Lent, this coming Sunday. I had the psalm, Psalm 91 verse 11, in mind the whole trip, especially that evening, praying for our safety.
“For he shall give his angels charge over you,
to keep you in all your ways.”
Ionara and her friends were our pre-parade anjos, our earthly angels. Ionara took care of us “like we were babies”, to quote Maria. A photo of her and Maria singing is posted below. We will be sending Mangueira a thank you note, along with the photos, for all their hospitality and concern.