5,200 people per school
200 tons of garbage
100 persons per wing
36 minutes of adrenaline
1 contract fulfilled
This is what Peyton Manning and I have in common: we both know what it is like to be under the bright lights with thousands of people watching. Well, okay, so the fans were not exactly watching me. Or even our humble little quartet of goofballs. But believe me when I say that all eyes are on the parade.
I last left you in the crush of humanity, waiting to line up with the floats in the Pre-concentraçao. Eventually, with the advice of another parade angel from Minas Gerais, wearing our same costume but distinguishable by big blue earrings, we made our way into the area called “Concentraçao”. Lining the street feeding one side of the Sambodromo were large placards with the name and number of each ala. More importantly, and much to my eventual relief, porta potties also lined this area; there had been none in the pre-concentraçao area. As I wrote earlier, I was deathly afraid of the potential potty situation at the Sambodromo and so limited my intake of liquids after 6 p.m. This meant drinking only one beer at the barracaõ and one bottle of water 3 hours later.
For at least an hour we stood around waiting in this area to go into the Sambodromo. Off to our left was a huge disco area whose music was competing with the music from inside the Sambodromo. Add to the mix fireworks and you have extreme cacophony. Finally, finally, we were told to line up in ten rows of ten. Minas Gerais Angel told us earlier to be on the right side going into the funnel as that is where the cameras were. This was her seventh parade with Mangueira; she was going to parade the next night too with a different school. I lined up on the extreme right side, Mr. Understanding was to my left, then Maria, and the Orthodontist held the middle. Behind us were women in their mid-fifties. The equivalent of parade cheerleaders ran alongside us dressed in white pants and tunics with sequined roosters on them. I was glad to be on the outside – not because I wanted to be on camera but being in the middle could make a person seriously claustrophobic.
When the fireworks went off, we began to advance forward in our lines, the smoke drifting down into our faces. Off to the right was a miniature slough, reminiscent, both in terms of smell and putrifaction, of one of the Sao Paulo marginals. Glorious, the smell of human industry. A crowd sat right next to this noxious aberration and people lined the overpass over our heads, the legs of children and adults alike straddling the cement guardrail 50 (?) feet above. The sound of our samba song blotted out the sound of the disco as we rounded the corner to our left going into the Sambodromo, the full force of the lights hitting us. It was then that I first understood how Superbowlers must feel when they run out onto the football field.
Everyone in the Sambodromo was on their feet singing with us, waving pink and green paper Mangueira flags, looking into our faces as we passed. After about 5 minutes I figured out that everyone else knew every word of the song and that singing the song was as important, if not more, than the sambaing. Imagine 70,000 people all singing the same song. Does that happen at the Superbowl when we Americans sing the National Anthem? I don’t think so.
When we got to this part of the song
“Vem no vira da Mangueira vem sambar
Meu idioma tem o dom de transformar
Faz do Palácio do Samba uma casa portuguesa
É uma casa portuguesa, com certeza!”
we all twirled, our swords held high in the air, shoulder armaments bumping each other. I will never, ever forget the joy on Maria’s face as she sang, her arms flung wide, blowing kisses to the crowd. This was her moment. Feliz da vida!
At one point during the parade I realized I was passing under the Brahma beer box (camarote) where all the young, hip famous people watch the parade. Although a bit belatedly, I remembered to look up and was treated by seeing the actor Rodrigo Santoro from the movie Love Actually hugging a woman (later identified as girlfriend model Ellen Jabour). Maria, however, had a better look at the camarotes from her position and saw Avril Lavigne.
Midway through the women behind us stopped dancing. Three quarters of the way down I was dying, my triceps aching from swinging the sword, my feet in their ridiculous gold booties protesting. The cheerleaders, sensing fatigue, ran up and down the wings even faster, singing louder. We had not even hit the judges’ viewing box. Maria thought she was going to have a heart attack. I thought I was going to pass out and regretted having limited my liquid intake – the twirling was getting to me – and I too was concerned about dying in front of thousands of people. (One 49 year old director from Mangueira actually did expire in the Sambodromo during the parade. It is not clear if he was just watching or actually participating.) Mr. Understanding, firme e forte, kept up the pace nicely occasionally singing out “com certeza!” the only part of the song he’d memorized and waving his sword with gusto. Fernando looked straight ahead the whole time and held the line. I do not think he sang a word but hey, he fulfilled his contract, and he was enjoying himself.
Towards the end, we were looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel at the Plaza of Apotheosis, a lit up arch which looked like a hybrid between the Golden Arches and the St. Louis Arch. A Niemeyer special. A young man with a metal box of water strapped to his chest and plastic cups of water was passing out cold water. We gulped some and headed for the taxis. The crush of the rest of the parade was coming fast upon us. Near the exits were huge metal cages where people could discard their costumes. We ripped off our costumes, found a reliable looking taxi driver who kindly took our photo, and headed for home, the costumes squished in the trunk. We were back in the hotel within 10 minutes, the streets being absolutely deserted. Later, from our hotel roof top pool bar, we could hear the music from the Sambodromo.
In retrospect, dying in the Sambodromo would be a nice segue into Heaven, especially if you are a man. Half-naked women, costumes de luxe, a groovy beat, and all your friends around you as you pranced into heaven. It couldn’t get any better than that, could it? I plan to train harder for my next Carnaval but if I die in the meantime, you can cremate me in my costume.
For more photos go to http://www.g1.globo.com and select Samba Schools RJ: Mangueira.