March 2, 2000
Brazil buzzes, awaiting biggest-ever Carnival

                   RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -- Brazilians scrambled on Wednesday
                   to sew the last sequins on skimpy costumes and towering parade floats
                   ahead of Rio de Janeiro's lavish Carnival celebrations, due to draw
                   record numbers of revellers.

                   Popular samba tunes played in shops along Rio's picturesque beaches as tens
                   of thousands of tourists poured into the city for five days of pre-Lenten partying
                   and all-night parading.

                   "It's looking like this is going to be the biggest carnival of the century and of
                   history," said Armando Martins, a spokesman for the city's tourism

                   Brazil's devalued currency has helped lure a record number of visitors to its
                   showcase party whose theme this year is Brazil's 500-year anniversary.
                   Carnival will officially kick off nationwide festivities to commemorate the
                   arrival of Portuguese adventurers on April 22, 1500.

                  All the Carnival's fanciful floats and its music will pay tribute to some
                  aspect of Brazilian history -- from the courage of the Portuguese explorers
                  to the endurance of African slaves and marginalized indigenous tribes.

                   Same story, different dance

                   "We're all telling a part of the same story, but there's room to have fun,
                   to say something different about what Brazil is to us," said Mauro
                   Quintaes, designer of Salgueiro samba school's parade "The arrival of
                   the royal family."

                   Starting on Sunday, dozens of schools with enormous floats and
                   scantily-clad dancers will face off in nightlong parades in the sambadrome
                   stadium -- a long strip with bleachers and spectator boxes built especially
                   for Carnival. Judges will compare costumes, lyrics and themes and select
                   winners at the end of the internationally televised spectacle.

                   On the warehouse floor before Quintaes' office, workers hoisted sails
                   on a space-age looking galleon, adding gold paint to the handrails on
                   what will be the lead float when Salgueiro throws open the gates at the

                   "Everybody wants this to be the prettiest bloc so that we can win this
                   year," 17-year-old Monica said as she worked overtime to complete the
                   yellow nylon trim.

                   The samba schools, which grew out of Rio's impoverished slums and at one
                   point faced police crackdowns, have become a source of pride for
                   residents who save all year to buy glamorous costumes and ensure places in
                   the annual parades.

                   Practicing in Shantytown

                   Shantytown "favelas" caught Carnival fever months ago and are still dancing
                   until dawn in the last week of rehearsals in the labyrinthine streets.

                    In the downtown sambadrome, workers rocked their hips and shuffled their
                    feet to music blasted over the sound system, while they unloaded benches for
                    the thousands of spectators.

                   Down the street, seamstresses surrounded by mounds of pink and silver
                   headdresses and sequined capes measured a pair of pasty tourists for their

                   "This is the dream of my life," said Reese Evans, 30, an English traveler. "All
                   of the energy, passion. ... it's a phenomenon!"

                   But Carnival, and the 500-year anniversary of Brazil's discovery will not be
                   without its critics.

                   After five centuries of racial killings, disease, and forced labor, Brazil's decimated
                   indigenous tribes are protesting the costly parties planned to commemorate the

                   Even at Rio's licentious carnival, some floats will focus more on hardships faced
                   by Brazilian Indians and blacks than on the country's moments of glory. As one
                   samba school put it: "Brazil, the country of all or a no-man's land?"

                    Copyright 2000 Reuters.