RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - The roughly 70,000 Carnival revelers who
had packed into the Brazilian ''sambadrome'' Monday were on their feet.
Red and white fireworks showered the sky and a chart-topping pop song
boomed from the sound system.
The samba group Salgueiro - made up of a core of musicians and nearly
4,000 dancers - had entered and the fans were jumping.
''You're the best, Salgueiro,'' 20-year-old Ana-Maria Goncalves yelled
she danced to the tune. ''We're going to win this. Bring on the champions.''
Brazil comes to a standstill for the annual four-day Mardi Gras-type bash
that precedes the Christian observance of Lent. One of Brazil's
best-known Carnival traditions is Rio's parade competition when city
neighborhoods offer up huge ensembles of musicians and dancers that vie
against each other for cash prizes and major bragging rights.
A panel of judges picks the champions, taking into account each group's
floats and costumes, samba tune, organization and drumming skills. This
year's decision will be announced the day after celebrations end Tuesday
Although Salgueiro got an enthusiastic welcome, after an hour of samba
dance moves, some members looked ragged, provoking shouts of
criticism and looks of disgust. Still, opinion pollsters Ibope ranked them
second best out of seven neighborhood groups early Monday.
By Tuesday morning, seven more groups will have paraded in the
''sambadrome,'' a half-mile-long grandstand near downtown Rio built just
for the parades.
This year's favorites are current joint-champions Mangueira and
Beija-Flor, both due to perform late Monday. Mangueira, based in a slum
district, is to Carnival in Brazil what Pele is to soccer.
Also popular was the group Uniao de Ilha do Governador, whose floats
had been destroyed first by fire, then by flooding. Volunteers had worked
around the clock to make sure the group's parade still looked brilliant on
The city's tourism board, Riotur, estimated 150,000 tourists visited this
year's Carnival, double that of 1998.
Brazil is more attractive to visitors this year because its currency, the
has plunged in value 35% against the dollar since mid-January when the
government floated the currency to stem a massive outflow of foreign
''Whoever walks down the street can feel the difference,'' Gerard
Bourqueseau, president of Riotur, told Monday's Jornal do Brasil
Also Monday, a Jewish leader criticized a samba group that used
swastikas and other symbols from Nazi Germany in a Carnival parade in
Sao Paulo on Sunday. ''It was disturbing and brought back very bad
memories for Brazil's Jewish community,'' said Henry Sobel, senior Rabbi
of the Israelite Congregation of Sao Paulo.
The Vai-Vai samba group used the symbols to pay homage to
Nostradamus, a 16th-century French prophet said to have predicted
historical events including Nazi Germany. Samba group members met with
Sobel before the parade to say no offense was intended, but refused to
withdraw the symbols.
Meanwhile at Trinidad's Carnival, a performer known as ''Singing Sandra''
on Monday became the second woman to be named Calypso King in the
50-year history of musical competitions there.
Sandra Des Vignes of Port of Spain beat out rival Sugar Aloes during the
all-night competition of songs peppered with social criticism, a fixture of
the nation's annual festival.
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