RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) -- The spirits of many Brazilians began to lift
on Wednesday ahead of Rio de Janeiro's unbridled Carnival that promises a
few days of distraction from the nation's troubled economy.
Secretaries, taxi drivers and even hustlers on the street whistled and
the samba songs of Carnival as they looked forward to the five days of
indulgent celebrations that mark Rio's pre-Lenten festival.
Workers at the Ilha do Governador samba school cast aside economic
worries as they soldered the final glittering pieces of a giant typewriter on a
Carnival float and joyfully crooned out their theme song: "Go forward, my
The school's organisers said this year's Carnival would be as spectacular
others despite an economic crisis that had jolted the stability of Brazil's
four-year-old real currency and sent it crashing down against the dollar last
The school, one of dozens that try to outdo each other in glamour and
extravagance during the annual bacchanal, had to scrimp on imported
feathers and sequins made expensive by the devaluation. It also suffered a
devastating fire that destroyed all six of its enormous floats a month before
But the mood was upbeat at the dockside warehouse where workers were
putting the finishing touches on the newly rebuilt floats -- most of which were
more than 20 feet high.
"This is the moment to show the world what we can do," said Cristiano
Goncalves, a Carnival float designer. "After you have spent so much money
and worked so hard, there are no words to describe the incredible feeling of
parading high up on something this fantastic with all the eyes of the world on
Nearly 100,000 people in showy costumes will join the parades for an
unparalleled spectacle of dizzying samba dancing and outlandish theme floats
that draws thousands of visitors and millions of television viewers around the
Tourists were already streaming into the city on Wednesday, filling hotels
and spreading around welcome dollars.
The multimillion-dollar parades, the highlight of Rio's Carnival, vibrate
through the Sambodromo stadium starting on Friday night with the top
samba schools competing in overnight processions on Sunday and Monday.
Carnival fever started building months earlier as the schools, which are
rooted in Rio's teaming shantytowns, held late night practice sessions of
samba dancing and worked around the clock creating the theme costumes
Ilha do Governador based this year's parade on legendary journalist and
statesman Barbosa Lima, who the designers believe will serve as an
inspiration for Brazilians feeling inadequate about their crumbling economy.
Lima led protests that toppled President Fernando Collor in 1992.
"This is a lesson for the people of Brazil that if we had more like him
wouldn't be such a third world country," Goncalez said. "He fought for his
The schools act like an safety valve for a population that daily struggles
violence and poverty. There are fierce rivalries to mount lavish displays and
they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring their themes to life.
Funding comes from the city, corporate sponsors, ticket receipts and outside
-- often illegal -- sources.
"Even when times are difficult, they have ways and means to have their
It's something that is part of our culture, part of our history," Rio's tourism
secretary Gerard Bourgeaiseau said.
The city campaigned hard this year to make the festival accessible to
everyone, even those who could not obtain dearly priced tickets to the
Sambodromo or the accompanying balls that are thrown in Rio's chic night
They added hundreds of neighbourhood street parties and a full programme
of alternative music for the younger set who have been rebelling against the
traditional samba sound.
Copyright 1999 Reuters.