Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Friday, February 11, 2011



FAT TUESDAY is a less than month away! It's March 8th this year and people around the world are busy making preparations. In New Orleans, they're polishing up their plastic beads to toss on hotties on Bourbon Street. In Venice, they're auditioning actresses for the costume ball at St. Mark's Square. In Trinidad, the bands are busily rehearsing for the annual Rara Festival. In Dusseldorf, the streets are cleared for Fasching when half a million people march in Europe's largest parade. But no where on earth are the celebrtations any bigger than in RIO DE JANIERO. Here, Carnaval is more than just another holy day. It is a national holiday when Brazilians celebrate like only they can! (See above photo!)

It's often said that the only thing that Brazilans love more than soccer is Carnaval. The entire nation shuts down for a crazy week with insane celebrations all across the vast nation. At the heart of Carnaval is Rio's Samba Competition. It's kinda like Dancing With the Stars in the USA: Professional dancers perform before judges with a complicated scoring system surrounded by lots of gossip. Like their beloved soccer, Brazilians take their Samba competitions very seriously. There are twelve schools where the dancers train year-round. Records of winners date back to 1920. The winning-ist school of all-time is Mangueria. But, with titles in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008 Beija-Flor is now a force to be reckoned with! Also, just like in soccer, the venues hosting such competitions became too small. Welcome to the SAMBADROME seating over 90,000 people. The parade route leading up to the entrance of the arena is lined with half-a-million more folks. Anyhow...you get the picture...in Brazil, the Mardi Gras Samba competition is like the SUPER BOWL, the ROSE PARADE and a TYLER PERRY MOVIE all rolled into one!

But at 5am on Monday, everyone in Brazil awoke to the most horrible news any Saba-loving-Carioca could possibly imagine: A massive fire had erupted at warehouse in Rio's SambaCity. By the time it was contained, it had destroyed 8,400 costumes and damaged the elaborate stages used by the performers. Also up in flames were the hopes and dreams of hundreds of workers who work year-round to prepare for the Mardi Gras celebrations. Worst hit was Portela, one of Rio's oldest schools. Since its founding in 1923, it boasts 21 titles. "We'd been here 24 hours a day. We were in it to win this year," said Moacir da Silva Pinto, one of the school's managers. Also badly hit was Academicos do Grande Rio, an up-and-coming newer school. Local bookies were considering it a 'sleeper-pick' for the 2011 title.

While this may seem a bit over-stated and dramatized (it is a dance competition, after all) we should take a look at the figures. Samba is Brazil is big business. The loss of costumes alone is in the $25 million range. Carnaval is Brazil's biggest tourist draw, with 70% of all revenue coming from this one FANTASTIC week. But the saddest part is that the schools have only spotty insurance, no workers compensation or sick leave. People are out of jobs as well as hope. But Brazil is a nation united in cause and the other Samba schools have pledged to help out and everyone is now working together to save Mardi Gras.

The Mayor of Rio, EDUARDO PAES, was one of the first people on the scene. The fire, which was ruled an accident, and NOT arson, took hours to extinguish. He too, believes the spirit of Cariocas (residents of Rio) will overcome any tragedy. "There are a lot of people who spend the year dreaming and working for this, for their moment to go out there and shine," he said. "You can't take that away from them. The material things are gone, but we still have a samba to sing."

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