Thursday, February 19, 2004


Tomorrow marks the official start of Carnaval—Carnivale, Carnival, whatever the hell you want to call the 5-day orgy of excess leading up to Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and the start of Lent. (Ahh, Lent: Do you think 40 days is enough for the Catholic Church to atone for their sins this year? Me either.) In Rio, it all officially begins with the mayor handing the keys of the city (at around 3pm) over to this specially chosen fat dude known as the Rei Momo ("Clown King," not to be confused with David Byrne's great World/Latin album by the same name). The "unofficial" start of Carnaval Carioca (as the Rio fest is called) is at midnight tonight, when the Bloco do Bip-Bip—a group of enterprising drunk people who gather ever so often at a famous bar, à la the Hash House Harriers—parades boozily through the streets of Copacabana belting out samba standards. (Bip-Bip also unofficially closes Carnaval by "parading" again at midnight on Mardi Gras night.) So this evening on your rounds, raise ya glass and shake ya ass come last call.

It seems almost unpossible to me now that I was at Carnaval in 2003; has a year really passed since I was trapped in those five OK, eight sequined-and-feathered non-stop days of high-stepping drag queens, dancing until 7 in the morning, drinking sketchy cocktails served from car trunks, learning to samba with anorexic Italian girls, tricking people into skinny-dipping, and etc.? Like Bob Newhart or Patrick Duffy on Dallas, it all seems like a dream to me now....

The one Carnaval event that gets the most attention outside Brazil is the big Samba Parade, the frantic to-do with the floats and the topless girls and the costumes (plus, in 2003, a levitating actor playing Moses, a 3-story bobblehead of President Lula, and 4 scuba divers doing aquarobics in giant hamster balls)....The ever-enterprising Brazilian government has turned this attention to their advantage, always giving the big parade some progressive theme to bring global attention to Brazil's socioeconomic problems. (In 2003 the theme was AIDS prevention/condom use, and one group's float theme was organ donation; just try that at the Superbowl.) Yet despite all the hoopla, I hardly remember the Samba Parade, as it costs something like US$200+ to attend (I got scalped tickets), meaning most backpackers and actual residents of Rio party for free in the streets—which was more fun, anyway.

The high price tag also means lots of celebrities flock to Rio for the weekend. Last year, the gayest gaylords in Gayville, Dolce & Gabbana, paid a visit to Rio and caused a huge to-do over—of course—fashion. [Brazilian newswire bit about it; Google "translates".] The dynamic duo from Italy refused to wear the hideously ugly branded t-shirts that are the only ticket in to the "celebrity" section of the grandstands (you can't forge a t-shirt like you can a ticket, you see), sporting instead custom-made tuxedo shirts BeDazzled and such by their own atelier. The grandstand bodyguards said "no t-shirt, no entry, no exceptions"— even for fabulous $13,000 shirt-sporting couturiers—so D&G stormed off in a huff (lithe Brazilian boytoys in tow), claiming Brazil was all about the fag-bashing and the Europe-hating. How sad!

Rio has already had a big celeb sighting in the past 12 months, when Pharrell and Snoop Dogg shot the sexed-up 'Beautiful' video on the steps of a convent (whoops!) in the heart of Rio's Bohemian quarter. But even if the rap superstars hadn't dropped by, it probably wouldn't be very exciting to know that the "celeb" at this year's Carnaval is evil geek overlord Bill Gates [in Portuguese; Google "translates"]. Big Willy is forgoing the standard fancy hotel-and-taxis route, choosing instead to live on a luxury yacht anchored in Guanabará Bay and get around on his own private helicopter. (I know some Gates scholars—Isaac and Eli, can we get a piece of this?) One of the people he's entertaining on his boat is Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, who's there either because he wanted to escape the "fags" he's so fond of who took over his state last weekend or because he wanted to rock that Speedo somewhere where it was more acceptable. (Side note: the D&G "no shirt, no service" thing happened to the shirtless Arnie at Carnaval 2001.) There's still no official word yet on where the world's most famous Brazilian, Gisele Bünchen, will spend Carnaval, but she usually forgoes Rio (whose festivities are often seen as too commercial by Brazilians) and heads north to the more "authentic" party in Salvador (and by "authentic" I guess they mean anarchic, rife with crime, and full of price gouging, because that's what Salvador has to offer for Carnaval). If Gisele drags along beau Leo DiCaprio, I'll laugh when he gets mugged in an alley.

P.S. I'm holding off on my usual Thursday Listmania!/"5 things I'm enjoying this week" post in hopes that my trip to New York this weekend will yield enjoyable things. Here's a sneak peak: The Cho/Daniels Report; Dear Mary; Duran Duran's Rio.


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