Rio Carnival 2012: Costume shopping and impromptu samba dancing

During Carnival, the streets of the Saara market in Old Downtown Rio de Janeiro are flooded with local cariocas shopping for wacky beer hats, neon-colored wigs, cheap plastic accessories, and the ubiquitous noise horns, which echo periodically (and loudly) in the air. If you’re in the market for last-minute costumes for Carnival’s parties and parades, Saara is undoubtedly the place to be.

Yesterday, on the Friday of Brazilian Carnival, the energy and excitement in Saara was palpable. Lively music blared from boom boxes, beer hawkers catered to long lines of customers, and on nearly every corner, children played in confetti while adults danced the samba. Check out the gallery below for a taste of the action.

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Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.

Rio Carnival 2012: 10 best bloco street parties

If you want to feel the real essence of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, look no further than the city streets. In the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, lively street parties and parades, called blocos, wind throughout Rio’s various neighborhoods, led by floats blaring live samba music. Crowds can swell to upwards of 200,000 people, many dressed in outrageous costumes and more than a little intoxicated.

This year, Rio’s tourism board approved 424 different blocos of all sizes and themes. With so many to choose from, where do you begin? This list includes some of the most popular.

Banda de Ipanema
Where: Rua Gomes Carneiro to Praça General Osório.
When: Feb. 18 and Feb. 21 at 6 p.m.
Why go: One of Rio Carnival’s longest-running blocos, Banda da Ipanema runs along the beachfront at sunset, providing stunning views to those who break away long enough from the party to enjoy them. Flamboyant drag queens come out in droves, so feel free to go crazier than usual with your costumes.Bangalafumenga
Where: Av. Infante Dom Henrique
When: Feb. 19 at 10 a.m.
Why go: The core band members are popular local musicians, performing year-round in venues across Rio. Expect the traditional Carnival marchinhas, along with some funk, pop, and rock thrown in.

Carmelitas
Where: Rua Almirante Alexandrino, winding through Santa Teresa.
When: Feb. 21 at 10 a.m.
Why go: This bloco is inspired by a local legend about a Carmelite nun who jumped the walls of her convent in Santa Teresa to join Carnival. Most revelers sport a colorful veil.

Cordão do Boitatá
Where: Rua do Mercado and Rua do Ouvidor, ending with a street party at Praça XV.
When: Feb. 19 at 8 a.m.
Why go: Inspired by Brazilian folk traditions, Cordão do Boitatá is slightly more peaceful and family-oriented than many of the other blocos.

Cordão da Bola Preta
Where: Largo da Candelária in Centro, going down Avenida Rio Branco to Cinelândia.
When: Feb. 18 at 9:30 a.m.
Why go: Reportedly Rio’s largest bloco, Cordão da Bola Preta is popular across demographics. Wear an outfit with the signature black polka dots on white to blend in.

Escravos da Mauá
Where: Largo de Santa Rita, going through Centro and finishing in Rua do Acre
When: Feb. 12 at 12 p.m.
Why go: This bloco‘s path takes you through the historical Saúde district, Praça Mauá and Morro da Conceição — the birthplace of Carnival street parties.

Que Merda é Essa?!
Where: Rua Garcia D’ávila and Rua Nascimento Silva, going along Vieira Souto in Ipanema.
When: Feb. 19 at 4 p.m.
Why go: Translated, the name of this bloco is “What the S- is This?” Enough said.

Monobloco
Where: Av. Rio Branco and Av. Presidente Vargas, ending at Cinelândia.
When: Feb. 26 at 9 a.m.
Why go: The Monobloco parade is so popular, it was recently moved to Centro so it could accommodate everyone who wanted to participate. Music is led by the popular percussion-based Pedro Luís e a Parede.

Simpatia é Quase Amor
Where: Praça General Osório, going down the Ipanema shoreline to Leblon.
When: Feb. 19 at 4 p.m.
Why go: The crowd at this bloco veers toward young and flirty, making it a great place to meet people.

Suvaco do Cristo
Where: Rua Jardim Botânico, going through the Jardim Botânico.
When: Feb. 12 at 9 a.m.
Why go: This low-key bloco goes through Rio’s botanical gardens, which should already be on your list of places to visit. Why not hit two birds with one stone?

Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.

Video: Rio Carnival’s biggest street party, Cordão do Bola Preta

Despite a nearly unbearable early morning start time, the Cordão do Bola Preta bloco on Saturday attracted more than 2.2 million people — the most any of Rio de Janeiro‘s popular Carnival street parties has ever seen.

The party got started at 8:30 a.m. in Largo da Candelária and traveled down Avenida Rio Branco before finishing in a huge dance party in Cinelândia plaza. Most revelers were decked in outlandish costumes or outfits with the bloco‘s signature black polka dots, and more than a few were enjoying the beers, cocktails, and shots being sold and served by street vendors. From my perch in the press box, the flow of happy Brazilians from all walks of life, singing and dancing and bonding in the festivities, was awe-inspiring.

Despite the record crowds, the bloco passed nearly without incident, with police officers reporting only a handful of public urination arrests. What do you expect with all those caipirinhas?

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Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.

Italy’s Battle of the Oranges

Even before Filippo Prior rides into the ancient piazza on the back of a horse-drawn carriage, he feels the giddy adrenalin rush of battle and the unnerving fear that comes with the knowledge that he and his teammates are about to get pelted with hundreds of cold, hard oranges.

“You hear the roar of the crowd, people screaming before you enter the piazza,” says Prior, a 21-year old member of the Cavalry of the Tricolore, a carriage team which competes in Italy’s annual Battle of the Oranges, a pre-Lenten carnival in Ivrea, near Turin. “It’s scary. You have a helmet but you can’t see anything because oranges are flying at you from all angles.”

The Battaglia delle Arance is a three-day orgy of orange-throwing insanity that is part of an ancient six-day carnival that attracts some 100,000 spectators and 4,000 participants to the small northern Italian city of Ivrea each February. The event, which begins today, appears to be unregulated mayhem but it’s actually highly structured and has deep historical significance.

The carnival commemorates a 12th century rebellion that was sparked by Violletta, a commoner who cut off the head of a tyrannical lord who tried to enforce the custom of taking her virginity on her wedding night. For centuries, carnivals-goers in the town threw beans at each other because feudal lords used to bestow two pots of them per year on poor people in the town. The bean-throwing was meant to signify their disdain for the handouts, but was also good fun.

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But in the mid-nineteenth century, the tradition gradually changed as young women adopted the custom of standing on balconies and pelting boys they fancied from above with oranges. If the boys liked their attacker, they returned fire. These days, the city trucks in 57,000 crates, or 400 tons worth of oranges from Southern Italy that would otherwise be thrown away for use in the battle.

Dozens of carriage teams on horse-drawn carts, signifying the tyrant’s guards, compete against nine “foot” teams, representing the rebellious commoners. The carriage players are completely surrounded and outnumbered, so these participants have to be either very brave, or very pazo (crazy), preferably both.

“On the wagon, you have only eight people and you are throwing oranges against 400-500 people at a time- you are completely under siege,” says Prior, an Ivrea native who has been competing in the battle since he was 12. “You get hit everywhere- on the helmet, the arms, the chest, your hands.”
According to Prior, each carriage player competes for just one of the three days in the battle due the vicious nature of the combat.

“The next day your arms are purple- completely covered in bruises from getting hit so many times,” he says. “There is no way you could do all three days.”

The local authorities set up first aid tents around the five piazzas used for the event, each one is “defended” by a different foot team. The organizers say that no one has ever suffered a severe injury and some view getting a black eye or a bruise on the face as a badge of courage. Spectators wear red berets to signify themselves as non-combatants but still get hit with stray fire. The splattered oranges and horse droppings create a colossal mess that’s eventually cleaned up by a team of 100 workers.

On Fat Tuesday, a team of judges give awards to the foot and carriage teams based upon their throwing ability, costumes and adherence to rules, such as not hitting the horses with oranges. The festival concludes with a huge procession, which culminates with a likeness of a sword-weilding Violetta presiding over a burning scarlo, a pole covered in heather and juniper bushes. The crowd goes wild, cheering for the scarlo to burn as quickly as possible. A quick burn is an omen that the coming year will be a good one; a slow burn means trouble is on the way.

The teams have been together for decades, but foreign visitors are welcome to join if they pay a registration fee. But Prior has a word of advice for newcomers.

“Definitely wear old clothes and shoes, because all your things will be ruined.”

Photos courtesy of Torino Tourism– via Marco Leonardi.

Rio Carnival 2012: what’s new this year

rio carnival 2012

Rio Carnival 2012 is being looked upon as the Brazilian city’s “coming of age”. Not only are experts predicting a record number of revelers, but the world’s eyes will also be trained on Rio de Janeiro to see how it manages the crowds and festivities, particularly as the city prepares to host both the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Organizers are pulling out all the stops to make this year’s Carnival celebration not only safe and smooth, but also an experience to remember. Here’s a rundown of what’s new about 2012’s festivities.

Shiny new Sambódromo
The world-famous Sambódromo stadium, home to Carnival’s renowned samba parades, just underwent a $20 million facelift in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games. Unveiled Sunday, the renovations include new elevators, hospitality boxes, and sound equipment; improved access for people with disabilities; and improvements to the track where the samba dancers march. The new stadium will also be able to accommodate 12,500 additional spectators, which will make this year’s samba parades the biggest yet.

Hot celebrities
Rio Carnival 2012 will have plenty to offer celebrity-spotters. Jennifer Lopez, who recently recorded a sexy Carnival-themed commercial for Brahma beer, “was invited” to the Brazilian brewer’s private box at the Sambódromo for the samba parades. Playboy founder Hugh Hefner will be enjoying the parades from rival brewer Devassa’s box, reports the AFP. Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas has also confirmed her attendance on Twitter.

Pricier hotels
A recent survey released by SindRio, the city’s Syndicate of Hotels, Bars, and Restaurants, revealed that room rates in Rio’s main tourist areas have risen by an average of 17.6 percent from last year. The syndicate’s director told the Wall Street Journal that the price raise was due to sector-wide facility and service upgrades in preparation for the World Cup and Olympic Games.

More Brazilians
According to the SindRio report, domestic tourism is also on the rise. As of January 30, 68 percent of all hotel reservations in Rio’s main tourist areas during Carnival weekend had been placed by Brazilians.

Less rich foreigners
At the same time, the number of international reservations in the city’s top luxury properties is down, from 70 percent of bookings to a paltry 50 percent, reports the Brazilian Hotel Industry Association. The economic crisis in North America and Europe is the likely culprit, said the Journal.


Additional street security
Last week, Carnival organizers feared chaos after police officers and fire fighters announced they were going on strike just before festivities were due to kick off. Thankfully, the strike was poorly attended and fizzled until it was officially called off on Monday. For extra assurance, city officials have announced that they will dispatch 50,000 police officers to the streets of Rio, as well as send up a remote-control camera blimp to keep watch over the festivities.

Gadling coverage from day one!

Today, I’ll be heading down to Rio to provide up-to-the-minute dispatches on the good, the bad, and the outrageous aspects of Rio Carnival 2012. Stay tuned; this is a party you won’t want to miss.

Check out Gadling’s full range of Rio Carnival 2012 coverage here.

[Flickr image via Luciano Guelfi]