The masks are off, daylight savings time is done; the year has begun in Rio de Janeiro
Perhaps because of the recession in Europe and the U.S. (and the overvalued real), Rio saw no growth in Carnival attendance statistics from last year (one million visitors, approximately) to this one. Official totals aren’t out yet, but the military police calculate that as many as five million danced in the streets in blocos– same as last year. Even so, the streets of Ipanema– a Carnival magnet– were filled with foreigners and Brazilians from other parts of the country.
And though the city put out a reported 150% more porta-potties, up to 15,000 units, residents complain of those who didn’t use them and the resulting stench. After every bloco went by, streets were covered in trash; thankfully Comlurb, the city trash pickup company, got that all that confetti swept up amazingly fast.
The Sambadrome, not quite fully remodeled, saw no disasters during the two nights of Carnival parades by samba schools, though some floats were briefly stuck at the initial turn in the avenue, which is tighter than before. And a strike by construction workers nixed some spectator seats.
Notably, public safety hasn’t been an issue, except for one parade night with a nearby shootout between pacification police and drug traffickers. One teenager died and police wounded and arrested a man who is reportedly the local drug trafficker. Morro de São Carlos, the pacified favela where this took place, hasn’t fully taken to pacification, with police recently arrested for taking bribes.
Antônio Pedro Figueira de Mello, Tourism Secretary, told O Globo that next year more blocos will be shifted to other parts of the city, outside the South Zone. Afroreggae, the music NGO that works to help young men leave drug trafficking and to keep children from going into it, drew up to 200,000 revelers on Ipanema’s seaside avenue. “This not viable,” Figueira de Mello said.
More and more, residents and visitors alike make a distinction between the gargantuan claustrophobia-producing blocos such as Simpatia é Amor and Carmelitas, whose drunken participants can become vandals; and smaller blocos where everyone knows each other as well as all the lyrics. Many cariocas say they like to watch blocos from their windows, safe, unsweaty and unsquashed. Others adore the challenge of dressing up with groups of friends, and the romance of chance encounters.
While an Ipanema neighborhood safety association says it will demand that the attorney general’s office prohibit alcohol sales during bloco parades, secretary Figueira de Mello said that Carnival sponsorship by Ambev, Brazil’s soft drinks and beer multinational, would continue. “No chance, beer has everything to do with Carnival,” he told O Globo. In a full page Globo interview in today, Mayor Eduardo Paes said the city will require 2013 Carnival sponsors to “solve the problem of where street vendors sleep”.
Every morning during Carnival, entire families, camped out in beach chairs on the median strips of the seaside avenues of Ipanema and Leblon, could be seen breakfasting on traditional mortadella sandwiches. They shared space with rows of porta-potties and huge plastic bags filled with crushed aluminum cans ready for pickup.
Paes also hopes to reduce the participation of numbers game bosses in Carnival funding and organization. The city has been investing in the infrastructure of samba schools, he added, which he says receive sufficient funding from ticket sales, TV transmission rights and private sponsorship (one school this year had yogurt as a theme).
Already, city officials and the tourism industry are looking ahead to the next megaevents, as a papal envoy arrives tomorrow for a Lenten look-see in advance of the Pope’s July 2013 visit.
The very next big thing will be this June: the U.N. environmental meeting Rio + 20, with 150 heads of state and at least 50,000 delegates expected to attend. They will probably drink less beer.