Protests and naked skin: Rio Carnival is hot despite rain
Feb 4, 2008, 19:40 GMT
The group \'E de arrepiar!\' made up by members of samba school \'Unidos da Viradouro\' perform on a float during a parade at Rio de Janeiro\'s \'sambodromo\' carnival avenue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 03 February 2008. EPA/ANDRE MOURAO
Rio de Janeiro - Rio de Janeiro was hot with celebrations as the official Carnival parades began early Monday, despite pouring rain and the relatively low summer temperatures.
An abundance of sex and naked flesh, floats fit for Hollywood, colourful costumes, spectacular fireworks and catchy rhythms attracted celebrities from around the world to the event.
'I love this, there is nothing like it anywhere else,' French actor Vincent Cassel said.
Thousands of foreign tourists and international celebrities came to the Carnival stadium known as the Sambodromo, including Cassel and his wife, Italian actress Monica Bellucci; Hollywood star Lucy Liu; former tennis player Anna Kournikova and music producer Quincy Jones.
The first round of the official competition ended after daybreak with 90,000 spectators in the stands and millions watching on television from homes, in bars and at Carnival parties.
The Brazilian daily O Globo described the Sambrodomo as shaking amid the excitement.
'This is unique,' one Italian female tourist, 75, told the cameras.
But the so-called 'greatest party in the world' started with a scare, as the engine of a float caught fire and gave out a lot of smoke. But the fire was quickly put out and followed by one hit after another.
The banning of a controversial float that had led to international condemnation caused a protest of sorts from participants who had planned to enter a float piled with papier-mache bodies and dancers dressed like Adolf Hitler that they called a memorial to Holocaust victims.
The samba school Viradouro protested against the so-called 'reduction of the artists' freedom' by instead entering an improvised float featuring gagged jesters dressed in white dancing alongside a banner that read: 'You do not build the future by hiding the past.'
Media and artists alike had previously denounced a judge's decision to ban the float as 'censorship.'
With the slogan 'everything that gives goosebumps,' Viradouro also garnered cheers from the stands for floats with scenes from renowned horror films and figures that emulated sexual positions from the Kama Sutra.
Each 'escola de samba' or samba school - most of which come from from the city's slums, or 'favelas' - has 80 minutes to cover the 800-metre parade route in the Sambodromo with floats and some 4,000 dancers.
Female dancers were often dressed only with so-called 'tapasexos,' that cover only the genitals. Model Viviane Castro, 25, lost this important covering during her performance, but continued the parade joyfully. Her photograph made it to the front page of several important dailies on Monday.
Fourteen samba groups took part in the official competition, and a jury will choose the winner. The results are broadcast live on television on Ash Wednesday and are important not only in Rio but throughout the country, where the results are viewed almost like a national football championship.
This year set several records for Carnival, with Rio de Janeiro alone expected to host a record 750,000 tourists from around Brazil and from abroad. And Brazilian authorities were planning to distribute some 20 million condoms for free.
But despite all the will to celebrate, Carnival in Brazil was overshadowed by increasing crime. Shortly before the beginning of the parades, the federal police force said Saturday it would investigate Carnival organizations for alleged illegal financing by criminal groups.
For years, there have been suspicions that illegal gambling bosses, known as 'Bicheiros,' provided the main financial support for the samba schools.
The police was also investigating a renowned mafia boss who composed parade music for several samba groups.
But the investigations did not stop millions of Brazilians from pouring into the country's streets again Monday to celebrate.
The celebrations gave way to sadness Saturday in the town of Sabara, in the state of Minas Gerais. A truck carrying a stage for live music called a 'trio electrico' ran over 20 dancers, killing two people. Twelve others had to be taken to hospital.
In a separate incident, 40 people were injured when a portion of the stands for Carnival parades in the city of Fortaleza collapsed.