[words and photographs © Mark Eveleigh]
A bishop sits drunkenly on a step, nursing a glass of beer and eying up a body-builder with a red satin dress stretching over his bulging pecs. Across the road a policewoman, in an unfeasibly short skirt, lewdly caresses a plastic truncheon as she jokes with a nun. The nun is wearing a badge supporting “lei seca” (the no-drinking “dry law”), but as she laughs the beer in her glass sloshes over her ample cleavage. Another gaggle of nurses brush past me, their stiletto heels tick-tacking across the cobbles as they hurry up the road chasing the rhythm of pounding samba.
These scenes of craziness are not the depraved hallucinations of a madman. Not this time. They are just typical scenes from one of Rio de Janeiro’s most unforgettable and irreverent blocos (samba “parades”). Known as Carmelitas, this bloco is one of the first in the festival of samba-crazed fun that is carnival.
The parade dates back many generations and runs through a section of the ancient cobbled lanes of Santa Teresa quarter. Legend has it that in the old days, as the band passed the Carmelita convent on the hilltop more than a few young nuns would find the siren-call of the samba irresistible and would sneak out to join the festivities. These days countless would-be nuns and angels mix happily with pseudo-devils, with scarlet horns and forked tails, amid the heady sex-charged atmosphere of samba and sweat.
Brazilians don’t just “visit” carnival. And to say they “dance” carnival doesn’t do it justice either. In their Portuguese slang, the Brazilians say that they are now “jumping carnival”. Only “jumping carnival” suggests the intensity and energy involved.
The whole of Brazil is now jumping to the rhythm of the world’s greatest party. This is the only place to be in the world at this moment. When are you going to “jump carnival”?
What’s life like in Rio’s favelas? Take a look at how some of the children add colour to their lives, here.