20.02.09 – Carnivale

Olinda182We are away from the boat for a couple of weeks. David is off exploring with Jeanette while Christine has joined me to give Rio some slightly more respectful attention.

But now we are in the gorgeous colonial town of Olinda.  In South America you can get by with the lingo by adding “o” to all words except two – “Higgins” and “Linda”, irregular nouns to which the “o” must go at the beginning. Bernardo O´Higgins is Chile´s own, while Olinda is Brasil´s jewel – Wodonga to Recife´s Albury. It is a lovely, ramshackle colonial Portuguese town reputed to have the best of all carnivales. That´s what we´re here for, anyway.

Daughters Jenny and Rosie absolutely must come here next year. It is one of the most exciting experiences, making NYE in Sydney a church meeting in comparison. Street music, parades and dancing from noon till 6 am with the most fabulous costumes, exuberance and infectious excitement. The whole of Brasil is at it – fat old ladies, fatter old men, children and pheromonal youngsters singing and samba-ing. Friendly chaos, noise and fireworks.

This is a little old Portuguese colonial town with mouldy pink cathedrals, palm trees, fishing boats and crooked streets. Handsome, generous black people with flashing smiles and dazzling costume. Much of the local dancing is in parody of the old colonial court – frippery, bouffant hairdos, pantaloons, umbrellas and frock coats woven into mesmerising dance routines. I keep thinking of Rosie here with a hi-8 camera. How she would love it.

Take a large city square with huge shade trees in the centre and mouldy pale pink and yellow cathedrals at each end. Fill it with 300,000 barely dressed supermen, nuns, aztec warriors, cavemen, heath ledgers, flouro green and yellow wigs, frenetic dancing and a wild throb of drums. Then take 4 brass bands each followed by 5000 frenzied followers in matching fancy dress, have them march simultaneously into the square from opposite corners, get all 500,000 people dancing furiously and see what happens. That´s carnivale in Olinda. Such energy, enthusiasm, good-natured jollity and exuberance. Children, old ladies, strutting gays, luscious dykes with purple hair, bare abdomens of fat men and of course lots of pheromonal youngsters all dancing the samba or pashing. Millions of them.

Carnivale Olinda

The rhythms, the excitement seep into your bones and you get swept along like it or not. Chaos. At times the streets are jam-packed with heaving crowds and you fall into the refuge of a door stoop with gratitude. They can´t all have taken ecstase, but these Brasilians are an unbelievably friendly and affectionate bunch. As Chris says, you can see why Brasil, unlike Chile and Argentina, couldn´t manage a very successful dictatorship.

We´re staying in a beachfront hotel which is clean, cheerful, very downmarket, and great fun. We retreat here to sleep and recoup every couple of hours. The inmates are in equal parts elderly pensioners, happy Brasilian families and gay men. I have developed a taste for the local sugar cane and lime spritzig, caipirinha. As we sit on the end of jetty it adds a peculiar magic to the cool of the evenings.

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