Showere in confetti and flanked by sequined samba
queens, Rio's mayor symbolically relinquished control of the city to
its rotund Carnival king on Friday (Saturday Jakarta time) to kick off the five-day festivities,
a time of joyous excess when the streets fill with roving percussion
bands and throngs of dancing, drinking revelers.
The cityis primed for the madness, with a hot tropical sun
shining through a clear blue sky onto the backs of hundreds of thousands
of partygoers who've taken over the streets, joining one of the
traditional "bloco" parties that march behind a band playing old samba tunes.
"I am giving over a city at the height of ts rebirth," said
Mayor Eduardo Paes, handing the key to the city to Milton Junior, who is
serving this year as King Momo, the mythical jester who reigns over the
Rio's star is rising of late, as the city prepares to host the
final matches of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, and this
year's Carnival is forecast to be an even bigger blowout than usual, with
20 percent more tourists expected than in 2011.
Rio officials say they're also better prepared to keep the
chaos under some semblance of control, with more portable toilets,
traffic guards and paramedics, as well as a new central command center
monitoring it all.
"It's a matter of organization and comfort; we're thinking of
the partiers, but also of the residents," said the president of Rio's
tourism department, Antonio Figueira de Mello, adding that the city will
welcome 3 million visitors this summer, about 850,000 of them during
the raucous fee-for-all.
The celebration has proved immune to the crisis devastating
economies in Europe and the US, said Mello. "There is no crisis that
can take down Carnival."
The festivities also signal a return to normality for Rio and
Salvador, the capital of the northeastern state of Bahia, after police
strikes raised fears that the parties might be ruined by rampant crime.
In Salvador, which hosts Brazil's second-largest Carnival and arguably
its wildest, the strike led to a spike in murders earlier this month.
Rio's short-lived work stoppage was peaceful, and ended last week with
As of Friday afternoon, neither city reported any serious problems as the parties began.
In Rio, merrymakers are expected to spend US$640 million and
generate 250,000 jobs, most temporary and in the tourism and services
industries, during Carnival alone, according to the city's economic
development department. But the worlds biggest party traditionally
leaves a hangover to match: last year, the romp left about 850 tons of
trash strewn around town.
Rio officials have dispatched 80 mobile medical emergency
units, 1,000 traffic guards and 15,000 toilets around the city, and
officials are running a campaign against urinating in public. Rio
residents are humming along with a catchy samba tune running on TV, telling partiers, "If you want to pee, don't do it here, don't do it here," which rhymes in Portuguese.
It wasn't yet clear if the city's organizing effort was paying
off, at least for Fernando de Souza Maciel, a shirtless college student
sweating into a pink tutu and ribboned ballet slippers who stopped to
get a juice with friends between street parties in the Botafogo
"I can't say I haven't taken advantage of a street corner to
find some relief after that third beer," he said, referring to past
Carnivals. "But I promise I'll look for a toilet this year."
His two girlfriends sent up a cheer for Paes - "Go mayor!" - when asked about this year's plentiful toilets.
"It makes all the difference," said Mayara Marconi, whose
butterfly wings were a little off-kilter from the jostle of the crowd.
"It's a fine line between having fun and desperation, that moment where
you'd trade your kingdom for a toilet."
For tech-savvy revelers, Rio launched a smartphone app, free
for iPhones and Androids, that tells visitors in English, Spanish or
Portuguese where to go for blocos, the mobile samba
bands that draw millions, pied-piper style, through the streets, as
well as basic information on public transit, eateries and museums.
Brazil's federal aviation authority expects 3 million people to
shuttle in and out of airports during Carnival week, 13 percent more
than last year. Airports taking in visitors will also have 30 percent
more federal police, and workers with vests asking "May I help you?"
will be circulating to take care of last-minute questions.
Helping the notoriously gridlocked city tackle the street
closures, mass gatherings and parading parties is Rio's new central
command center, which the city hopes will keep order when Rio hosts the
2014 World Cup matches and the 2016 Olympics.
It has been fully operational since November, but this is the
first big test of its ability to keep the city running during a large
The center takes feeds from more than 500 cameras spread around
the city and will help plot the routes of Rio's more than 400 roving
street parties, along with the points were guards, medical units and
toilets will be placed.
Center director Savio Franco said he hopes all this planning will make it a cinch to maintain control of Carnival.
"There will be more than 5,000 city government workers involved
in making this party go as smoothly as possible for cariocas and for
the tourists," Franco said. (nvn)