Tradition, abandon meet at Rio Carnival "blocos"

Sun Feb 22, 2009 10:40am EST
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By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - As the sun sets behind a church in a hillside Rio de Janeiro square, Rodrigo Correa adjusts his nun's habit and mini-skirt before bounding into a throng of revelers following a booming mobile sound system.

It is 6 p.m. and another Carnival "bloco", the neighborhood street parties that are the lifeblood of Rio's annual feast of hedonism, is getting into its stride.

"This is what Carnival is all about -- happiness, costumes, the blocos, without discrimination, full of women," shouted the 53-year-old economist as the Samba band struck up in the historic Santa Teresa district.

"It's the real Carnival of Rio de Janeiro."

For all the millions of dollars and blanket television coverage invested in the grand parades at Rio's Sambadrome, the beating heart of Carnival remains its free-to-enter blocos, where a Samba band and a jury-rigged sound system are enough to sustain a thousands-strong party for hours.

Some of the hundreds of blocos have histories going back almost a century and command a loyalty from Cariocas, as Rio's residents are known, rivaling that reserved for soccer teams and the Samba schools that parade through the Sambadrome.

The blocos have something for everyone. There is a bloco for dogs, for children, for men who like to dress as late Brazilian singer Carmen Miranda wearing hats of plastic fruit, and another where dressing as nuns is encouraged.

The informal blocos have expanded at a dizzying pace in recent years as the larger ones spawn break-off groups seeking their own place in the Carnival sun.   Continued...

<p>French cabaret dancers from the Moulin Rouge pose during a photo call in Rio de Janeiro February 20, 2009. The dancers are in Rio de Janeiro from 20-24 February to participate in the carnival festivities by the top samba groups. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes</p>