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A Postcard From Rio De Janeiro As Brazil Begins Carnival


Brazilians like to call their Carnival the world's greatest spectacle. The multi-day festival officially begins today, but the street parties got going much earlier. And you can count on NPR's Philip Reeves, our new Brazil correspondent, not to miss them.


PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: The band is warming up - first the horns...


REEVES: ...Then the drums. A few hundred yards away, staff haul porta-cabin toilets into position. The French fries go into the pan, and the beer arrives - lots of it packed in ice in big polystyrene cold boxes on the back of tricycles.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: One of these tricycles is wheeled in by Edson do Nascimento. He hopes to sell every can of beer he has.

EDSON DO NASCIMENTO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: "Rio's Carnival is a great time to make money," says do Nascimento. We're in downtown Rio. People are coming out of their offices and gathering in the bars and narrow alleys, waiting for the fun to begin. Do Nascimento doesn't actually like the street parties, or blocos, as they're called here.

DO NASCIMENTO: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: Working on Rio's streets over the years, he's seen too much of death and crime and drugs and prostitution, he explains, especially during Carnival. But do Nascimento acknowledges that a lot of people here do not see things his way. Danila Silva is one of them. She's 33, works as a cashier in a supermarket and loves this stuff.

DANILA SILVA: (Through interpreter) Carnival is Brazil, guys. It's joy. It's spontaneity. People are really happy. Carnival is really nice.

REEVES: One of the mysteries confronting an outsider seeing Rio's festivities for the first time like me is how so many people can seem so euphoric for so long. These traditional celebrations go on across Brazil for several weeks. I mean why are there so many? I ask Danila Silva.

SILVA: (Through interpreter) We are uninhibited people and happy people. It doesn't matter if you're going through tough times. You get out there whether you're happy or sad and try and make the day a bit better.

REEVES: Brazilians certainly are going through some tough times. The economy's been in a deep slump. The country's tangled up in the worst corruption scandal in its history. I ask Silva if Carnival's a kind of collective therapy and suggest that maybe people in the United States should try this.

SILVA: (Through interpreter) I think it would be good. Americans are a bit subdued. They need this kind of therapy there.


REEVES: This isn't just about escapism. Politics are in the mix, too. Some Carnival costumes are explicit about that by mocking Brazilian politicians. And the other day, I saw people dressed up as Donald Trump's planned Mexican wall. Ricardo Moraes, president of this bloco, says this party also has a political message.

RICARDO MORAES: It's the situation in general, especially in Rio de Janeiro - the corruption.

REEVES: Moraes points at one of the samba dancers. A slogan is written on her backside calling for Brazil's president to be kicked out of office.


REEVES: Those fireworks mean this party's officially started.


REEVES: The band sets off through the streets, followed by a caravan of oscillating, sweating and very happy people, of scantily clad dancers and pirates and peddlers hawking shots of tequila and cups of caipirinha, the mind-blowing national cocktail.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: The crowd bursts into bawdy song and weaves off into the night.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing in Portuguese).

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.