A sad event in Rio de Janeiro. According to a news article, a fire in a warehouse district of Rio de Janeiro has destroyed many of the costumes and floats that were laboriously and lovingly prepared for the 2011 pre-Lenten Carnival.
Carnival has long been a central feature of Rio’s culture. Enormous numbers of cariocas participate, particularly residents of many of Rio’s favelas, whose Samba Schools compete against each other to put on the best displays. Carnival is a favorite subject of movies, including the Oscar-winning Black Orpheus from 1959 by Marcel Camus.
Until the construction in 1984 of the Sambadrome Marquês de Sapucaí, designed by Brazil’s foremost architect, Oscar Niemeyer, the Samba Schools would compete in a parade through the downtown streets. Since the construction of the Sambadrome, the Samba Schools have competed in that venue.
Here is a quote from the novel Farewell Rio that gives some sense of the effort lost in this fire:
Preparations for the annual rite had begun in late December. I became
aware of them when I first heard the gentle throb of drums coming
from the favela perched precariously on the hill behind David Jr.’s
apartment. The compelling beat mingled with the ordinary sounds of
the city at work. At night the drums grew louder and voices were
added. A fast-paced chanting in a hypnotic, nasal singsong broke into
During January and early February Walter and the others paid no attention
to what was coming. The dissonant sounds of whistles, drums,
triangles and a weird, wheezing instrument—the cuíca—increased as
Rio readied itself for its revel. The sounds not only came from the surrounding
hillsides but also erupted on the streets as impromptu parades
streamed down from the favelas, clogging the Copacabana evening
While the countdown ticked away, seamstresses all over town doubled
their prices as they worked throughout the nights, sleepily attaching
the final excesses to elaborate tinsel and satin costumes.
Carnival plays a key role in the plot of Farewell Rio — it is through an invitation to a carnival ball that the protagonist, Kate, finds out about a murder that changes the direction of her Brazilian adventure and sets her on a new course. In 1968, carnival ended just a few weeks before the beginning of violent street demonstrations against the Brazilian military dictatorship.