In a city brimming with earthly delights, one’s thoughts turn to finding a little
romance before Carnaval ends.
By Cal Fussman
From where Christ stands on the mountaintop above Rio de Janeiro, His arms
outstretched, He can take in all of Carnaval. He can watch men reach out and stroke, with
total impunity, any flesh that sashays by amid the heat, smoke, and samba. He can watch
women respond by clamping their thighs around kneecaps, tossing their heads back and
grinding toward Heaven and Hell. Beneath His gaze, foreigners are ordering prostitutes as
easily as beers. Health activists are prancing through the streets costumed as condoms, to
remind everyone of the raging AIDS epidemic. This is a city where murders are commonplace,
where tourists pass graffiti that reads "WHERE THERE IS HUNGER THERE IS NO LAW."
A city where soldierscarrying FAL assault rifles and grenades and wearing ski masks
to avoid reprisalscome in tanks, armored cars, and helicopters to combat drug gangs
that have taken over entire neighborhoods. This is a city that spends millions on spangles
and feathers and parade floats while homeless children scavenge amid the rubble. From high
upon that mountaintop, Christ can see one pure man and one pure woman, born thousands of
miles apart, heading toward each other. And maybe, above all the crime and lust and fear
and violence, that is why His arms remain outstretched.
You don’t simply step off the plane at the airport in Rio and explode into sexual
shrapnel. No, you’re tired, and your neck is a little sore from the all-night flight, and
your eyes are blinking away the sun that is suddenly pressing upon your skin and drying
your throat, and you just want to reach your hotel on Copacabana Beach so you can change
and then relax on the white sand. And once there, as the women pass like a delightful
breeze that brings a shiver, you realize that Carnaval lasts for nearly a week and you
have to save yourself. So you lean back under the pillowy clouds and sip the syrupy water
from a coconut that’s been slashed open with a machete by a man in a hut covered with palm
fronds, and you imagine the possibilities of the wildest party in the world.
That’s when you notice the woman with straight, blunt clipped brown hair adjusting the
two tiny seashells of purple nylon that barely stretch over her breasts. Anna Luíza is
Out of the corner of her eye she’s scanning the white sand for skin that is untouched
by sun: foreign skin. She’s heard that sometimes foreigners are faithful. Not that she
wouldn’t be happy with an honest Brazilian man. It’s just that such a thing is hard to
come by in a city where local legend has it that there are seven women for every man.
"Is the ratio really seven to one?" a distinguished sociologist in Rio once
wondered. "But I have only three I must be inattentive."
It doesn’t matter that Anna Luíza is in her own way beautiful. There is so much grace
and elegance along this necklace of beach that she is an afterthought. Anna Luíza is not
tall, lithe, flirtatious like the others who pass by in a parade of poetic nudity, like
the two friends stretched out beside her. Madalena, to her right, is the type who inspires
the honey-lyricked songs about Brazil heard around the world, and there is something about
the savageness of Soraya’s black hair and the daring play in her flaming charcoal eyes
that will always lure your gaze before you turn to Anna Luíza’s softer, rounder figure.
At 27, Anna Luíza is seeing her friends marry and drift away; her anxiety is rounding
the bend toward desperation. She’s living in a city where thugs scissor hair off women’s
heads and sell it to wigmakers; where fear of theft and attack forces her to spend more
and more weekend nights in front of the thirteen-inch Toshiba in her living room. And now
that she’s at the beach, she’s reading a passing man s T-shirt: "IF I WERE YOU, I
WOULD GIVE ME A KISS." Some of the women whose nails she manicures at \work, the
wealthy ones who’ve taken trips to Europe and America, have sworn to her that men there
are faithful. Not all, but many. Ah, it’s absurd, she tells herself. She is shy among
Brazilians. What would she possibly say to a foreigner?
And yet, as she lies back under the clouds that caress the mountaintops, Anna Luíza is
quietly thrilled. This is her first Carnaval in Rio. She moved here with her mother and
sister not long ago from the countryside. Madalena and Soraya have made the trip from
their hometown to help her celebrate, allowing her to flip off the Toshiba and head out to
taste the sizzle of the night.
In the plastic window of a pocket-size photo album in her apartment, Anna Luíza has
pasted a thought balloon above a photo that captures her face in dreamy expression. Words
inside the balloon say "Saia dessa vida," which literally means "Leave this
life" but really translates as "If only I could find something
But a faithful man in Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval? Do snowflakes fall upon
As Ken walks along the black and white sidewalk tiles that flow alongside that beach
like waves, his head appears to be in a pinball machinericocheting each time it’s
struck by the sight of fresh breasts.
It would be unfair to call Ken by the name on his birth certificate, because just now
Ken is not himself. In ordinary life, he never gets lost. He never stands with an open
mouth in front of passing women. But this week he is like everyone else. Everybody becomes
a different person during Carnaval.
For months he’s worked sixteen-hour days in a laboratory. Now, his snow-white skin
gives off a scent that widens the nostrils of a barefoot black boy who sleeps on the
streets and survives by slicing camera straps off passing shoulders with a knife fashioned
from a crushed soda can. Either a German or an American, the boy sensesand both have
The boy eyes the glasses sliding down the foreigner’s long, sweaty nose, then the back
pockets for bulges and the socks for rolled bills. This is the type, the boy is sure, who
will hand over everything without a fight if the jagged edges of a broken bottle are held
to his neck. The boy must decide if the evening is yet drunk enough for him to get away
with that. Carnaval is just startingthe street just beginning to succumb to the
rhythm of samba surging from the bare-chested musicians at a sidewalk café.
The pale foreigner walks past a teenager nibbling the earlobe of a girl with
heavy-lidded eyes and steps into a beehive of activity bellhops carting luggage,
vendors hawking T-shirts, artists pointing to paintings, taxi drivers and moneychangers
hooking tourists by the arm. Chaos is as opportune as desolation. The boy remains ten
He glances around and sees a policeman whose muscles swell under his T-shirt, on the
back of which are printed words the boy can’t read. "I’M LOOKING OUT FOR YOU,"
they say in English, reassuring foreigners who’ve heard news reports about invasions by
hordes from the favelas in the overlooking mountains. "Arrastão,"
this type of assault is called: a wall of human piranhas, devouring all in their path.
The foreigner stops and spins like the needle on a broken compass. Finally, he heads
into a towering hotel, where a bowl of room-service spaghetti costs $20, and leaves the
boy standing in the street with a vague grinding in his stomach.
It’s in the hotel lobby that I spot him. "There he is," I say to my
wife." See. The blond hair. Coming this way."
"He looks so lost," Docinha says in English that is flavored by her Brazilian
accent. It’s been two years since she joined me in America. She shakes her head.
By the end of Carnaval," I say, "he’ll have two mulatas on each
"Him? No way! Look at that face," she answers with a laugh that makes
her hands instinctively calm the jiggle of her pregnant belly. "He’s too
I watch the glasses slide down that long nose. Then Ken’s head swivels toward a
backside that looks like a perfectly formed apple sliced down the center.
"I’ll bet you he makes love before the week is out," I say, feeling my jaw
jut out a dare. "It’s Carnaval. I’ll bet you anything."
She extends a hand to make the bet, then pulls it back when she sees me staring at a
prostitute. `Oh, no," she says. "Not like that. He’s got to do it
"No problem," I say. "What’s your bet?"
"If he gets through Carnaval without making love, I get to name our baby whatever
I cringe, for we fought over names during much of the plane ride from New York until we
met Ken, and I now imagine my poor son taunted and having the shit beat out of him in a
junior high schoolyard because some tall, gawky white chemist didn’t get laid.
"And what’s yours?" Docinha asks
My smile raises the ante. "If I win," I say, "I come back to Carnaval
next year. Alone."
Relief lights Ken’s face when he spots us. Three days earlier, his flight landed. Three
days from now his flight will leave. He has decided to let himself go wild for the first
time in his life. And all he has to show for it so far is a stiff neck and a slack jaw. He
can feel the anxiety building.
As he steps toward us, he nearly bumps into a white V-necked blouse that comes to a
point at a creamed-coffee-colored belly button. The treasure trove is richer than he
imagined, but because he doesn’t know the language he is naturally shy and can’t let his
body speak, he can’t touch what lies at his fingertips.
For years he’s been sitting stiff at the spines of his textbooks. In all his 27 years,
he’s never gotten drunk, never made love to a woman, and if you ask him why, he’ll joke,
"I’m a geek!"
He recently decided to become a doctor, to work on humans in the real world instead of
chemicals in a vacuum, and he’s been accepted by one of America’s best medical schools.
But before he takes on four more years of rigid discipline and $80,000 of debt, he wants
to lose himself in feathers and spangles.
There is no choice now. This pregnant Brazilian woman and her American husband, whom he
met on the plane, will have to open the doors to this world he cannot enter alone. Ken
swallows when we are joined by an immense, silent black man who wears sunglasses even
though it is now dark. "This is Valmir," I say. Valmir’s hands are large enough
to crush him like a beer can. Some of Ken’s friends back home had seen the news and warned
him about Rio. It is only that little swelling of belly beside him that is getting him
through this. A pregnant woman could not possibly be leading him somewhere he might regret
for the rest of his life. And then, suddenly, he is tucked into a cab, which veers into
the darkness, and there is no escape from his escape.
"You really should dance in the parade with us," Docinha gets Ken’s attention
by touching him on the wrist. "I was born a thousand miles north of here, and it was
always my dream. People in the neighborhoods around Rio spend the whole year making
costumes and floats for the competition. It’s their life. Fights break out when judges
announce the scores. We’re trying to arrange costumes with one of the best groups."
"But I don’t know how to samba," Ken protests. "I wouldn’t be losing
points for them, would I "
"Just relax and have a good time," I say, smiling at Docinha, "and
they’ll love you."
Neon takes over the night. The taxi stops down the street from a huge club with
luminous peacock feathers fanning out over its entrance. The door opens on a three tiered
theater of color and cleavage, on women with red fishnet stockings, on strings of pearls
dripping from tight black tangas, on nipples protruding through lacy bras, on
feathery Indian headdresses and devil masks.
I lean toward Ken’s ear. "As the poet said, `There is no sin below the
Sparkling high heels samba at twelve beats a second under flashes of sunburst yellows,
molten reds and flaming oranges to the music of a trumpet and slide trombone band that
blares through speakers the size of monuments. Valmir extends a beer to Ken with a smile.
I extend a second and a third. Valmir is good for the fourth and fifth.
Soon the dance floor floods and shirtless men and viola-shaped women take refuge on the
tabletops. Women approach Ken to dance, and through the smoky haze he notices the beads of
sweat above their upper lips and the moist strands of hair clinging to their temples and
their swaying hips and their eyes, which either ask for or promise too much. He
dances without connecting, and each woman eventually drifts off and is replaced by another
café-au-lait face with moist, gleaming lips.
And then the party begins to heat up.
A group of black teens with shaved heads takes the stage and, pounding drums roped
around their necks, sends the crowd into a frenzy, inciting a woman to stand on the table
I’ve reserved and swish her ass only a centimeter from my nose, causing Docinha to grip my
chin and yank my gaze back toward her mock smile. Ken floats toward a woman riding a man’s
thigh as if it were a fire pole, past Valmir, who is being summoned by three gyrating
women; past two pudgy men squeezed into taut bathing suits and pressing their genitals
together in rhythmic delirium. Ken’s eyes close for a minute within the swirl of plume,
sparkle, breast, thigh, and ass, and some part of him is up in the smoke.
"You can name our first ten children," I yowl over the din at my wife,
"if the guy doesn’t get laid!"
Of course, from where the 120-foot Christ stands on the mountaintop, it must have been
easy to see why it all occurred. From there it would have been perfectly clear why the
city belowwith its mountains that rise from the ocean like buttocks, its tropical
birds twittering, its butterflies shivering with bursts of color, its woozy sun and
powdery beaches that make a human feel foolish in clothesbecame the global capital
From here He could have watched, with great relief, the first boats from Europe arrive
in 1502. Relief because the Portuguese explorers who began the colonization of
Brazil preferred to make love to the red skinned natives, as opposed to the Spanish, who
settled much of the rest of the continent and preferred to kill them. Over the next three
centuries, Brazil’s genetic mix was made even more exotic by the blacks brought in chains
from Africa to chop sugarcane in the 16th century, mine gold in the 17th, and work the
coffee fields in the 18th.
Though Carnaval dates back to the pre-Lent bacchanalia in Venice in the 11th century,
it wasn’t until early in the 20th century, after Portugal had given Brazil its
independence, that Rio’s lust exploded, inflamed by the abandonment of its people, some of
whom inherited too much and most of whom were left with nothing at all.
"But how do I know when they like me?" Ken asks. The smoke has evaporated
into a clear afternoonDay Fourand he is riding in a taxi with my wife and me
on a raised highway to visit some friends who are arranging costumes for the parade.
"Things will go a lot easier if you just assume that they do," I say.
"But how do I know they’re not prostitutes? I don’t want that kind of woman. I
want it to be natural."
"Exactly the way it should be," I say, glancing at Docinha. I still
can’t believe that Ken went back to his hotel room alone the night before.
The taxi passes a long, open-ended stadium that has a street running through it. The
Sambódromo. Alongside it are colossal floats ready for the evening’s parade. The taxi
descends a ramp, circles and halts. We step out beneath the overpass and stare at shacks
nailed together from scrap wood. Electricity has been filched to feed tiny televisions,
and water has been diverted from underground pipes to fill washtubs where flabby-breasted
black women beat the dirt from clothes. Barefoot, rust colored boys are playing with
homemade bows and arrows amid the squalor. One of them sees the blond foreigner, aims
straight for him and, smiling, pulls back the arrow. The other boys laugh. Ken does not
He walks with us at a steep angle up the mountainside on a brick street. Soon we arrive
at a small bodega where men are drinking beer, pounding drums, and singing samba.
Ken smiles when he sees Valmir, who last night guided him safely back to his hotel
insisting even on paying for the taxi. It amazes him how after only a few hours he can
have complete faith in people he doesn’t know in a city that has become synonymous with
danger. This is what few outsiders understand about Rio. From afar, they hear the news
reports about businessmen being kidnapped and the arrastões and the mountaintop
slums ruled by drug lords, which police dare not enter, and the local businessmen paying
off policemen to kill the street kids who rob their customers with knives fashioned from
crushed soda cans. But ask the people who live in Rio if they’d live anywhere else and
most look at you as if you are crazy.
A brute man with a thickly whiskered bowling ball head immediately begins pouring beer.
His name is Toco. Like a tour guide, he extols the view of the 120-foot statue of Christ
that Ken visited on a package tour two days earlier. Ken is suddenly glad he is no longer
on that air conditioned bus, that he’s drinking beer in the heat of the real Rio, that he
has taken the risk.
We have attracted a curious crowd, which trails us up to the street and into a neat
apartment. Near its front door is a small sculpture of a black hand with the thumb
squeezed between the second and third fingersa symbol of enduring hard times. But
this week hard times do not exist. Some of the poorest people in the city devote a quarter
of their annual earnings to Carnaval. And the residents of this hilltop, called Santo
Cristo, have made sure that every cooler is filled with beer and every grill is covered
with meat. Questions come at the chemist as quickly as do fresh bottles of beer. Do people
like to play soccer in America? Volleyball? What are the women like? I translate Ken’s
noncommittal responses over the samba booming from the stereo. It doesn’t take long for
the natives to size Ken up. "If we were playing a soccer game of books," Toco
tells me, "he would beat me 10 to 0. If we were playing a soccer game of life, I
would beat him 11 to 0." Yes, it’s clearToco nods along with methe Americano
needs to get laid.
Just then, three women enter the bodega. One, with coal black hair and flaming
eyes, has come from the state of Espírito Santo to see the sailor Reinaldo, who lives on
the hill. But Ken doesn’t really notice heror the smaller, rounder friend on her
right. He’s hypnotized by the tall one, the song inspirer, Madalena.
"She…is…my…dream," Ken says through the beer haze." If I
could…if there is any way…if…"
"Relax," I say, patting Ken’s knee. "I’ll be right back."
"Yes, I guess you could say she is free," the sailor Reinaldo tells me. But
he adds apologetically that Madalena’s boyfriend is expected to arrive the following
night." Maybe a foreigner like you who speaks the language. But Ken? How can he
communicate? I don’t think he has a chance." His face brightens." But the
shorter one doesn’t have a boyfriend. Who knows?"
I walk back to Ken and explain. Ken glances at the shorter girl, at her blunt hair,
pretty face, and ample breasts.
"What if she doesn’t like me?" Ken whispers. "I don’t want to be a thorn
in her side."
"Ken says it would be wonderful to be at the side of a beautiful woman during
Carnaval," I say in Portuguese, beginning the introductions with a flourish,
"for he has been working sixteen hours a day in a laboratory and is about to return
to his lonely studies to become a doctor."
Anna Luíza shyly looks him over. Ken is rocking back and forth to the music with a
nervousness that she’s never seen in a Brazilian man.
I translate questions and answers. When she lists her favorite American pop singers,
Ken signals an OK by forming a circle with his index finger and thumb. I smack my
forehead. No, winning this bet is not going to be as easy as I thought. "You just
told her to fuck herself," I say. But everybody laughs at the gesture’s double
meaning, and I show Ken how to say "OK" by lifting his thumb straight up.
Under the circumstances, all is going splendid, this laughter and small talk about
music and America and a small fry Brazilian politician who explained the $51 million in
his bank accounts by saying that God helped him win more than 200 lotteries. But suddenly,
just as the group is heading out the door to the street party next to the Sambódromo,
Docinha explodes at me.
"That’s right!" she hisses. "Go with the whores!"
"A fair bet is one thing! But what do you know about decency?
Corrupting him like that! That little one will take him for everything he has!
Everybody sees it!"
I try to calm Docinha, then turn to see Ken disappearing with the others down the steep
brick street. I am so preoccupied with fending off my wife’s anger that I don’t quite take
in the gossip coming up the hill about what has just occurred at the street party near the
Sambódromo. Some say it is an arrastão. Others say it was a war between rival
gangs. After a while, it filters through: there is blood on a street Ken is walking
I start down the hill. Toco stops me. "You can’t go alone. Relax. Ken’s with
Reinaldo. Reinaldo will take care of him as if he were a brother."
I squint down the mountainside, along the overpass, toward the Sambódromo, but cannot
find Ken in the darkness.
Coming down off the mountain, Ken, Anna Luíza, Reinaldo, and some of the others head
for the biggest block party in the world. Tens of thousands of revelers of every shape and
tint swarm around stalls where vendors ladle caldo de mocotócow’s hoof
soupto keep the sexual batteries charged. Samba and laughter mix with the scent of
cane alcohol and grilled meat. Anna Luíza looks at Ken.
Now they’re just two timid people whose translator has vanished. She reaches for his
hand, and they start to dance. Sweat pops out of his face, and his legs don’t know what to
do. But embarrassment is not possible during Carnaval. At that very moment, in fact, the
president of the country is in a box overlooking the Sambódromo with his arm around a
Brazilian Playboy model who’s dancing with her hands over her head, wearing only a
shirt that leaves the full thicket of her crotch exposed not only to the photographers
beneath her but also, consequently, to newspaper and magazine readers around the world.
"Scandal?" the president will ask in bewilderment the next day. "What
The dance draws Ken and Anna Luíza closer and closer until Ken can no longer feel
himself. Their lips graze and then lock in a kiss that Ken refuses to let end.
Hours later, at nearly three in the morning, when Toco, the giant Valmir, my wife and I
find them at the heart of the celebration, the two are still entwined.
"God, I’m glad you’re all OK," I say to Reinaldo the sailor. "We heard
about an arrastão."
"No problem at all," Reinaldo says, pointing to Anna Luíza and Ken." It
was finished by the time we got here. This is Rio. Comes with the party. Just because
someone gets AIDS, that doesn’t mean the rest of us stop making love."
I glance at Ken and Anna Luíza and manage a smile. After all is said and done, at
least there’s this: the geek and the girl in a torrid embrace. So you’re set, then?"
I say to Ken. "I’ve got to get my wife back to the hotel."
"What should I do?"
"What should you do?" I look toward the mountaintop for divine
intervention. "Come back in the cab with us and take her to your hotel."
All eyesKen’s, mine, and Docinha’sturn toward Anna Luíza.
"Well I say, after translating the proposal.
Anna I.uíza’s lips purse. Her eyes blink.
"Have him call me tomorrow," she finally says.
"Tomorrow?" says Ken.
"Tomorrow?" I say.
"Or maybe the day after," says my wife.
Day Five. Ninety-two degrees. I pace the brick street on the mountainside under the
heavy sun. I’m in a sweat. I’m in a whirl. Anna Luíza waiting at home for the phone call
to arrange the liaison with Ken. The sailor Reinaldo pulling me off to one side, begging
me not to call Anna Luíza because if Anna Luíza comes that evening to the samba parade,
she’ll bring her friend Soraya, to whom he’d made love the night before, which will ruin
his chances with Eliza, whom he has lined up to make love to tonight. "You can’t do
this to me," he cries. "I’m counting on you."
Ken pulling me off to the other side, bewildered that he can’t call Anna Luíza.
"She’s going to think I stood her up. There’s no time to explain later. I’m going to
be leaving soon."
Docinha pulling me off to yet another side. "You can’t call Anna Luíza. That will
ruin everything for Reinaldo. Remember, he’s your host."
I snap. "Now you’re the voice of integrity," I say, turning on my wife.
"Now you start standing up for the rights of a cheating male."
Docinha shrugs. I turn to Ken and say weakly, "Maybe you’ll meet somebody else.
Time is running out, yet passing so slowly as we travel across the city to pick up the
costumes and then return to the apartment. Our silence overwhelms the samba blaring in the
distance. I bite my lower lip as I pull over my legs the shiny lime-green pants with
lavender tassels that rain from knee to toe. I exhale heavily as I reach for the
double-decker-blue-and-gold streaming Shriner’s fez. Over a heart that feels hollow, Ken
puts a red white and yellow court jester’s chest piece with tutti-frutti lollipops on each
Then comes a miracle. Anna Luíza walks through the door.
Reinaldo slaps me on the back, telling me how he’d felt guilty a true miracle, a
pang of guilt from a Brazilian male!called Soraya and asked Anna Luíza to join
I become giddy watching Anna Luíza stroke Ken’s cheek while Ken poses for photos
costumed like a candied peacock. Even Docinha, perhaps feeling a little remorse for her
rash judgment of Anna Luíza, is translating for them. Yes, anyone could sense the
chemistry between the geek and the girl.
Beers are poured. Plans are laid. After midnight, we will head down the mountain, cross
the raised highway to the Sambódromo and dance with our group. Anna Luíza says she’ll
stay behind on the mountainside, watch the parade on television and then wait for Ken to
Ken drinks and drinks some more, then pauses, a chemist about to announce a
groundbreaking discovery. "You know something? Beer tastes great!"
Ken, Docinha, and I descend the hill with Toco, Valmir, and a few others from the
neighborhood for protection. Our eyes fill with a kaleidoscope of fireworks, our ears with
a primal drumbeat. The road leading into the Sambódromo is a mash of spangles and plumes.
Docinha, Ken, and I weave through the confusion of thousands of bodies to find our
preordained places in the parade.
"This dwarfs the Rose Bowl," Ken says, gaping. "Hey, don’t lose me. If
you do, I’ll end up dying in Rio de Janeiro with lollipops on my shoulders."
Samba pours over us. Floats power forward. The stadium becomes a roiling sea of color.
Our sense of time is shattered. The 90-minute reel through the Sambódromo is over in a
finger snap. It is four in the morning.
Toco, Valmir, and a few of the others rejoin us at the exit, and, stepping over
puddles, trash, and sleeping vendors, we all head for the street party alongside the
Sambódromo to drink amid the other dancers.
Docinha nudges me, a glint in her eyes. And nods at Ken’s sagging eyelids. "Don’t
count your chickens."
I look futilely for a vendor selling caldo de mocotó, then grab Ken and
declare: "I m taking him to Anna Luíza."
Toco steps between us, peers at the distant lights on the mountainside and says,
"Alone? Too dangerous. Wait for the rest of us."
An hour passes. Dawn of Day Six is approaching when we finally head for the long,
raised highway that leads to the mountainside. Ken wonders if Anna Luíza is still waiting
for him. I wonder whether Ken still has the strength if she is. Our group lazily drifts in
twos and threes through thinning streets. The raised highway is nearly empty but for some
teens scattered along the edges.
"I’ll catch up with you," Toco calls. He walks toward a dark, vacant place to
I feel a shiver up the back of my neck. I glance around, see a human wall forming
behind me. Toco, I know, is somewhere under the viaduct. But why can’t I see Valmir and
Reinaldo? You’re imagining things, I tell myself. They are just going to pass us.
But the flicker in my wife’s eyes tells me she is aware too.
Toco zips his pants closed, climbs the ramp and sees two columns of teenage
boysone of either side of the highway closing ranks behind his pale, costumed
guests. Arrastão. One of the teens walking well behind the wall says to another
with a grin, "Lost Germans." There is a security guard at the end of the
overpass, nearly a kilometer ahead. But what can one guard do against thirty? Toco slides
a camera inside his shirt, holding it so that it bulges like a gun and begins to run
toward his friends.
He alerts Valmir, who’d also stopped, and the two get between the hunters and the
"You’re not going to do anything to them," Toco shouts.
A lanky teen in the center of the human wall eyes the bulge in Toco’s shirt." What
are you talking about?"
An argument sparks, then rages back and forth. "Walk as fast as you can without
running," I say to Ken. It is the last thing I will remember before I feel arms all
around me, my wife’s arms. We have passed the security guard on the other side of the
overpass. Toco and Valmir are quickly backing toward them. Having lost its momentum to the
argument and the bulge in Toco’s shirt, the human wall has broken into pieces, which spill
to the edges of the highway.
Anna Luíza awakens to hear the story told over and over in Toco’s living room.
"They were all so nicely dressed. It was hard to believe…."
"If I hadn’t been holding that camera, you might not be here right now…."
"After all that dancing, I had no legs to run…."
"Look at the lollipops on Ken’s costume. Even they wilted from
"Valmir, I turned around and saw you in front of them. You never looked so small
in your life …."
"I would have fought to the end…."
Each retelling somehow wrings out a little more of the threat. In a short time,
everyone is smiling and laughing and conjuring the next evening’s party. Casually crammed
among all the others lying on the floor, Ken holds Anna Luíza’s hand as if he’d lived on
this mountain in Rio de Janeiro all of his days.
So my child will not be beaten up in a Junior high schoolyard on account of a name
given to him by his mother. And I will have the chance to return to Rio, alone. For during
Carnaval in which more than 50,000 people flaunted their flesh and danced their fantasies
in a two-day parade that cost more than $20 million to throw; during a Carnaval in which
crowds howled at men dressed garishly in drag as they directed traffic on Copacabana
Beach, near pharmacies sold out of aphrodisiacs, across from newsstands where scandal
sheets of sexual acts committed at the balls appeared next to the nation’s most prominent
newspapers; during a Carnaval in which approximately 1,150 people were reported assaulted
and 64 were reported killed and several million acts of love were consummated, while
25,000 churchgoers huddled in a stadium to pray for the city’s salvation; during Carnaval
1994, the sun rose softly one morning as a naïve, blond-haired foreigner walked
palm in palm with a sweet Brazilian woman down a mountainside into the heart of the
loveliest city in the world.
Fofa: literally it means soft, fluffy, squeezable. It’s mostly used to describe
a person (fofa for female, fofo for male) who is just adorable,
sweet, lovable or simply cute and nice. Lovers all call each other fofa or fofo
for honey or sweetie, in English.
Cafuné: cuddling, scratching your loved one’s head, caressing
doing cafuné is a gift you give someone for his/her pleasure
asking for cafuné might mean availability to play, cuddle, make love.
Neise Cavini Turchin,
"Longing for Brazil"
Excerpted from Brazil, collected and edited by Annette Haddad and Scott Doggett,
Travelers Tales, Inc., San Francisco California
HOW TO SAMBA (MEN’S VERSION)
Find yourself a street corner. Practice just standing there. You should feel loose, but
pleasantly expectant. Check how much time elapses before you feel the need to look at your
watch. When you can complete a two to three hour stint without having to know the time,
you are ready to start practice.
1. The first thing is attitude. You should look and feel relaxed, yet vigilant,
playful, and ready to pounce. A slouching posture is easiest, but some crack sambistas manage
a straight backed nonchalance that is highly prized. Practice both and decide which suits
2. Put the music on. Listen to the beat. It is the road you will walk on, but whatever
flow develops in your movements will come from the little plinking guitar or banjo pegging
away just behind the singer. Your task is to follow the drums with your feet and spell out
their rhythm by flinging your legs as far away as possible from your torso on every beat.
Master this, then practice the same movement with your torso casually thrown back at a
3. As your legs cut circles in the air with your torso planed back away from them, it
is critical that your head remain level, as if you were dancing wedged under a shelf.
Hopping up and down is tasteless. Also, don’t fall down.
4. If you have mastered cakewalking in place, swinging your legs under and over each
other as if your were climbing an invisible spiral staircase, and pulling up to a sharp
halt after sliding sideways very fast with your feet, you are ready to time your
performances. Timing is the difference between dancing to devastating effect and looking
like a fool.
5. Remain in your street corner mode until a woman approaches. Let her walk by. Let a
few more women pass. Remember, you’re not desperate.
6. Wait until a woman you really like comes along, and let her go just past the point
where she can see you out of the corner of her eye. Break into samba. If your energy is
strong, she will perceive your movement with her back and turn around. Stop. Smile.
(Not at her!) Tug your clothes sharply into place. Wait for another woman.
Repeat many times. With luck, a woman will eventually walk by who turns your spinal
column to jelly and sets your ears on fire. She will stop and look at you and smile and
avert her eyes and look at you again and start to walk away and turn and grin and throw
caution to the wind and break into samba and you’ll move right up and dance a couple of
circles around her and shrug up behind her real slow and catch her by the hips and circle
her down to the floor and spatter a starstorm of steps around her feet and grab her and
carry her home and ride her and catch her screams in your ears and lie back and breathe
easy and watch her wash up and sing and cook and ask you for a cigarette and give you the
eye. If none of this happens, you can always form a circle with the other men and really
Alma Guillermoprieto, Samba
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