RIO DE JANEIRO – As samba queens get final touch-ups on their sequins and feathers and hundreds of thousands of revelers take command of Rio’s streets for Carnival’s opening on Friday, Leo Name is hunkering down. The self-avowed Carnival Scrooge has stocked up on frozen TV dinners and hopes he won’t have to set foot outside his apartment during the five days of festivities.
Appalled by the monumental proportions that street parties have taken on in recent years with the influx of an estimated half million visitors to the city of 6 million people, many locals flee Rio or lock themselves away for the duration.
Fans of Carnival dismiss them as blasphemous curmudgeons. But Name and others like him insist theirs is a rational response to an event that shutters businesses, snarls traffic and sees public spaces overrun by beer-guzzling revelers who think any place is a good space to urinate.
Over the past years, the crowds have gotten so thick that I couldn’t even make it to the metro and wasn’t able to buy bread at the supermarket, which is literally downstairs from my place, said Name, a geography professor at Rio’s Pontific Catholic University. I felt like I was under siege.
It wasn’t always like that. For decades, Rio was fairly calm during Carnival. Residents who could afford it took advantage of the public holiday to go on vacation, and the city’s pace slowed.
Carnival celebrations were mostly restricted to the well-regimented parades at the Sambadrome, where spectators now pay from $78 to $1,032 a person to marvel at the over-the-top floats, the musicians’ unflagging enthusiasm and the fancy footwork of dancers.
But Carnival has spilled into Rio’s streets with the resurgence of blocos – raucous, heavy-drinking street parties that regularly attract tens or hundreds of thousands of people.
This year, organizers are hoping Rio’s biggest bloco, Bola Preta, or Black Ball, which in 2012 attracted an estimated 2 million people to the historic city center, will enter the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s biggest street party.
Starting in 2009, Mayor Eduardo Paes has been forcing some order on what had historically been spontaneous gatherings, publicized largely through word of mouth. Now, each bloco must apply for authorization from City Hall, which announces the time and place of each gathering and takes care of logistics, like traffic diversions and cleanup.
Still, with more than 5 million people taking part in blocos last year, by official estimate, the accompanying chaos, litter and traffic nightmares brought by the street parties has sparked a backlash.
The consensus is that many of them have grown too big and need to be held in an appropriate place, read a recent opinion piece titled Too Much Joy in the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.
City Hall has brushed off the complaints. This year, officials handed out 15 percent more bloco authorizations than for 2012, giving the green light to 492 street parties.
With an event that has as big an impact on the city as Carnival, you’re always going to have lots of happy people and lots of unhappy people, particularly when events are taking place on the front steps of your building and when they get in the way of your daily routine, city Tourism Secretary Antonio Figueira de Mello said.
Blocos are like street fairs: Everyone likes them, but no one wants one on their street.