Carnaval em Olinda

Carnaval em Olinda
Okay, I think I’m in love. With an event and a place. The Carnaval in Olinda, Pernambuco, is the sort of event that would have been high on my bucket list, had I known it existed before I actually got there. It should be on everyone’s bucket list (and, if you can manage it, try to go before you’re 25!) The following are my impressions of the day, as they occurred to me:
Carnaval em Olinda
After two hours along sleek highways—past sugarcane fields and smog-belching factories—the minibus dropped us off along a drab industrial stretch of road. It didn’t look promising, but thousands of high-spirited young people in elaborate costumes were swarming, on foot, down an avenue to the left, and so we let them sweep us along.
Carnaval em Olinda
Another left turn, and we find ourselves standing in the 16th century. The first thing that strikes you about the historical enclave of Olinda—a UNESCO World Heritage town—is the architecture. The narrow and steeply climbing cobblestoned streets are flanked by medieval colonial buildings.
Carnaval em Olinda
Deep-set arched doorways and fretwork windows are fronted by curly wrought iron balconies or lamps hanging from ornamental brackets. Every house is painted a vivid pastel hue, with moulded accents in a contrasting colour. It’s as though the entire town were made of gigantic petits fours.
Carnaval em Olinda
The next thing that hits you is the crowd. It’s just phenomenal. Thousands of people, mostly students in their teens and early 20s, throng the tiny streets. In some places we are pressed up against each other so solidly that the only progress down the street is a kind of wriggling, like maggots.
Carnaval em Olinda
It’s twelve noon, the sun is blazing straight down, and you could probably charge admission to the space under an umbrella. Some of the town’s residents stand on their balconies with garden hoses, and spray water over the melting, grateful crowd. But the vibe is so exhilarating that you soon get over the heat…
Carnaval em OlindaAnd that’s the next thing you’ll take in: the vibe. We were told that carnaval in Olinda is more “traditional” than elsewhere; other sources used words like “intimate”, “inclusive” and “folkloric”. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I totally get it, now.
Carnaval em Olinda
Artists, students and bohemians populate this neighbourhood, making for a creative and intellectual ambience that is reflected in the street art, atmospheric cafés, wall murals, and the ubiquitous smell of maconha wafting out of open windows.
Carnaval em Olinda
The narrow, UNESCO-protected streets preclude the use of heavy sound trucks, spotlights, or electronic orchestra (things we saw at the more urban Joao Pessoa carnaval). The different groups (troças and maracatus) weave their way through the crowded streets all afternoon, sparking spontaneous frenzied dancing that goes on for as long as their music can be heard. There is no official parade time or route, no competitions for costumes or floats or dance groups, there are no cordons to separate the blocos from the public, and there are no entrance fees (as in Rio or Sao Paulo)…it’s just one big, open street party.
Carnaval em Olinda
Pernambuco is said to be the home of frevo, from the Portuguese word ferver, ‘to boil’ (from the Latin fervere, which gave English the word fervour, ‘intense and passionate feeling.’)
Carnaval em Olinda
The music is redolent with African rhythms; the dance moves are typically acrobatic and fast-paced.
Carnaval em Olinda
Not a lot of food variety…the street food stalls offer half-a-dozen deep-fried, pastry-enclosed things that look like samosas, a dozen kinds of barbecued meat-on-a-stick things, and something called a macaxeira, which I unfortunately didn’t try. But it’s not about food, which is just a necessary fuel for these partygoers. What Olinda lacks in things to eat, it certainly makes up for in things to drink. There must have been a thousand polystyrene cooler carts selling the same things: ice cold beer, bottled water, or mixed drinks in cans; there were also bigger stalls selling caipirinhas (cocktails made with cachaça, a local high-proof sugarcane rum) and whole bottles of imported spirits like Smirnoff or Johnny Walker. The cobbles were literally wet with alcohol! They make good beer in Brazil…after 5 Skols I was dancing down the streets, instead of walking, and I had lost my Portuguese language inhibitions…to the horror and confusion of the poor vendors I approached.
Carnaval em Olinda
Bigger inhibitions than a foreign language were being abandoned throughout the day. Groups of laughing young men would approach a pretty girl and start chanting “Beijo! Beijo!” (“Kiss! Kiss!”) One boy would offer her a drink of whetever he was carrying, and if she thought he looked okay, the girl would agree to the swap.
Carnaval em Olinda
The crowd went wild each time a brazen couple wrapped their arms around each other and enjoyed a long, steamy kiss…a few real couples standing nearby would back them up with their own passionate displays.
Carnaval em Olinda
It was awesome. And you never know who you might meet at Carnaval…you might find true love, when the perfect person walks out of the crowd…
Carnaval em Olinda
Pretty young women. Handsome young men. Straight kids, just fooling around by wearing each others clothes, squeezed in with the loud, proud LGBT crowd…every blasphemy cheered, every absurdity paraded, everything “respectable” turned on its head, and a fierce celebration of the whole hullabaloo. A kind of Utopia.
Carnaval em Olinda
Carnaval em Olinda
Carnaval em Olinda
When it had cooled down a bit and the beer buzz had subsided, I did some people-watching. Outrageous costumes, aliveness, youth, beauty…I tried to commit the day to memory.
Carnaval em Olinda
By five o’clock p.m. the same river of young people drifted out of the historical centre onto the highway. For a good hour or two the buses heading out of town were jam-packed with commuters in fishnet stockings, superhero lycras, sequins, bikini tops, masks, headdresses, fairytale ballgowns, gossamer wings, leather, feathers, chains and bridal lace.

Like a six-year-old when the circus comes to town, I longed to run away and join them.

Manhã de Carnaval

João Pessoa Carnaval

João Pessoa CarnavalParade Night in João Pessoa, the capital of Paraiba, and just a 20-minute ride from Praia do Jacaré.

João Pessoa CarnavalJoão Pessoa Carnaval

I really have no words for Carnaval…I’ve only been in Brazil for 6 days, and standing in that river of people as they danced and gyrated and sang and drank with wild abandon down the length of the city’s main street, from the plaza to the beach, was such a powerful, intense experience that I didn’t know whether I wanted to laugh or cry.

João Pessoa Carnaval
João Pessoa Carnaval
João Pessoa Carnaval

How can such a joyful night of frenzied revelry be so melancholy at the same time? Because it’s a brief week or two in the entire year? Because it is comes before Lent (the most morbid religious event celebrated by the death cult known as Catholicism)? Because we grow old, beauty fades, life ends?

João Pessoa CarnavalManhã, tão bonita manhã
Na vida, uma nova canção
Cantando só teus olhos
Teu riso, tuas mãos
Pois há de haver um dia
Em que virás

Das cordas do meu violão
Que só teu amor procurou
Vem uma voz
Falar dos beijos perdidos
Nos lábios teus

Canta o meu coração
Alegria voltou
Tão feliz a manhã
Deste amor

—Manhã de Carnaval, Luiz Bonfá

Praia do Jacaré, Paraiba

Vila dos Pescadores

To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.

—Aldous Huxley

We sailed into Cabedelo on February 8, a Saturday morning. The entrance to the harbour is the mouth of the Rio Paraibo, so we crept painfully against the river’s current, tacking back and forth, being honked at and abused by angry water taxis and inter-island ferries, stopping a couple of times to wait for a change of tide or wind to help us along. It was dark by the time we reached Praia do Jacaré (Alligator Beach), and gratefully dropped our anchor in front of several small sailing clubs.

Cabedelo, Paraiba

Praixa do Jacaré

We were finally in Brazil. We gazed at the mile-long strip of brightly-lit restaurants, bars, dance halls and nightclubs along the praixa…each one a riot of flashing neon and ultraviolet lamps, boasting a live band at full volume. Water-craft arrived at the restaurants’ jetties all night: two-storey ferries (their decks crowded with drinking and dancing people), sleek speedboats and small sailboats, luxury motor yachts…a party in full-swing on every vessel, their speakers blasting a cacophony of sound across the river, into the dark mangroves, through the coconut plantations, and out over sleeping hillsides of sugarcane.
Cabedelo, Paraiba

Amazingly, It was the start of Carnaval in Paraiba…we couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

Everybody Street

Whoa. This short trailer really moves me! Fills me with admiration, envy, and longing.

I’ve always loved street photography, but have always been really scared to do much of it, myself. I’m scared of angry people, scared of losing my camera or having somebody I’ve photographed demand money from me, or hit me, or even just confront me. I feel guilty shooting on the fly, like I want to shrink and disappear (I’d give anything for a cloak of invisibility, but I took the darned thing off and hung it up in a locker room one day…never did find it again. 😉 )

Part of me understands that photographs taken this way will always have a hundred times more raw energy, more truth, more revelation, than anything posed, or shot after asking permission. Changes the energy levels. Changes the story of the image. Changes the whole thing.

I am so in awe of this group of maverick street photographers and what they do.

“Everybody Street” illuminates the lives and work of New York’s iconic street photographers and the incomparable city that has inspired them for decades. The documentary pays tribute to the spirit of street photography through a cinematic exploration of New York City, and captures the visceral rush, singular perseverance and at times immediate danger customary to these artists.

Featuring: Bruce Davidson , Elliott Erwitt, Jill Freedman, Bruce Gilden, Joel Meyerowitz, Rebecca Lepkoff, Mary Ellen Mark, Jeff Mermelstein, Clayton Patterson, Ricky Powell, Jamel Shabazz, Martha Cooper, Jeff Mermelstein, and Boogie, with Max Kozloff and Luc Sante.

For more information about the feature, visit the website