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Inside the Toy Chest

Feb 25th, 2006
Behind the scenes access used to be special -- a treat for the lucky or well connected. Now, it's a genre of TV and variety show. Well, folks.. today I was lucky enough to be part of that variety show.

Though this is my second Carnival in Rio there's lots left to discover. One I swore not to miss this year was "Cidade do Samba", the city of samba. In huge warehouses huddled around a central plaza the best of Rio's samba schools spin a forest of wire, foam and sequins into costumes and floats for the centerpiece of Rio's Carnival, the Samba Parade.

The Cidade do Samba, ringed by favela shantytowns, has yet to attract the volume of tourists of other Rio highlights. I arrived amidst the bustle of workers preparing for the parade 5 days hence. Nobody paid me much attention, so I just walked into the production area for Beija Flor (Hummingbird, lit. "Kiss the Flower"). Extinct animals, Atlantis, volcanoes, trumpeting Poseidon -- the Macy's Thanksgiving parade on steroids and ecstasy. To top it off, the place was alive with the beat of samba as the workers shaped a few final pieces of tin.

I stopped to ask to wander and take photos -- before I knew it had been roped in by Luciana, an Announcer for ESPN International. I could join them as they prepped a spot piece for Carnival. The price for unlimited access to the float production floor: a few shots of her in front of Beija Flor's legendary floats.

As I darted between fluorescent seahorses and resplendent goddesses, Luciana moved to her second interviewee, Ubiritan Silva. Ubiritan, one of the "carnavalescos" (Renaissance men who research and design all the floats) liked my photos so much that he insisted on copies and asked one of the other Beija Flor folks to guide me around to all the floats, even up on a few.

Trying to download the photos directly to Ubiritan's computer proved tough, so instead he explained the idea behind each float, and how they all flowed together for this year's theme: water. I even got a free hat!!

As if the personal tours weren't enough, I walked out to the congregated drum bateria (battery) practicing and generally showing off. A show in itself, complete with full-grown and half-pint dancers strutting their stuff. Wonderful, Brazil at Carnival -- but not surprising.

(All Brazil)
Beija Flor Maestre
All the Toys
Craftsman at work
. .