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March 07, 2000 08:53pm
Rio Carnival Parades Wind Down
Source: Reuters
by: Shasta Darlington

(SAO PAULO, BRAZIL) -- Bleary-eyed revelers stumbled home on Tuesday morning as Rio de Janeiro wound up two days of dusk-to-dawn Carnival parades.

``Its time to rest and recover before Wednesday when we all quake in our boots waiting to find out who won,'' said Luciana Moraes as she stood on the subway platform early on Tuesday morning clutching a yellow feather headdress.

Exhausted dancers and thrilled spectators streamed out of Rio's Sambadrome stadium after the second night of parades that this year paid tribute to the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Portuguese explorers in Brazil.

Judges will crown on Wednesday the champion of Rio's top 14 Samba schools that competed for best song, floats and dancing down the Sambadrome runway lined by stacks of stands and VIP boxes built especially for the all-night displays.

Topless muses and towering floats with Indian themes continued to dominate the decadent scene, but depictions of slavery stole the show in the parades that came to a close just before sunrise on Tuesday.

``The schools that looked at slavery were really bold, they made the Carnival more than just a party,'' said Rai Gilberto, a Rio taxi driver.

Beija Flor samba school shocked but impressed fans with its black nude dancers and a skin-crawling scene of a white man raping a slave woman on an enormous float decorated to look like a slave ship.

Beija Flor was not alone in sparking controversy. Two other parades featured scenes of repression and torture during the 21-year military dictatorship that came to an end in 1985.

And even before Carnival began, Rio's archbishop and samba schools clashed over the use of religious props. Police confiscated a 13-foot (4-meter) cross and a painting of the Virgin Mary. Unidos da Tijuca school finally won a court order allowing it to display the icons on floats dedicated to Brazil's first mass, but the debate is sure to continue after dozens of topless dancers pranced around the mock sermon during the parade.

The scenes were witnessed not only by Rio's record number of tourists but also by millions of Brazilians who crowded around television sets and lined up on streets near the Sambadrome to get a glimpse of the glamour.

``It's not everybody who can pay to get in,'' said Rosa Rodrigues who pushed a baby carriage up a dangerous highway overpass that looks down on the Sambadrome. ``But from here we can dance to the music and see the colors and the big
floats.''

The cheapest Sambadrome seats sell out in a hurry and the more expensive, which cost hundreds of dollars, are reserved for the city's rich and famous and for the 300,000 tourists lured to Rio in part by a sharp currency devaluation.

The city sponsored alternative parades and parties in a bid to take Carnival back to the street, but turnout was poor.

``They just don't have the quality,'' said university professor Paulo Luis da Cunha who peered at the floats as they lined up before the parade. ``It's better to see just a little of the best schools than the entirety of those parades.''

Samba schools, which grew out of Rio's impoverished slums, used to parade through downtown streets, but since 1984 the best groups have competed in the Sambadrome stadium in lavish shows beamed live on television around the world.

Although the world-famous parades have come to an end, the party will continue for another day with revelers dancing to samba music in street parties.

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