"When one thinks of Rio de Janeiro, the images that instantly spring to mind are of beautiful beaches with gorgeous suntanned bodies, carnival and football, to list but a few. These are all an integral part of Rio´s exuberant culture and help to make this state one of the most exciting and interesting places to visit in Brazil. Carnival Brazilians are some of the world’s most musical, fun-loving people and the world-famous Carnival in Rio de Janeiro has attracted tourists for decades to the cidade maravilhosa.

Carnival in Rio is spectacular. On the Friday before Shrove Tuesday, the mayor of Rio symbolically hands the “keys of the city” to Rei Momo, signifying the start of a 5-day party. Momo, a sequined roly-poly king, is the symbol of polygamy and indulgence, who presides over Rio until Ash Wednesday. Imagination runs riot, social barriers are broken, the colorfully lit main avenues are full of people and children wearing costumes.

Special bandstands throughout the city are manned for public street-dancing and organized carnival groups; the blocos carnavalescos are everywhere, dancing drumming and singing. Carnival’s roots are European. The fancy-dress ball was part of European Carnival as early as the 18th century. Paris and Venice had the best masked Carnival balls.

The first modern Carnival ball was the High Life, at a Copacabana hotel in 1908, where guests danced the polka and Viennese waltzes. A Portuguese immigrant, José Nogueira Paredes (nicknamed Zé Pereira) is credited with originating the first Carnival club. One of the ideas was to get everybody in the club to play the same kind of drum, creating a powerful, unified sound. This technique became the basis for the modern samba school bateria or percussion section. Today’s celebration of Carnival in Rio has three main features: frenzied street events, traditional club balls and the samba parade. Carnival nights belong to the club balls, which range from the sophisticated to the wild. The majority of clubs and hotels host at least one ball.

The Copacabana Palace hotel and The Scala are amongst the more famous ones. The contest for best costume is held at several balls and features outrageous get-ups which depict everything from medieval troubadours to Roman Catholic archbishops. The undisputed centerpiece of any Rio de Janeiro Carnival is the main Samba School Parade. There are numerous samba schools in Rio, divided into two leagues.

A school’s position in the league determines whether it parades in the Sambódromo (the top schools), or on Avenida Rio Branco (less spectacular, but free). Every school presents 3,000-5,000 participants, divided into 40 alas (wings) and as many as 30 floats. Each school chooses a theme, then composes a samba and designs costumes and floats to fit it. Popular parade themes are generally bible stories, mythology and literature. The float depicts an open book and is, in effect, the title page of the school’s theme.

The Carnival parade is the culmination of months of intense activity by community groups, mostly in the city’s poorest districts. The announcement of the winning schools is made on the Thursday after Carnival, and this is one of the biggest events of the year in Rio. Participation in the Samba School Parade is open to foreigners as well as Brazilians. Participants must start to attend rehearsals and costume fittings at least 2 weeks in advance of Carnival. For those with the energy and dedication it is an unforgettable experience. Samba For the Afro-Brazilian, music is both social and religious. It is thought that the word “samba” comes from the Angolan semba, a synonym for umbigada – literally a belly button thrust. Africans formed a circle, clapping, singing and beating percussion instruments while one dancer at a time twirled and gyrated in the middle.

When he wanted someone else to take over he would stop in front of someone in the circle and, with an umbigada, they would swap places. Samba de roda survives virtually unchanged today in Afro-Brazilian communities all over Brazil. Samba’s official history began in 1916, when the composition ‘Pelo Telefone’ was registered in a Rio notary’s office by a lower-middle class carioca composer, Donga. The following year, Pelo Telefone was the success of the Carnival, becoming the first samba to be recorded. Soon after, it was Carmen Miranda who took the Samba to Hollywood and the rest of the world. Samba has many genres: samba do breque, bebop samba, samba-rock, samba-funk, samba-reggae, to name but a few. Bossa Nova This white, middle-class and silky smooth musical genre hit the world on November 22, 1962, when the classically trained pianist and composer Tom Jobim held New York’s Carnegie Hall audience captive to The Girl from Ipanema and Samba de uma nota só. Poet and former diplomat, Vinicius de Moraes, an inveterate bohemian, became the movement’s leader, writing lyrics such as the exquisite Eu sei que vou te amar. Bossa Nova, which roughly translated means “new thing” spanned from 1958 to 1964 and Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon were the scene. Nara Leão, Baden Powell, Toquinho, João Gilberto, Luis Bonfã and Astrud Gilberto were the main performers and Stan Getz, the American jazz saxophonist, helped export it to the world.

Football or Soccer Football is the national sport and the Brazilians are world famous for being the undisputed best players in the world. They were winners of the last world cup held in Korea. Although they did not invent the sport (the British did) they just perfected it. The game arrived in Brazil just before the turn of the 20th century, brought to São Paulo by a young Brazilian-born Englishman named Charles Miller. Known as futebol, soccer in Brazil is so popular that some of the world’s largest stadiums have been erected here. The Maracanã stadium in the city of Rio is Brazil’s temple of soccer. It’s a giant among coliseums, able to seat 120,000 people.

If sports interest you even the littlest bit, or if you just want a new insight into Brazil, then by all means check out a game of futebol here – preferably a championship game or one between local rivals Flamengo, Vasco, Fluminense or Botafogo. It can be an intense and fun experience. The sports museum inside the stadium has photos, posters, cups and uniforms of the greats. Beach It is true that one of Brazil´s national passions is the beach and everything that occurs there on. This includes sunbathing, beautiful bodies in tiny bikinis, volleyball and working out, among many other activities. Fitness is an important part of Rio lifestyle.

Whether it is working out on the beach or in a gym the cariocas are very body and image conscious. Jiu-jitsu and Vale-tudo are big sports here and the Brazilians have won many championships wordwide. In front of the downtown beaches there are separate paths between the pavement and the road for runners, walkers, cyclists and roller-bladers. Every Sunday the road in front of Copacabana beach is closed to cars, to allow the public to exercise however they choose. This is also a family day when lots of parents take their kids out for a walk or on bikes.

Modern Architecture Rio is at the forefront of Brazilian architecture and design. In the 1930s, the Swiss architect Le Corbusier influenced a generation of Brazilian architects, who developed a singular style combining international modernism with a Brazilian vernacular that was particularly responsive to the natural environment. In the 1950′s a current was generated throughout the art world, which looked to the future for its inspiration for Brazilian-ness. Pioneering architects such as Oscar Niemeyer, Lúcio Costa, Affonso Eduardo Reidy, the landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx and many others started to design functional and spacious buildings, with large open areas and pilotis (pillars carrying a building, leaving the ground floor open. This was the start of the era of Modernism. The use of glass and concrete was intense and examples in Rio are the Ministério da Educação e Saúde (the first significant modernist building in Latin America), the Museu de Arte Moderna, the Catedral Metropolitana and the Petrobrás building.

The most recent trend is the Post-modern. Many shopping malls, residential buildings and business centers are being designed in a style which uses colored mirror glass, granite and stylized structures reminiscent of classical temples. Brazilian architects are also famous worldwide for their techniques in designing houses to be constructed on steeply inclined hills. In the neighborhoods of Barra da Tijuca and São Conrado, along the coastal road, you can see many of these astonishing projects, which are homes of the very wealthy. Art The groundbreaking Semana da Arte Moderna (Modern Art Week) in São Paulo in 1922 brought together a group of artists and intellectuals whose influence on Brazilian culture can still be felt today.

They sought to challenge established bourgeois attitudes, to shake off the traditional cultural subservience to Europe, and to draw attention to the cultural diversity and social inequality of contemporary Brazil. Museums of Modern Art were founded in both Rio and São Paulo and rivalry between the artistic communities of both cities helped to produce some outstanding avant-garde art. In the 1960s the Neo-Concrete movement in Rio argued for the integration of art into daily life, and experimented with art which makes sensory and emotional demands on the ‘spectator’ whose participation leads in turn to creation. Artists such as Lygia Clark and Hélio Oiticica were developing a unique form of Brazilian modernism that emphasized simplicity of form and spatial construction.

The artist Hélio Oiticica worked with poor, black people from the samba schools in the Rio favelas to create artistic ‘happenings’ involving dance, music and flamboyant costumes called Parangolés (Capes). His spatial constructions are assemblages of brightly painted wood, which hang from the gallery ceiling. A museum of his work has recently opened in Rio. ‘We are Blacks, Indians, Whites – everything at the same time – our culture has nothing to do with the European’, Hélio Oiticica.

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