If it’s Now or Never, I’m Choosing Now
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I’m pretty sure that when I’m on my deathbed looking back at my life, one of the things I’ll be most glad I did not miss is Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.
And I don’t mean watching the parade.
I mean being in the parade, feathers and all!
You want to measure what?
At the time, 1997 and ’98, I was among a group of BellSouth International colleagues working in São Paulo on a long-term project.
One of our local counterparts suggested we all parade in the next Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. She offered to handle all the details with one the top samba schools there, Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel.
It seemed like an opportunity of a lifetime, so about 20 of us signed up.
The fun began long before the event, when Mocidade organizers came by our office to take our measurements for the costume: wrists, forearms, ankles, calves, hips and chest.
Clearly, those costumes would not have a lot of fabric.
We held our breath for weeks until we saw them piled up in our colleague’s living room when we arrived in Rio: mountains of huge headpieces, auras, skirts and yokes, all covered in bright yellow, green and blue feathers.
Thankfully, the outfits came equipped with black bikinis for the women and black briefs for the men, so no private parts would be on display. Organizers save that for their lead dancers, the so-called destaques.
I put my costume on immediately. It was breathtaking. Always too shy to dance, I felt an urge to samba right away. Carnival had started.
Hurry up and wait
Brazil’s Carnival takes many forms. In Rio it involves a competition among samba schools that takes place over several nights in the Sambódromo. That’s the avenue-shaped stadium where floats and contestants parade in a surprisingly orderly fashion.
Our school, Mocidade, was not scheduled to parade until the wee hours of the morning, so got into our costumes and started practicing at our friend’s house. She kept an eye on the live TV coverage to guess when we would need to leave the house and head for the Sambódromo.
Around midnight she said, “Let’s go!” We piled into various taxis and then transferred to the subway, still in costume. Mind you, we were not the only ones. When we finally arrived at the Sambódromo, we learned it would be another 2 hours before our school was allowed in.
As we awaited our turn, checkers came by and straightened our outfits here and there, sometimes even stitching loose pieces. This was serious business for the local sambistas. Many were favela (slum) residents who saved for 12 months to pay for the outfit and who had practiced in hopes to see their school win the competition. A lot of team pride was at stake.
At last, our turn!
Finally, around 2:30 a.m. we were allowed to enter the Sambódromo.
It was grand. All I remember is a blur of feathers, bright lights and loud music, with the bateria (the famous samba drummers) marking the beat behind us and the entire Sambódromo singing Mocidade‘s theme song for that year’s competition.
Get a feel for what it was like with this short video:
A mere 20 minutes later it was over for us. That’s just how long it takes for one dancer to cross the 700-meter (2,300 ft) Sambódromo. Of course, with some 2,000 members in a school, while our group piled up into cabs, exhausted and exhilarated, other members of Mocidade were still making their way through the avenue. In all, each school has 85 minutes for its entire team to cross.
And to think I almost missed it!
The whole experience was grander than I had imagined and one I will treasure forever, not only because it was spectacular bordering on surreal (I’ve kept the costume as a reminder that it did happen) but because I almost missed it.
Even though I had paid a handsome amount for a costume made mostly of feathers and cardboard, and even though I had purchased a plane ticket to Rio for Carnival, as the date neared work pressure began to build up.
Should I go to Rio or should I stay in São Paulo and work over Carnival?
It was a now or never decision and I opted for now. Some opportunities present themselves only once, and I correctly guessed that was one of them.
When it’s now-or-never, choose now. It was an important lesson I’ve never forgotten.
Seize the moment!