Never is the mix of reality and illusion that makes up this place stronger than during carnival, specifically the official parade. Lack of sleep may have been a contributing factor, but the last two nights I spent there I was swinging from desolation to hysterical laughter to tears of emotion from hour to hour. A huge inflatable naked woman, complete with ridiculous-sized buttocks, was one such comedy moment.
Carnival comes just over a month after I wrote this, about the dubious funding of the Greatest Show on Earth. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-16634941
Somehow or other I winded up spending most of Sunday night in the VIP seating with members of the Beija-Flor school, the one presided over by Anisio. He’s the alleged boss of the illegal gambling game which traditionally funds the breathtakingly lavish parades every year. Anisio has been moved from prison to a hospital, following what someone’s mother would call a funny turn. Someone looking suspiciously like him was wandering up the Avenida, however on Saturday, in the obligatory uniform of the organisers of the samba schools, white trousers and spats. Come to think of it, they do all look like carnival fancy dress versions of gangsters.I suspect though cannot be certain that it was Anisio’s brother, himself the mayor of Nilopolis, the region where the supremely successful school Beija-Flor comes from.
He was gone before I had time to think of a tactful way of asking my companions for the evening who he was, replaced by a troupe of children singing which probably, I admit, brought a tear to my eye. What remained in his wake was a glossy brochure producted by the Beija-Flor school. “Anisio, only those who know you can judge who you are,” was the headline of a long piece about the man himself. Scattered with pictures of his charity projects – the Christmas parties with children’s smiling faces, the jiu-jitsu classes he made possible, the creche set up in his name, etc – it went on to ask how anyone could judge such a man, who brought the joy of carnival to millions. “We remember those great men and women who were misunderstood in their time, and persecuted by the authorities,” the authors wrote. They write that playing by the rules is all too often associated with mediocrity, something no one could accuse Anisio of.
It’s true that the jogo do bicho game is a contravention rather than an illegal activity in the same way as murder, for example. However, murder is one of the very real crimes linked to it. The authors of this apologia of Anisio ended by noting the impossibility of discovering hard and fast truth, intentionally leaving their subject shrouded in the mystery he has cultivated for himself. Absent, yet very much present at the same time, we will see if he is back next year in person.