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Back to the Brazilian streets

Brazil's postcard-perfect Carnival competition kicked off Sunday, but the world's most enthusiastic merrymakers have never stood on ceremony. For weeks now, the Cariocas, as Rio natives are known, have donned feathers and paint, mobbed the streets, and belted out provocative anthems.

"Kind of like Las Vegas meets the Roman circus," said Nelson Motta, a popular music producer and critic.

Yet Brazil's Carnival spirit never fit so easily in a concrete box. Since late January, the number of street parties and parades has soared with the summer temperatures, snarling traffic, emptying offices, and scuttling any hint of metropolitan normalcy. Not everyone is enchanted: Outbound passengers despaired when 1.5 million revelers blocked the airport thoroughfare recently, and a 10-minute commute has become an hour-long crawl through a beer-splashed gauntlet.

With the city's crime rate spiking, 12 million people out of work across Brazil, and much of the political class under scrutiny for graft and payola, you might well ask: What's to celebrate?

Silly question. Carnival in Venice is more elegant, and the Andean version in Oruro, Bolivia, just as colorful. However, few societies have done more than Brazil to turn the date on the Catholic calendar into a collective catharsis, a moment when, with a headdress and some glitter, the poor become royalty and miseries becomes memes.

"It's a party that no one owns, no media group controls, and where the crowd sets the pace," said Motta.

Editorial on 02/13/2018

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