In summer -- theirs, that is -- Brazilians' fancies turn to thoughts of Carnival. And in winter -- on our side of the equator, that is -- many Washingtonians' fantasies take a similar flight. After all, who can resist the urge to discard the trappings of the daily drudge, dress up (or down) in an outrageous costume and sing, sip and samba the night away in delirious celebration?
Saturday night at the Mayflower Hotel Grand Ballroom, the District of Columbia Partners of Brazilia, a non-profit cultural-exchange organization, did just that, presenting their seventh annual Brazilian Carnival. The event, timed to coincide with its famous counterpart in Rio, attracted more than 800 revelers and transformed the ornate room into a volcano of lights, sights and sound.
"Carnival, Carnival," chanted a young woman as she danced among the dips and chips on a table top. She was engulfed by a sea of plumed headdresses and tropical-fruit hats and carried away to the center of the floor where cowgirls, pirates, shieks, gypsies and other assorted characters were dancing madly.
In true Carnival fashion, famed Brazilian percussionist Dom Um Ramao and a 13-piece band played music that was, literally, nonstop. The surging, incessant rhythms had an almost hypnotic effect, drawing everyone into the feeling of the beats. Staid, tuxedoed types furiously clapped manicured hands, while more uninhibited sorts sent blasts of whistles bouncing off the walls. The whole room rocked with the pounding of feet.
"Why am I doing this?" asked a stockbroker from Chevy Chase, dressed in a cowboy hat, fringed vest and chaps. "Because its bizarre, outrageous and I love it."
A shout went up as a group of photographers unleashed a volley of flashbulbs. The lights illuminated thousands of multicolored balloons, showers of confetti and the mass of bobbing heads on the dance floor. "The response this year has been amazing," said Felix Grant, radio personality and president of the Partners of Brazilia. "I was driving over here tonight and a man recognized by "Felix" inaugural license plate. He walked up to the car and asked me if I had any tickets left for the Carnival."
Of the hundreds who did manage to find tickets, many were celebrities. King Tut, Moses, the Devil and the Yellow Pages (actually a woman in a black body stocking covered with pages from the phone book and a scribbled note saying "Let Your Fingers Do the Walking") put in an appearance. At 1 a.m. they assembled for a costume contest on the stage. King Tut, resplendent in a full-length golden gown and mask, won easily, flashing a toothy grin at his "court."
"This is fantastic," marveled Luiz Felipe Seixas-Correa, a cultural-affairs officer at the Brazilian Embassy. "It is strange to walk in here off the empty streets and see this. It is like opening a door and finding yourself in Brazil."