Dr. George Freundlich has been around.
A native Romanian and professional musician, Dr. Freundlich has had a decades-long medical career in Canada, primarily in Matheson, Ontario. He is also deeply passionate about travel, visiting more than 100 countries, often while presenting medical papers drawn from his varied medical work across Canada.
He has travelled to all seven continents, including Antarctica. Today, he’s going to tell us about the epic Brazilian celebration known as Carnaval — or Carnival, as it’s spelled in English.
He attended the world-famous festival in Rio for several years, but the first time remains unforgettable to him.
This is his story.
You have probably heard of Carnaval.
I had already traveled to many countries when I decided to experience Carnaval for the first time in 2001. I had no idea how much I would come to love it, or that I would keep coming back for several years.
As one of Brazil’s greatest cultural exports, Carnaval is a fabulous annual festival that began in Rio de Janeiro. It is celebrated during the final four days of February or the first days of March.
The exact days vary because the date is directly linked to the Catholic holiday of Easter. This famous celebration of excess before fasting began in 1723 with the Portuguese who occupied Brazil. It has always had a strong relationship with Catholicism.
The word Carnaval comes from the Latin phrase carne vale, or “goodbye flesh.” It was initially a food festival where Catholic worshipers feasted in preparation for the 40 days of Lent that start on Ash Wednesday.
Early in the 20th Century, the first schools of samba were established. Samba was a type of music combining local folk music with traditions and rhythms brought by African slaves.
Initially, the Carnaval was a street festival that anybody could join. Alone or with friends, this was a party that any group of people could celebrate in the streets of Rio.
It is a very joyous time. Over the years, many changes have happened and the street festival became what we know and see today. But the street celebrations are still there and probably always will be. Carnaval always starts on a Friday and lasts until the next Wednesday afternoon.
However, many people get in the mood early and start celebrating up to 10 days in advance. Many businesses shut down for a few days. The hotels, restaurants and bars stay open, however, for the big party.
On Saturday night, there is a very elegant, upscale party and dinner at the Copacabana Hotel: the oldest and most prestigious hotel on the beach. Tickets are horrendously expensive. Dressing for the very elegant event dress code is mandatory.
People are advised to wear something on their head. Ideally, people are advised not to wear masks that hide their faces. In the Copacabana Hotel, they open a store for about two days where guests can buy a variety of head gear.
For my part, I confess with a bit of sadness that over the years this party (with a fabulous dinner, big-band and dance) gradually worsened.
What I mean is that organizers sell more tickets than they should, so everything becomes incredibly busy to the point that people simply cannot move!
At the last Carnaval I attended in 2015, we left around 2 a.m. We were not terribly tired and would have liked to stay longer, but it was not enjoyable anymore because of the overcrowding.
Regardless, we went for a beautiful night-time walk and stayed at my favorite hotel in Rio: the Copacabana Windsor Excelsior, located right beside the Copacabana Palace Hotel on the beach.
Despite having attended several Carnavals in Rio, I will always vividly remember my first one back in 2001.
It was more than overwhelming!
Everything was new for me: the street celebrations, the Copacabana Palace Party-Dinner (which was enormously enjoyable at that time), the two nights of parade on the Sambodrome, the brilliant costumes, the stunning huge decorated floats, the fabulous cheerful music, an incredibly enthusiastic crowd, and the announcement of the Winners on Wednesday afternoon.
Many people were overjoyed and in ecstasy, while others ( the “losers”) were disappointed to tears. At the moment they announced the winner, all traffic in Rio, and any activity for that matter, came to a standstill. People rushed like mad to the many TVs in the windows of various businesses.
Their excitement was tangible in every part of the city. I will never forget it. Indeed, I have no hesitation in stating that Carnaval in Rio is the greatest, most exciting and colorful show on the planet!