Weary Brazilians seek escape from Carnival crowds

RIO DE JANEIRO Sat Mar 5, 2011 2:20pm EST

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RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The onset of Carnival sends many Brazilians scrambling to buy tickets to legendary parades or costumes for street parties -- but millions of others want to run for the hills to escape the Bacchanalian revelry.

As much as half the population by some counts plans to steer clear of the week-long celebrations that began on Friday and will shut down much of Latin America's largest country for the best part of a week.

"I sincerely detest Carnival, in its totality," said Vanessa Pedral, a 30-year-old website designer who bought a cable television subscription to avoid the wall-to-wall coverage of Carnival carried by open access channels.

"In my humble opinion, Brazil has a lot more to show than a ton of butts shaking in the streets. I love Brazil, but I don't love Carnival."

Although it symbolizes for the world Brazil's love of samba and sensuality, Carnival also leaves cities overwhelmed with tourists and streets reeking of urine.

Those with the means drive to mountain towns or isolated beaches or go on spiritual or religious retreats. Others simply hide in their houses and cover their ears.

Residents of Rio de Janeiro, center of the most famous Carnival celebrations, say its most iconic aspect -- thousands of people marching in elaborate costumes or dancing on ornate floats -- now caters to foreign tourists and celebrities.

With tickets that can cost hundreds of dollars and extensive advertising by corporate giants such as banking firm Bradesco and beer giant Brahma, many are nostalgic for the more innocent Carnival celebrations of the past.

"It used to be happier, it wasn't quite as media-driven, regular people could participate," said Vera Goncalves, a 48-year-old lawyer. "Now it's no longer a celebration but rather an ostentation for tourists."

SMELL OF PEE

In response to the commercialization of the parades, Rio's residents over the last ten years have developed alternative street parties known as "blocos" in which costumed revelers march through the streets behind a truck blasting out music.

But they, too, have started to lose their charm as a result of their growing popularity.

"I was living outside of Rio, and when I came back a few years ago Carnival just seemed different -- rivers of people, the streets were unbearable, and the smell of pee everywhere," said Claudia Siqueira, 40, a manager at a finance company who decided to spend Carnival this year in Chile.

Fifty-seven percent of Brazilians surveyed by public opinion firm Sensus in a 2004 poll said they did not like Carnival, versus 41 percent who said they did.

Disapproval may be on the rise partly because of the growing influence of evangelical Christians in predominantly Roman Catholic Brazil -- they tend to view the sinful celebrations with horror.

Rejection of Carnival is highlighted by the creation of a Portuguese-language Facebook page entitled "I hate Carnival!!!!" which shows a man dressed in a rubber suit covered with dozens of protruding penises.

"Stock up on food, lock your houses, buy all the books you can to survive this horrid period. It's the only way!" Marthina Wiegerinck wrote on the group's website wall.

But others find it hard to have empathy for such skeptics.

"They're completely insane -- I've spent all year looking forward to Carnival," said Marcos Dunlop, 30, who was dressed as the biblical St. Judas in a long robe and sandals at the "Carmelitas" bloco in Rio's Santa Teresa district this week.

"I broke up with my girlfriend so I could really enjoy it. We get back together on Wednesday, that was our agreement."

(Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Paul Simao)

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