Twenty Years Ago Today: Carnival Time!

Admit it, this is what you expect from the Rio Carnival. Twenty years ago today, the streets of Rio de Janeiro were thronged with people and music and dancing and drums. This happens every year just before Lent, the period leading up to the Christian festival of Easter. This, of course, changes its date every year which is why you aren't seeing any news reports about the carnival right now. The 1994 carnival ran from the 11th of February to the 16th, while it's not happening until the end of the month this year.


Oddly enough, there was a vaguely English theme to some of the proceedings. One of the Samba clubs that puts all this on, Beija-Flor, chose as their theme the work of the artist Margaret Mee. She travelled from dreary old England to Brazil in 1952 and made fifteen expeditions into the rainforest over the next 35 years or so, always with paintbox ready to hand and in full expectation that she'd be facing dangerous animals and deadly diseases (not to mention the odd dangerous human). What she brought back was a treasury of work showing the Brazilian jungles in all their glory, illustrating many plants new to science and often in danger of extinction. And she wasn't one of those old European naturalists making expeditions to grab whatever she could find before hightailing it back to the Old World; she lived in Brazil, worked for the Instituto de Botanica in Sao Paolo, and protested the destruction of the Amazonian rainforest. So perhaps it's no wonder that Beija-Flor chose to celebrate her work.

Meanwhile, the Brazilian president, Itamar Franco, was watching the parade from the presidential box when he was visited by a young dancer, Lilian Ramos, who bared more than her soul to him. "She has no bra, no underpants and no shame," declared a presidential aide before fainting. The justice minister did his best to alert the president to the danger, but was far too drunk to get his point over.

If this had happened in the US, Bill Clinton would have been in sooo much trouble. Oh, wait...

Franco was a divorcee, whom The Guardian in 1994 reported to be seen as a bit grey and dull by his people. Nevertheless, he called on Ramos at home later on, declaring his undying love. She told him that love takes more than one night, and they agreed to go on a date. You can't really imagine our own grey leader of the day, John Major, doing anything so adventurous, can you?

(well, apart from the affair with Edwina Currie in the 80's, but then no one knew about that in 1994...)

The undying love between the president and the dancer didn't last, though. He cancelled the date once he found out that the whole thing had been caught on camera and broadcast on TV. Oh, well, so much for romance...