I had never much thought about Carnival or Mardi Gras before 1965, it was something that happened somewhere else. (OK we did eat pancakes but I had never connected that with anything other than an Anglo-Celtic quirk.) But then I had never experienced temperatures below minus 20 degrees before 1965. Pancakes just didn’t scratch that itch.
In 1965 Fat Tuesday was on March 2 and I was a freshman at St. Olaf College. For me it was had been a very cold winter. Temperatures had dipped below the minus 20 mark and I was sitting on a campus on a hill that was sited perfectly to pick up the Northwest wind screaming down from North Dakota and Saskatchewan. And it was just beginning. That March had the highest ever recorded snowfall in Minnesota history, a record that still stands. That winter and spring were a real learning experience for me, and I just don’t mean in the classroom. I had to learn how to deal with snow, cold, tricky footing and when that was done, flooding. That spring the Canon River flooded the Malt-O-Meal cereal plant causing the gooey breakfast to ooze into the river. Later in April we were dispatched to Mankato to sandbag. When we ran out of sand, we filled the bags with grain, which expanded and formed a rock-solid dyke. And throughout that whole winter and spring the soundtrack in my brain was samba and bossa nova.
All February, Herb Shoenbaum, a DJ on KQRS, in Golden Valley Minnesota, was promoting a jazz and bossa nova tour to Carnival in Rio. KQ was a jazz and classics station favored at St. Olaf, presumably because it played the classics. I listened to the jazz. Herb spent all February talking about his planned trip to Rio and the last half of March and April rhapsodizing about it while we slogged through snow snd filled sandbags. Tom Jobim ran through my brain as I shoveled grain into sacks. I became a carnival convert and vowed to go to Rio for carnival at least once in my life.
It took exactly 50 years. In 2015 Suzi and I sailed into Rio on the MS Prinsendam. We had celebrated carnival in Dubrovnik, Lisbon and Bratislava but not in the big three, Rio, Venice or New Orleans.
When you long for something for 50 years it often turns out to be a disappointment. Carnival in Rio was not. It was a joyful celebration of life and music. And until I get to New Orleans at Carnival tide its memories, and especially its samba soundtrack, will remain joyfully dancing in my brain.
Here are my posts from Carnival in Dubrovnik, Lisbon and, of course, Rio.
Manhã de Carnival, We sail into Rio the Morning of the Carnival and I play the song on my iPhone.
The Girl in Ipanema, Suzi and I visit the famous beach and find a kids Carnival block party
Carnival in Rio! At the Samba Dome for the big parade, in a downpour.
Joyful Apocalypse, The rain clears and we dance the night away.
Carnival Just Keeps on Coming, Carnival hangover in Salvador, Bahia where the day AFTER Carnival, in defiance of Church teaching, they run the parade backwards from the town center to the local neighborhoods.
Recycled Carnival, Montevideo. We visit the Carnival Museum with its display of carnival costumes made from recycled materials.
Carnival Lisbon, Après Carnival Belgrade. We go to Lisbon for Carnival. When we get home to Belgrade, we find a Carnival troupe from Switzerland is taking its post Carnival holiday in Belgrade and they stage a parade.
Carnival in Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik has its own Carnival. At the stroke of midnight revelers dressed as nuns, but with bright red fingernails and lips, cut down the carnival mask from the main statue.