By Francesca Gennari
Rio de Janeiro
The days leading up to Ash Wednesday are normally a riot of music and colour in Rio de Janeiro, the city which hosts one of the world’s most famous carnival celebrations.
But with Brazil ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic – the country has the second highest number of Covid deaths in the world – carnival, like so many other things, had to be put on hold.
It was not an easy decision to postpone the centuries-old tradition. The first records of carnival festivities being held in Rio date back to 1723.
The last time it was postponed was in 1912 when José Paranhos, hailed as “the father of Brazilian diplomacy”, died a week before the festival.
The government at the time decided to postpone carnival until April and 20,000 people turned out instead to watch Paranhos’s funeral cortege.
The highlight of Rio’s annual carnival celebrations is the parade in the Sambadrome, where samba schools compete to be crowned carnival champions.
But this year the huge concrete arena lies deserted under a scorching sun except for the lonely figure of Darllan Nascimento.
Mr Nascimento has built his career of 14 years around carnival and the samba schools at the heart of it.
He is currently the director of the drum section at Salgueiro, one of the most prestigious samba schools in Rio.
The costume he is wearing is from last year’s parade, in which Salgueiro told the story of Benjamin de Oliveira, the first black clown in Brazil. Carnival is at the core of black culture in Brazil.
Mr Nascimento is shocked at how much of a void the lack of festivities has left.
“Even those who don’t have work ties to carnival are feeling the difference,” he says. “They would come and watch the parade, it does feel a bit like we were deprived of it this year.”[…]
Continue reading: In pictures: The carnival that wasn’t