I wake up in a cold sweat. Dawn is breaking and light is streaming in through my window as I try to open my heavy, tired eyelids.
Today is the day.
The one I have been both ridiculously excited about and secretly dreading.
The day I will either triumph over all of the odds, or fall in a total heap and never want to return again.
As I lie in bed, fear encompasses me and I can’t breathe. I imagine all of the things that could possibly go wrong on the avenue tonight:
- Get hit by a 10-tonne float
- Be blinded by the flashes of hundreds of photographers
- Fall over and be crushed by 15 kilos of feathers
- Break a leg from dancing in 6 inch heels
- Die of dehydration and heat exhaustion in 40C
- Forget all of the complicated lyrics and matching choreographies to the school’s theme song and be ridiculed by onlookers
- Be killed by (or want to kill) the line marshals screaming at me to keep up with the dancers in front
I can’t do this.
I wrack my brain to see if there’s anyone else who could possibly take my position. I am currently in the midst of my annual Rio Carnival tour with Sambistas from all around the world – surely someone would like to step in and take my place on the avenue tonight?
Just as I’m about to roll over and try to go back to sleep, my phone rings – it’s my samba school.
Musa! Get up! We have a media call for a Carnival newspaper! You have 30 minutes to get ready!
What? Where? When?
30 minutes? I need to shower, do my hair, make up and get into one of my intricate Muse dresses (harder than it seems!), put on my stockings, heels and cover myself with body glitter – I cannot do this in 30 minutes, despite the fact I have been applying my own stage make up for over a decade and have gotten the process down to a fine art.
I decide to have a DIVA moment.
No! I cannot be ready in 30 minutes. Give me one hour and I will meet you downstairs.
They reluctantly agree and hang up the phone. OMG! I’m so over samba schools and their lack of organization!
As I race to get ready, I suddenly remember that I have a booking this morning with my atelier to pick up my back piece. I had already picked up my boots, bodysuit and headpiece, but when I tried on the back piece, it was buckling under the weight of the 1000+ feathers and was incredibly uncomfortable to wear. They needed to re-weld the metal section to reinforce it, which wasn’t able to be done on site at the atelier, but had to be sent to a warehouse to the north of Rio.
I call my atelier and ask if I can come by after the photo shoot. He sighs with relief, as apparently the metal frame hasn’t even arrived yet. What? But it’s the day of Carnival!
Relaxa querida! Relax dear! Everything will come together, don’t you worry!
I try not to think about the prospect of my back piece not arriving in time, especially with the gridlocked traffic around town on a day like this. At least I have my bodysuit so won’t have to go out on the avenue completely naked!
I head downstairs in full drag-queen make up at 7am. The hotel staff don’t even react – they are so used to people walking in and out in costume at this time of year. I sit down carefully, making sure not to catch my delicate beaded dress on my brand new fishnet stockings.
I wait. And wait. And wait some more.
No one shows up. I call the samba school and no one answers. I call the journalist and no one answers. One hour passes. I’m getting more furious (and hungry) by the minute.
After 90 minutes waiting in the hotel reception, I go back to my room in a foul mood. All that effort for nothing. Just as I’m about to disrobe, my phone rings and it’s the school’s media representative, not even apologizing for the delay but demanding that I now catch a cab to the samba school. What? We were supposed to be doing the photoshoot at the Olympic Boulevard (right next to my hotel), not at the Samba school (one hour away).
Querida, there’s been a change of plans and we are filming everything here now. Come urgently!
I decide to have another DIVA moment.
So are you going to pay for my taxi?
What? No, of course not! The samba school doesn’t have money to pay for that! That is your responsibility!
Right. I have just injected a fortune into this school, including my Muse position plus all of my tour groups’ fees to perform, and they cannot even pay for my taxi to come to a media call to promote their school. I take a deep breath and reluctantly reply.
Sorry, I’m not coming.
What? Why not? Who do you think you are to cancel on us?
Cancel on you? Excuse me! I honestly do not have time for this disorganization and disrespect. Today is the most important day of my career, and I am not going to run around town at my own expense, getting stressed out! If you cannot pay for my taxi, I am not coming. I am tired of being treated like this. I am a professional and I treat people with respect, not like your school!
She hangs up on me.
What a great start to the day!
The rest of the day passes in a blur. I have 35 girls to co-ordinate, making sure they have the correct costumes, make up and arrival times, plus 3 private mini-buses to take us to and from the Sambadrome, my local guides to instruct on where to wait for us at the end of the parade, plus my media crew to liaise with on where to get the best footage of us before, during and after the parade.
I am suddenly jealous of all of the other Muses who apparently spend the day by the pool, at the gym, then have a massage and quietly take their time to get both physically and mentally ready for the parade.
At least I have booked one of Rio’s most experienced (and expensive!) Carnival make up artists, so that’s one less thing I need to worry about.
As the evening approaches, I take a moment to collect my thoughts. My stomach is churning and I haven’t been able to keep any food down at all today. Each time my thoughts return to all of the things that could go wrong tonight, I try to implement my years of Yoga training and bring my focus back to my breath.
I can do this. I am ready. I deserve this. I am beautiful. I am strong. I am a success!
I repeat these mantras over and over as the make up artist begins working her magic. By the time she is finished (and I am looking like Maleficent!) I have convinced myself that I am a superstar and I will shine brightly on the avenue.
Now it’s time to gather my ‘chickens’ and head for the Sambadrome. I do a mental check to make sure that I have packed every part of my costume:
- Head piece – check
- Bodysuit – check
- Gladiator boots and stockings – check
- Arm pieces – check
- Back piece….
…OMG …where is my back piece? My heart skips a million beats.
Amidst all of the hustle and bustle of the day, I have momentarily forgotten to go and pick up my back piece!
It’s now 7pm and we are due to parade at 11pm. I am in Ipanema (on the south side of Rio) getting ready with all of the girls, and my back piece is at Estacio (on the north side, over an hour away).
I call my atelier in a panic.
Oh don’t worry my love, it’s only just arrived! Yes, yes, it’s all ready and it’s magnificent – I’ll bring it to you on the avenue.
But where will I meet you?
Oh don’t worry – I’ll find you!
He’ll find me? There are 5000+ people parading for my samba school tonight, and another 5 schools gathering in the concentracao (marshalling area) at the same time.
The back streets of Rio at Carnival time are absolute chaos – drummers carting their enormous instruments whilst dodging performers with oversized costumes who are trying frantically to find their position in the line up, people being lifted by cherry pickers onto floats, floats being heaved and pulled into place by teams of (often drunk) adolescents, media reporters and film crews buzzing around doing behind the scenes interviews…how on earth am I going to find my atelier?
To make matters worse, my agent had told us to arrive at 11pm, even though the school was programmed to go on at 11pm.
Oh querida, Carnival always run super late. You will have plenty of time to get ready, and if you arrive any earlier, you will just have to sit on the back streets in the dirt, bored to death and dying to pee!
Note: nowadays there are a limited number of port-a-loos on site, but for many years you simply had to hold on or pee in nearby bushes as there were no toilet facilities.
Against her recommendations, I decided to leave early with the group. I knew how terrible Rio traffic was at this time of year, and despite having paid for a special access pass to get our mini-buses as close to the nearest drop off point as possible, it was still quite a walk to the marshaling area.
All I can say is thank goodness for my western sense of time. For once, being early in Brazil was a godsend.
As we exited the buses, 40 of us in total including my media crew and guides, we saw our school moving into line to begin.
My heart stopped.
I ran up to a random person on the street and asked “Is that Estacio marshaling now?”, to which he responded, “Yes, it sure is! You better hurry up Senhora!”
I screamed out to the team to grab their costumes and run!
With looks of confusion, alarm and fear, my team of 40 raced across the main highway in their heels, dodging street vendors and pot holes, all whilst carrying their heavy costumes and not taking their eyes off me.
I ran like I’ve never run before, dropping each of them off at different points along the way – some in the general aisles, some on floats, some in passista wings, weaving through thousands of school members getting into their costumes and warming up their limbs.
When I finally reached the top of the school, I ran smack bang into my President, who after realizing who I was, snarled at me to hurry up and get into line!
I was disheveled, my make up had started to cake, my hair was stuck to my face and I was wearing a robe with my underwear sticking out….what a glamorous sight!
My media crew, sensing the imminent deadline, instantly starting ripping off my clothes (leaving me pretty much naked in the middle of the street!) and helping me hastily into my costume.
As one was trying to quickly do up the zippers of my boots, the other was helping me into the bodysuit and arm pieces, whilst I was frantically trying to touch up my make up with no mirror!
Just then, the thunderous sound of fireworks began, causing me to jump with fright and the rest of the school to cheer with delight – it was the signal to start the parade.
I searched the crowd breathlessly, desperately trying to catch sight of my atelier. The bateria (drum squad) began, and the Queen of the school started to make her way into the first section of the Sambadrome, followed by the drummers and the sound truck, where the singers were perched on top, starting to perform the school’s theme song.
I began to hyperventilate. I cannot enter the avenue without my back piece! Despite having the rest of my costume, I still looked like a plucked chicken. I was the first Muse in the lineup, and it was coming dangerously close to my turn to enter.
Line marshals started to yell at me – MOVE! I tried to hold back, but my float started to edge closer and closer to me, rearing to go. Just then, like in the movies, I caught sight of my ‘beloved’ – my atelier shining bright like an angel, flying towards me with a pair of spectacular black wings.
MUSA! I’m here! Quick, turn around!
With expert hands, he strapped me in for dear life to the metal frame and carefully placed each enormous wing into position. I gasped as the immense weight pulled me backwards, almost causing me to fall over.
I had no time to complain – the float behind me started to manoeuvre onto the avenue and I had nowhere to go but forward.
With my body trembling, I inhale sharply, pull my shoulders back and take my first tentative steps onto the infamous Samba avenue…
Have you read the other blogs in this series?