CAF... CARNIVAL

"A slice of carnival with a side order of food" was probably what I should have ordered. A morning gobbled and digesting with tourist sights. It was time now to sit roadside at one of the hundreds of sprawling cafés.

After fumbling through the menu, I finally felt the waiter had my order right. Mineral water was at the top of the list and a random dab at a pasta dish meant an element of surprise.

I engaged in my favourite pastime, of studying the moments that surrounded me. The almost cynical decor of the café across the road, which combined gloss and chandeliers with the jungle theme of lush palms, bougainvilleas and a spray of tropical paraphernalia. A group of bikini clad beauties passed. I recalled that people had said that Rio had the most beautiful women in the world. I reminisced about Argentina's "Jewel of the North". I challenged my own criteria for the meaning of beauty and started to compose a song in my head. Something to do with "magazine face, glossy body" and my recurring favourite image of the "plastic throwaway smile" all became part-lines in my imagination. The mind was all-powerful. The ability to transport an already inspired traveller into scenes of exotica, of fantasy and newly imagined realities. A composer of music no less.

Luxury apartments rose above the street level shops. I wondered at the sheikhs, movie stars and drug dealers who owned such flowery condominiums. Vast yellow, red and green drapes adorning the long windows and the unknown shadows behind them, lurking and laundering, lucrative. I deliberated on the arguments of wealth, of capitalism and my own standpoint in a world wrapped in dollar notes. For this year in my life I had momentarily sidestepped from the money market, but knew that the time approached when I would be faced with the questions of my present ponderings.

The musical language of Brazilian Portuguese, mixed with much laughter, accompanied a new table of café patrons. My mineral water and fresh bun are placed on my table by the animated buzzing waiter. He surprises me with a splattering of English and I happily engage in some sideline banter with him.

The newly arrived table of café-goers have now broken into song and an underlay of table percussion is ebbing forth. Their waiter is roped in to join in for a few bars. I study the faces involved. They are joyous singers, unpretentious and ernestly engaging each other in their song. Occasional hoots and bursts of laughter signify a song of good vibrations. One man seems to be the focus of attention. A birthday perhaps? The waiter returns with a tray of beers for them. More laughter, another song, some passers-by stop and gradually join with them. A couple more people arrive with some "weapons of samba", producing a nice bass drum warmth to the profusion of high voices and the two-tone bell that one of the girls is playing.

The arrival of my spaghetti dish is an earthing gesture. My mind and body were being drawn to the mini party which was now starting to erupt just two tables away. More people stumbled in to join the beckoning chorus of voices and a man in a blindingly coloured shirt and jokeshop sunglasses appeared with a snare drum to help drive the energy to even higher levels. Some passers-by on the other side of the road break into dance. A whistle joined the fracas and, as if appearing from nowhere, a group of a dozen people, all sporting drums of varying descriptions, help drive the occasion right off the edge. The energy being produced was like a magnet, and now people were appearing from everywhere, leaving their half-eaten dinners and joining in. Dance as I'd never seen it before. This was samba! The sun shone, the sky was clear, boom, crash, ticker-ticker-ticker, carnival draws near!