Tens of thousands of Brazilians crammed the streets of Rio on Saturday, dancing to powerful Samba rhythms in their world-famous street party that this year provided the perfect getaway for thieves who snatched art treasures worth millions.
Using the cover of carnival crowds to make their escape, armed thieves burst into the Chacara do Ceu museum in Rio de Janeiro on Friday and fled with paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet, Dali as well as a book by Picasso a haul valued at US$50 million.
The paintings were Pablo Picasso’s “The Dance” and a book by him titled “Toros” Claude Monet’s “Marine”, Henri Matisse’s “Garden of Luxembourg” and Salvador Dali’s “Two Balconies,” museum director Vera de Alencar told reporters.
At least four men brandishing firearms forced the museum staff to disconnect the building’s alarm and camera system, then stole the items and also mugged five tourists inside the museum, she said.
The thieves relied on violence and lightning speed and knew exactly what they were taking, De Alencar said.
“The robber who spoke to us was very calm,” said David Gee of New Zealand, one of the tourists who was mugged. “I was surprised by the speed of the robbery.”
The massive five-day public party that precedes the Christian celebration of Lent halts all other activity in this city of six million and in most other cities across Brazil.
The event was kicked off on Friday to the sound of pounding drums and samba music outside Palacio da Cidade, the town hall, in Rio’s southern Botafogo district in a ceremony hosted by Mayor Otavio Leite.
For the next days the streets of Rio will pulsate to the rhythm of dozens of “bandas” and “blocos” that make up the city’s 14 samba schools. Eventually they will parade in Rio’s Sambodrome, where the best will be crowned.
On Saturday a group known as “Bola Preta” (Black Ball) named after the eight ball in a billiard game led the party in downtown Rio.
Despite the high summer temperature heat an estimated 45,000 people joined in dancing behind floats carrying musicians.
“Bola Preta” is one of the oldest samba schools participating in the Carnival they made their first appearance in 1911.
Hundreds of people joined the party wearing wigs, costumes or masks of superheroes, animals and politicians, often drinking and dancing at the same time.
Street vendors lined the avenues doing brisk business selling cold beer, and cool beverages.
Dancing despite accident
There were also accidents: Nani Moreira, the queen of of the percussion section of the Mocidade Alegre samba school in Sao Paulo was rushed to the hospital with first and second-degree burns after a flame trick went awry early on Saturday.
Moreira’s feather crown caught fire during a trick, and then her hair caught fire as she tried to take off the crown.
Firefighters helped douse the flames and Moreira returned to dancing, despite burnt hands and still smoking hair.
When the act was over she broke down in tears, and was escorted by samba school members to a vehicle that rushed her to the hospital.
“She showed that she could be all a warrior,” the samba school president Solange Bichara told reporters.
Bichara said that the flame tricks had been tested several times in practice and that they had never had an accident.
And in Rio, a 52 year-old man who had been drinking beer fell from a float onto the road and injured his his head.