Rio was preparing to put on the climax to its Carnival celebrations: the extravagant and sensual parades famed the world over. The processions, featuring near-naked dancing queens and spectacularly imaginative floats trailed by thousands of extras, were to run Sunday and Monday nights before a stadium audience of 70 000 and a worldwide broadcast audience. In fact a competition, the two nights of parades are put on by Rio's top dozen samba schools, which have worked for months to ready shows costing up to five million dollars.

The winning group, judged on choreography, music, dancing and creativity, is regarded as triumphantly as any champion football team. The whole contest itself reinforces the iconic image of Brazil as a sexy, multi-cultural society with a fervent party spirit.