You've seen those Japanese tsunami videos from last year, I'm sure. Onlookers watch in horror as walls of water come pouring into Japanese coastal villages and flow over, under, around and through anything that stands in their way.
What you don't see in those videos, for very good reason, is anybody rushing to join the waves. But when a tsunami of people washed into the Vila Madalena neighborhood last night as a dozen of us were enjoying caipirinhas from the second-floor of a bar named Jose Menino, it was the only thing I could think to do.
"I'm going on a fact-finding mission," I told fellow PokerStars blogger Sergio Prado. Then I slipped down the stairs and dove head-first into the wave.
There were no police barriers set up outside, no fences or barricades or wooden horses to prevent the slow-dancing mass of people - a bloco or block party named Vai Quem Que - from engulfing every bar, restaurant and storefront in the neighborhood. They absorbed everyone they touched, infusing newcomers with their pulse, energy and rhythm.
Right hip forward, shuffle. Left hip forward, shuffle.
That's all there was to it. Shake your arms, shake your hips, shake your feet. Smile, laugh, drink and dance. Keep doing that all the way through the neighborhood.
It was surprising simplicity with a powerful intoxicating effect. In that mass of gyrating bodies, I found it impossible to be annoyed or agitated or uncomfortable. As a part of this Brazilian flash mob, I couldn't stop smiling at everyone I saw. The crowd was happiness and joy.
I pressed against the flank of the wave, fighting the current and making my way halfway down the street. I passed women wearing masks. Women wearing tiaras. Women wearing masks and tiaras. Men with no shirts. Men with no shoes. People banging on drums. People blaring on trumpets. There was no structure to it, no reason. Come as you are and do what you will.
The pungent, sweet smell of marijuana drifted lazily through the crowd as the crowd drifted lazily through the street. A few revelers pulled a papier-mâché horse covered in compact discs, a plastic skeleton perched atop its back. Someone else pushed a shopping cart filled with buckets of some sort of clear liquid that I seriously doubt was water and passed cups out to anyone within reach. It all made sense in the way that none of it made a lick of sense.
A man with what I'm guessing was a police whistle sambaed right past me, splitting my eardrums with his thunderous whistle blasts. Nobody around him cared and neither did I. His whistling attracted a tiny dance circle that sambaed in place for a few moments before melting back into the crowd, a swirling eddy that popped to the surface of the wave and then was pushed back under by the wave's relentless energy.
Where did it end, I wondered. I moved further down the street, searching for the tail of the human leviathan. Eventually I found it - two small and surprisingly cheerful motorcycle cops, their flashing red lights the only indication that they were attending the bloco in any official capacity. Two cops for a crowd of thousands. In my hometown New York that would seem laughably absurd.
I swam back towards Jose Menino, towards the bar where my friends and colleagues were still standing at a window, watching the bloco in amazement and snapping photos. I guess I should have been snapping photos as well, but I was too caught up in the sea of sambaing people. I had been baptized by their elation and infused with their giddy sense of merriment. Instead of taking photos, I did what seemed most natural.
I lifted an arm high over my head, waved at my friends, and then laughed when they pointed at me in total surprise.