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Keep your pants on, everyone, I went to blocos besides Carmelitas and did have plenty of fun. And I'm not just saying that. After having Carnaval'd for nearly a week, now, I feel myself qualified to make sweeping pronouncements about it. Aren't you excited? First things first. The recipe for a good bloco, in my opinion, is almost insultingly simple: good music and people who want to enjoy it.

It sounds obvious, but so many of the blocos - swelled beyond the breaking point by the marketing of the carioca Carnaval - ignore that principle. I can't for the life of me see why people go to the blocos that are notorious for being so big that if you can hear the band, you're probably under the wheels of the sound car. (What's up, Bola Preta?) I practically research marchinhas de Carnaval, so I'm a bit of an exception amongst Carnaval-attending gringos. My favorite blocos were Sassaricando and Gigantes da Lira, not to mention the Trapiche Gamboa ball, since they're pretty much the high temple of marchinhas originally recorded by Orlando Silva, Carmen Miranda, and even dear old Francisco Alves.

When Alfredo Del-Penho, dressed regally in a sparkly yellow bikini at Sassaricando, introduced the top "marchinha que vocês  nunca ouviram falar" and it was Cidade Mulher, which I not only know but know all the words to and freaking love, my Carnaval was already made.

And this is exactly why the several billion gringos who flooded the Aterro on Monday (me proudly among them) loved Sargento Pimenta so much. My American and European compatriots must have felt a bit sad amidst the crowds of singing cariocas; there's nothing more alienating than being the only person who doesn't know the words. And after a couple days of drunkenly pretending to know the lyrics to "A jardineira," they could finally sing along to songs that they knew and loved. To quote the Associated Press:

If drinking till you pass out doesn't suit your fancy, you might try racking up as many snogging partners as humanly possible during a single street party, a common Carnival game here.

But even with such tantalizing diversions, it must be acknowledged that singing along to the blasting music usually played live by a band atop a sound truck, with a cordoned-off percussion section trailing behind is at least half the fun.

I can't speak for everyone, of course, but for me this is at least 90% of the fun, and exactly the secret of Carnaval's magic. Nor can I exactly explain what is so fun about jumping up and down and yelling the words to a great song with a bunch of drunken strangers while confetti showers down out of a too-blue sky. But the fact remains that music is the thread holding together the grand lurching illusion of the party.The moment when you're too far away to hear the band, or the bloco plays the same samba too many times, or you don't know the words, is when the scales fall from your eyes and you suddenly start being bothered by the fact that you're incredibly sweaty and stepping in black mud and your wig is askew and you don't know anyone around you and you haven't slept in a very long time. Before that point, it honestly doesn't matter.If the acoustics were always perfect, Carnaval would never end.

(Which would be catastrophic for the city's productivity, so it's probably better this way.)