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Day 46: Rio de Janeiro

Michael Palin - BrazilIt is remarkable that when such an event was first mooted in Rio twenty-one years ago, only twenty-eight people attended, and they were abused and pelted with oranges. Today the organizers are expecting a million people to turn out, and I have been invited as the guest of the President of the Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals of Rio de Janeiro State. Thus fast have things moved.

My host is a man who calls himself Marjorie. Her official title is President of the Transvestites and Transsexuals Department of Rio State. Marjorie Marchi has had no surgical alterations so is not a transsexual, but lives with a male partner and refers to himself as a woman. She has campaigned strongly for greater recognition for all sexual minorities and earlier this year was rewarded by the passing of a government decree allowing transvestites and transsexuals to use their adopted name in public and on official documents. She's also one of the organizers of today's parade, which I'm told is on the theme of Peace, so white clothes would be appreciated. This takes care of any fashion choices on my part as all I have that's remotely white is a T-shirt and a pair of faded khaki shorts.

Marjorie turns up to meet us wearing an off-the-shoulder cream dress and high heels.

'White is not my colour!' she says decisively.

She is struggling a bit with a long black wig and, with friends and fellow organizers assailing her from all sides, she looks a little frazzled. But she is someone I instantly warm to, and have faith that she will get us through this increasingly manic event. She leads us out towards an assembly point, across the other side of the Avenida Atlāntica which by now is just a sea of faces. There are twenty floats in the parade but they are almost submerged by the huge and growing throng and I'm not sure we shall ever get there. Marjorie is forever greeting people with kisses and wildly gesticulating conversations. Despite the alarming crush of people the air is one of celebration rather than confrontation. The police presence is minimal. I see two men, arm in arm, posing as if drunk across the bonnet of a police car without any opposition. People pass by in all sorts of outfits, from a group of girls in scanty Scottish kilts to a frighteningly good Obama lookalike. There are knights with helmets and chest armour but very little else, and Marilyn Monroe impersonators and motorcycle punks dressed by Tom of Finland. In amongst them are people selling food and drinks and handing out anti-hepatitis leaflets. From somewhere above me a man dressed as Superman screams above the din and thumps the air.

'Are you all bisexual?' he screams.

'Ye...ssss!' the crowd shouts back.

I ask Marjorie who he is.

'He's one of the organizers!'
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 46: Rio de Janeiro
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Rio de Janeiro
  • Book page no: 193

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