Jorge Gomes, a construction worker in the offseason, worked through lunch on a recent day affixing gold lame to a Portela float representing a sugar cane farm, complete with a fancy 19th century carriage, luxuriant green stalks rising 15 feet (4.5 meters) in the air, and majestic busts of the black men and women who were enslaved to work the fields.
"This is my passion," he said, adding that it is a love shared with his wife, son and nephew, all of them hard at work on the Portela floats that had an hour and 20 minutes to shine in the Sambadrome starting at 2:25 a.m. Monday. "I'll leave any job I'm doing when Carnival approaches."
Many of those dedicated to the roller-coaster of Carnival preparations describe it as Gomes did: an irresistible addiction. The tension of not knowing if it will all come together in time, followed by the great blowout that is the parade, makes them feel alive in a way nothing else does.
Those who love this can't stop themselves from returning, year after year, in spite of the exhaustion, the cost and the time eaten up in the process, said Claudio Schneider, a hairdresser who stops working every August to dedicate himself exclusively to being an "aderecista" responsible for the decorations that top the floats. He doesn't return to hair until after February."I can't stay away," Schneider said. "I go to bed at 5 a.m., get up three hours later and keep working. There is no money that pays for that kind of dedication." He also was taking part in the parade this year, one of the plumed figures in the group's procession. Gomes' life also revolves around Portela. "This takes all the best I have to give: time, money, family, dedication," he said, He has been building floats since he was 13, and has developed a technique for carving in plastic foam. Over the years, however, he's learned to do any job needed, he said as he explained with pride of ownership the step-by-step of putting a float together.