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Rio de Janeiro's world-famous Carnival kicked off over the weekend

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Rio de Janeiro's world-famous Carnival is underway. But in the run-up to the official festivities, locals are already in the swing with a series of free celebrations are called blocos, block parties. Most have a theme. NPR's Carrie Kahn takes us to one neighborhood across the bay from Rio, where the party was, shall we say, of a mature nature.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #1: (Singing in non-English language).

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: OK. It's not what you think. When we say mature, we just mean aged, experienced, like 85-year-old Odette Fagundes da Cruz.

ODETTE FAGUNDES DA CRUZ: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: Dressed in bright neon spandex shorts, sensible shoes and a splash of red lipstick, she says she's here to shake her hips.

FAGUNDES DA CRUZ: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: Maybe not as much as usual. She says she's a little tired. She was out dancing until 2 a.m. last night.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: The master of ceremonies welcomes the crowd to this year's Bola Branca, loosely translated the white-haired party, for those 60 and up.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: (Singing in non-English language).

KAHN: Everyone sings the bloco's song printed on the back of the red-and-white paper fans. It's not even noon, and it's already in the high 80s.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: (Singing in non-English language).

KAHN: I'm jumping. I'm singing. I'm on fire, go the lyrics. Eighty-five-year-old da Cruz says this is just what the community needs now.

FAGUNDES DA CRUZ: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "It feels good to shed the sadness that a lot of people were feeling during the pandemic," she says. Brazil was hit hard by COVID. Nearly 700,000 people died, many elderly. This is the first year the 60 and up block party is back on since 2020.

MICHEL MACHADO: (Speaking Portuguese).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Portuguese).

MACHADO: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: They've added a food drive this year. With every donation of dry goods, Michel Machado hands out a shirt and condoms.

MACHADO: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "Everyone likes them," he says, even if most of the women tell them they're for a neighbor. Seventy-three-year-old Maria Molina doesn't need excuses.

MACHADO: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "People have a lot of sex during Carnival," she shouts to me over the loud music. She has six kids, eight grandkids and two great-grandchildren. She's widowed and says it's hard to find a good partner these days.

MARIA MOLINA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "Most men just use you and lose you," she says. She loves the friendship and dancing she's found in this bloco.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KAHN: This neighborhood in Niteroi has the second highest number of senior citizens in all of Brazil, says bloco president Sergio Wenecke.

SERGIO WENECKE: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "We can't let our age hold us back. We may not have young bodies anymore," he says, "but we are for sure young in spirit."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: (Singing in non-English language).

KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Niteroi, Brazil.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST #2: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.