Notes on Brazilian Hangovers

View of two cocktails on a glossy wood bar with indistinct figures in the background.

Cocktail bar photo by Henrik Chulu licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

In Brazil, there are three main types of ressacas (hangovers):

Ressaca clássica – this classic hangover is what one experiences after having “caído em águas” (“fallen into waters”), i.e. gotten loaded on beer, cachaça, sangue de boi (“bull’s blood” a.k.a. really cheap sweet red wine sold in big plastic jugs), or an unwise mixture of some or all of the above.

Ressaca moral – the “moral hangover” is what one experiences upon the delayed realization that we’ve said or done something colossally stupid, i.e. committed a major faux pas that we subsequently regret. The ressaca moral is a close companion of the ressaca classica since one tends to say/do dumb stuff when under the influence.

Ressaca do Carnaval – is a collective hangover that Brazilians experience on Ash Wednesday; a sort of crash landing from the hedonistic high produced by days and nights of non-stop, unbridled merrymaking a.k.a. Carnaval.

Although ressaca do Carnaval can rear its head throughout the great nation of Brazil, it tends to be most prevalent in the places with the biggest Carnaval festivities. It is especially chronic in Salvador da Bahia , whose 7-day extravaganza is both the longest and the largest Carnaval celebration on the planet (according to the Guinness Book of World Records).

Salvador’s Carnaval marks the glorious culmination of a long, hot season of popular festas, both sacred and profane, which kicks off in December with the Festa de Santa Barbara and then gathers momentum over the next few months until it explodes like a geyser with 160 straight hours of festivities that bring the city to a halt, drawing over 1.5 million revelers and generating billions of reais for everybody from major musical stars to catadores de lata (aluminum can collectors). And yet although much has been written about Salvador’s Carnaval itself, nobody mentions the aftermath… i.e. the ressaca period.

It’s a stereotype to say that Brazilians are a festive, upbeat, and alegre people – but, on the whole, they are – and within Brazil, nobody is more festive, upbeat, and alegre than Bahians. Which is why it’s such a strange sensation to be in Salvador in the hours and days after Carnaval.

Not that the entire population reveals Bergman-esque signs of gloominess… However, there is a strange quiet, a vague wistfulness, a collective “the-party’s-over-and-now-we-have-to-get-back-to-work” resignation that lingers palpably in the air.

In Bahia, there’s a saying that the New Year doesn’t begin on January 1rst, but on Ash Wednesday. And regardless of whether it falls in February or March, Ash Wednesday is also the day that summer (unofficially) ends. Summer as a state of mind, but even – weirdly enough – summer the meteorological season as well.

This year, as in many other years, the end of Carnaval has been marked by cloudier skies, cooler winds, and the first rains. Overnight, people are suddenly walking around in jeans and long sleeves. A larger percentage of bodies on the beach belong to gringos. At night, you no longer need the whirring comfort of a $30 fan. Funnily, even Mother Nature seems to suffer from ressaca do Carnaval.

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