Tag Archives: Rio de Janeiro

The Beach and the end of Inequality

30 Aug

Well, perhaps not the end of inequality, but the beach certainly is something of an equalizer. Although the beach has its classes and groups, it is the closest Brazilians come to indiscriminate association.

Greg and Carolina share a kiss at sunset

Where brown met white and sun dipped into the sea...

Perhaps you have a few class indicators, like a pair of sunglasses or a fancy bathing suit, but except for some very informal segmentation it’s often difficult to tell rich from poor, poor from rich. Conversations and activities among strangers intermingle.

Carolina and I observed one little fat white kid playing with a frisky group of black kids, evidently from different class sets. Even though the black kids called the little white one “gordinho,” (little fatty) he served as a half effective obstacle in front of the imaginary goal. His dramatic dives in the shallow water made the gang laugh. He was even invited by one of the kids’ mothers to grab a sandwich and a cup of coke. Unfortunately, he submerged the sandwich in a pool of seawater (but took a bite before it was summarily confiscated).

If you have not been to a busy Rio beach, it is an experience not to be missed. Not only for the diversity of people, but for what they’re selling on the beach, to walk close to the water and witness the heaving mass of multitone bodies gathered where land meets sea.

Rio’s Unfortunate Police Force

29 Aug

Carolina and I were eating our breakfast at a little joint we favor for mixto quentes com ovo (ham, cheese and egg sandwiches) and açai. Today was a busy Sunday, and late-morning there were quite a few people trying to put in their order for açai and salgados. Up walks a police officer, a short black fellow, buds in front of a few people and shouts at a kid behind the counter to put a few things in a bag. The kid looks at him with a mixture of fear and acquiescence, and does as he’s told. Carol pointed out the scene to me. Afterward she said,
“I bet he didn’t pay. The police in Rio do this sort of thing all the time.”
I was curious about whether this indeed was the routine petty extortion I hear so much about. So after finishing my meal I went to the kid behind the counter.
“The policeman who was here, does he pay?”
“No…he doesn’t pay…” the kid responded.
Then the manager jumped in.
“Yes, he pays, he pays,” he said with some urgency.
Carol and I walked away knowing that the kid had told the truth, the manager had told what was safer to tell.

Even though we have had few encounters with the police here in Rio, they have not been pleasant. While we were looking for an entrance to a Botofogo soccer game, Carol went up to a couple of policemen leaning leisurely against their vehicle. As she came close they looked her up and down, their mouths slightly open, making no attempt to disguise their sexual intent. Carol was disturbed.
“Imagine them, police, wearing a uniform and hired to serve the public, acting like a couple of jackass adolescents.”

If Rio is to overcome crime, perhaps those in charge of this task should first stop acting like criminals.

City of Figuras (Characters)

11 Aug

It has been just less than a week since we moved to Rio and we have lots of color to report.  The vivid characters are everywhere. There is the curmudgeonly furniture seller a few doors down who tried to sell us a desk. Then there’s our doormen. I could have sworn that I saw one of them in a Spaghetti Western, playing the role of a bad-guy Mexican. Out the door of our apartment building and across the street linger the neighborhood’s most devoted beer guzzlers– at the boteca (bar) that sits on the corner of Gomes Carneiro and Visconde de Pirajá. Carol and I even saw a fellow enjoying a cold one at 9:30 in the morning.

The traffic thunders down this part of Visconde de Pirajá, Ipanema. It gets a good start at the Praça General Osório stoplight about 400 meters down the road. By the time the traffic reaches our apartment building, it’s hurtling down the road at 60-80 kms/hour. We have one neighbor who has a particularly antagonistic relationship with the local traffic. He’s about 70 years old, looks like he just crawled out of a cardboard box, dresses in filthy shorts and shirt, his nose is as cratered as the moon from years of drinking, and he moves along at the rate of about a block an hour. He doesn’t walk across the road to our neighborhood bar. He first times his approach, and then he shuffles as  quickly as he can to beat the traffic hurtling down upon him. “Flash,” as we’ve named him, is only one of the more apparent neighborhood characters. There’s also the quiet, wizened locksmith on the Praça General Osório. Approach his little shop perched on the edge of the curb and he’ll agree to come to your house and change your locks for you at $45R and two keys included. The deadpan barman at Sucos 47 on the Praça General Osorio scored highly on our characterometer. When I asked this last figura (character in Portuguese) if he was  Lebanese, he looked at me in mild confusion and told me, “I am cearense from Ceará” (a state in the northeast of Brazil). Wherever he is from, his shop is okay by me; Sucos 47 has perhaps the best Açaí in the city, and a mean misto-quente to boot (ham and cheese grilled sandwich). I’ll say it again, the city’s rich in figuras.