Christmas in Rio

January 1, 2010

From Sao Paulo, Bob, Barbara, Scott, Emily and I flew the short flight back to Rio.  We arrived to an entirely different city than the one that we had left at the beginning of December.  It was packed, people everywhere, and sticky hot.  The people generated more trash, and by the end of each day, the beach was littered with plastic bottles and wrappers and coconut shells and other detritus in a way it hadn’t been before the holiday season.

That said, it was great fun showing Scott’s family our Rio apartment, introducing them to Marcos (he was the doorman who unclogged our kitchen sink with MacGyver-like skill).  We noticed the changes in our pretty Leblon neighborhood–a new pizza place and Lebanese restaurant that we would have loved to have.  The walk gave me saudades and I was super excited to go running up and down the beach just as before.

The first night we were in Rio, we had a memorable evening at Carioca da Gema.  We arrived early enough to get a table in the main room and listened as the music built and the dance floor filled up.  The capairinhas ran sweet and strong (something we would all regret a little later) and we had a great time, progressing from eating to drinking to bopping in our chairs to full foot moving dancing.  At midnight, as it turned to December 24th, we toasted to Emily’s birthday.

The next morning we had brunch and went to the Corcovado.  Later in the day, as we headed back up to our rooms to relax and get ready for Emily’s birthday dinner, we heard the concierge tell other guests that all of the restaurants that were open that night were totally booked.  We smiled smugly, knowing that we had made a reservation at Zaza Bistro six weeks ago.  Ready to go, Emily in her sequined party dress, we walked past carolers and palm trees spun with Christmas lights, we walked to the restaurant.  I had the email confirmation in my hand.  We arrived at the restaurant.  It was closed.

Back at the hotel (the lobby was full of girls in small red dresses singing, too), we stood with the concierge, trying to find any place that would take us.  We called everywhere we could think of.  In the end, we were left with two choices–being squeezed in to the hotel’s dining room and subjected to the pre fixe Christmas menu, or trying our luck at a restaurant called Marius– an all you could eat seafood buffet for an exorbitant price per person.  Deciding that anything outside of the hotel was better than any hotel restaurant, we piled into a cab and went to Marius.

The waiters were dressed as pirates, and the outside looked like the Jeckyll and Hyde restaurant on Sixth Avenue in New York.  It was like a Disney restaurant, with strange, off-putting decorations–ships, steering wheels, shells, sea glass, bottles–coming off of every wall.  We sat down, unsure of how to deal with the situation.  We didn’t know whether to just go with it.  We debated staying, starving, we started picking at the bread basket (which we would be charged for).  Bob ordered wine.  We weighed the pros and cons of leaving, of just ordering room service, of staying and downing some seafood and chalking it up to a crazy experience.

Eventually, we got up and went to the buffet.  It looked inedible, unsanitary.  We looked at the wilted, greasy salads, and fish floating in viscous, mayonaise-y substances.  Still uncertain, a few of the waiters walked by to replenish the chafing dishes in the buffet wearing surgical masks.  That did it, it was time to go.  We went back to the table, downed our wine, asked the waiter for the check, and had to try to explain why we didn’t want to stay.  He offered to move us to another table.  In our unnuanced Portuguese, we just explained that this wasn’t for us.  And it wasn’t.

The Behars are well-accustomed to having adventures on Emily’s birthday–they’ve had a few restaurant mishaps and run-ins with traditional seven fishes menus.  This time, after checking every restaurant that was open between Marius and our hotel (one fully packed pizza place and one second floor Chinese restaurant that Scott couldn’t figure out how to get into), we wound up at the makeshift dining room in the hotel lobby that accommodated overflow.  At 11.30pm we sat down to their pre fixe.  It was delicious, and Emily got another memorable birthday, if not so seamless, birthday.

I asked Emily to write a guest entry.  I’m hoping that by writing this here, she will feel pressured to do so.

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