Lewy Brazil: Rio

December 1, 2009

We got back last night from traveling with my parents.  I think they liked Brazil much more than they thought they would,and were surprised by how easy it is to live here, how essentially Brazilian it is.  We had a really great time showing them around Rio, and then we were lucky to have them take us out to Iguazu Falls and to Florianopolis and Governador Celso Ramos.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, it was one of the most perfect places I have ever been.

In Rio, we took them to Pao de Acucar, to Zuka, biking on Sunday along the beaches (where there was a pro-Israel rally, a plus for my parents), and up to Santa Teresa and to the Centro.  Scott took his camera along to the Centro.

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We did yesterday perfectly.  We checked out the Museum of Modern Art (not Burle Marx’s best work) and then walked through the Centro to the Bonde.  We passed downtown streets that we had never seen before–leafy city streets with the old colonial buildings resting stately on the sides.  People with office jobs grabbed lunch at the lanchonettes and coffee shops, chatted and bought things from the vendors selling sweets, belts, and cell phone covers.

At the Bonde station, we were too far back in the line to get seats, so we climbed up on the side rails and hung on to the old trolley car. We laughed as we chugged up and over the Arcos da Lapa, the streets vacant where on Saturday nights they’re throbbing with people.  In the half sunshine, Santa Teresa showed its best side.  Without the nauseating cab ride where the driver has never heard of the up-and-coming bohemia, the ride up the hill was pleasant, with great views.  We arrived in the center of Santa Teresa and immediately asked directions to Aprazivel, a restaurant that Scott and I had half-heartedly looked for every other time we had gone up there, without any success.    Straight up cobbled streets we looked wondrously at the mansions, feeling optimistic that this time we would find it.

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We were rewarded after about ten minutes with an elegant restaurant overlooking the city and Guanabara Bay.  The veranda, where we sat, was traditional, but the patio and some of the other levels had tables made of giant tree trunk cross sections.  It was relaxing and felt exotic and special, eating a carefully prepared meal among pervasive trees spreading over Rio’s hills. From there we took the Bonde back down the Centro and visited the Espaço Hélio Oiticica.  We skirted through small streets filled with cabeleireiros, chaveiros, pe-sujos–it felt like real city, like real Latin America.  It was grittier than our easy-going Leblon, a little less sunny, both Scott and I were intrigued.

The space of the Espaço Hélio Oiticica was surprising.  On a nothing street, surrounded by buildings that looked just like it, there was this amazing space on the second and third floors.  From the street there was little to see, but the upstairs offered a sensory world created by this artist who believed that art should be felt in a visceral way, and viewers were urged to walk barefoot through different mediums, touching, feeling.  It was cool and totally unexpected.

From there we had a coffee at Confeitaria Columbo, took the subway home, Scott and I went for a speedy run and then we went to Maracana for a Flamengo v. Flumense game.  The stadium, which was built in the 1950s and holds 100,00 people, was about a fifth or a quarter full. It’s the biggest rivalry in Rio and Flamengo is the most popular team in the country.  It was fun to see the fans cheering on their teams with marching bands in the bleachers, fireworks, tons of jerseys, and even inter-family and inter-relationship rivalries.  We went with a group (for safety–it was a 9.50pm game and we didn’t know what the scene would be like, if it would be possible to get cabs home afterward).  We went in with the group and didn’t get drinks beforehand.  We thought the stadium was dry, and were elated to find that they sold cervejas at the concession stand after about twenty minutes of wandering around Maracana.  We toasted–saude!!– and then Scott looked at the cans of Itaipava.  Sem Alcool.  Oops.  The game ended in a 1-1 tie, enough for Fluminense to move on to the next round of the Copa Sul-Americana and Flamengo to be disappointed.

Santa Teresa

July 11, 2009

We went to Santa Teresa again today.  We went last year, on a Sunday, in the rain, and were disappointed.  We wandered around the twisted cobbled streets, steeply built on a mountain within the city, passing dilapidated mansions (which were half-swallowed by jungle and extremely beautiful in a maudlin way) looking for a restaurant that was supposed to be extraordinary.  We never found it.

Convinced that we missed something, given how many travel articles focus on this small “bohemian” area, I dragged Scott back, ready for it to be full of artists, crackling with intelligence, running perfect little cafes and shops that sold interesting crafts and trinkets.  Ill-fated from the moment we hailed one of Rio’s yellow cabs, the driver had no idea how to get there.  After asking directions we skirted to the north of the lagoa and up into the hills until we were going full speed around tight bends, flying past other cars and motor bikes as everyone pretended it was a wide, flat, paved road, not steep cobbled switchbacks with no shoulder and only jungle surrounding.

Upon arrival (safely), we found the same small praca, the same three lame shops, the same four restaurants and the same nothingness as before.  I’m holding out hope that it’s cool at night, the bars a little darker and livelier, the restaurants a little more buzzing.  In the daylight, the mansions still look amazingly cool, with views of the city and favelas below, but everything else is a tiny chip of a gem that every travel journalist magnified, blowing expectations way out of proportion.