Monday, December 31, 2012

Making friends in Rio

Rio de Janeiro is laid out similarly to San Francisco in neighborhoods sandwiched between high hills, except everything in Rio is on a grander scale. The hills are higher, the neighborhoods are more spread out, there are more people everywhere, the extremes between poverty and wealth seem more pronounced. Going from one neighborhood to another takes longer, and what we should've figured out our first day here, but didn't catch on until the third, is that the best way to tour the city is by picking a neighborhood and sticking to it.

Another way to think about Rio is as a movable feast, the party crawls each night of the week from one neighborhood to another. Marcelle and Davog lent us a couple of guidebooks, and one of them--a guidebook for party-goers--has very specific suggestions on where to go each night of the week for music, dancing, or chilling out, and each location is rated based on whether it's favored by singles or couples and how easy it is to hook up there. We've spent two nights in Lapa, once on a happening but fairly low-key Wednesday night, and the second time on the full-on Saturday night. At midnight things were just starting to heat up, people were streaming in, the clubs packed and long lines of people waiting to get in. Davog had recommended a dive bar with great samba just off the main strip, and it just so happened that there was a Beatles-themed club next door, with a Brazilian cover band working through Abbey Road. We hung out at the samba bar and listened, and then danced a little bit with the crowd, but also each of us alternated in running upstairs to the Beatles club to get snippets of "Something" and the medley. Around one thirty in the morning, we decided to start making our way toward the apartment, but walking out onto the main strip got sucked into the crowd of happy drunks. Bands played on every other corner, and New Orleans-style, the party extended up from the street to the second-floor balconies and windows full of half naked men and women drinking and dancing. My feet were troubling me but no matter--we danced, rather than walked, on our way toward our neighborhood, Gloria.

Yesterday, we dedicated ourselves to hitting some of the main tourist attractions in the city. We visited Museu da República, a 19th Century palace that was used as a seat of Brazil's government during the short-lived republican period, and where much beloved president Getúlio Vargas committed suicide in 1954 shortly before the control of the country was taken over by the military. The room where he slept and where he'd killed himself is perfectly preserved and on display on the third floor of the museum, and is quite interesting, but most of the exposition is signed only in Portuguese.

After briefly touring the museum, Dave and I settled on a park bench outside and read a few Wikipedia articles on Brazil's history. Brazil's transition from colony to independence seems to have been without a precedent, with Portuguese court escaping for a while from Portugal, running from Napoleon all the way to Rio, which afforded the colony an unprecedented status of becoming the imperial center for a while. We read until our eyes started to get heavy from history overload and, meantime, the park bench where we had sat down was all but requisitioned by a small crowd of the local elderly who were gathering for some sort of a concert or a game event. We left as people were arriving and bringing more chairs and benches that they set up right in front of the bench where we had unwittingly sat down.

Our next destination was one of the most touristy places in the book, the Sugarloaf mountain. There are two popular mountains in Rio that all the guidebooks recommend to visit, the Corcovado with the statue of Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf, without the statue but with a cool cable car ride to get to the top. The cable car station was within reasonable walking distance from where we were. It was six p.m. when we got there, and it was nine-thirty p.m by the time when we finally got down from it. In the middle, there were about three and a quarter hours of standing in lines and fifteen minutes of sightseeing and taking photographs. The views from the top were undoubtedly cool, but maybe even cooler was the sight of helicopters taking off from a pad halfway up the mountain, and also seeing the airplanes turn around and go in for landing at the domestic airport located on the other side of a long beach from the mountain. It's rare to have an opportunity to see an airplane from the top down.

After we finally were released from the mountain, we found a lovely dinner spot in a nearby neighborhood called Urca. The restaurant, Garota Urca ("an Urca girl"), was packed, with younger people hanging out outside drinking beer, and older and hungrier people eating inside. After a short wait, we got a table, and then saw a couple in their eighties looking for a seat. Dave wanted to give them our seats, and we ended up sharing a table with them and chatting away all night. Maria and Osman spoke English far better than we could pronounce the few Portuguese words we'd picked up. They had traveled to fifty countries around the world in their fifty-nine years of marriage. They had three kids, one of whom was a conductor of an orchestra in Recife, and another managed the local yacht club. Maria was a pianist herself--retired, but playing the piano at the local church on Sundays, and Osman was a doctor, a nutritionist--which was undoubtedly why they were at this restaurant on a warm Sunday night eating chocolate ice cream. They wanted no other food or drink, they said (although Maria ended up drinking beer and snacking on shrimp dumplings), but chocolate ice cream. The craziest part of this lovely experience was that Maria and Osman insisted on paying our bill at the end of the meal (Dave and I shared a half tuna and onion, half banana, cheese, and cinnamon pizza). They wouldn't take no for an answer, and we had no choice but to concede. We did ask them for their mailing address so that we know where to send souvenirs back from San Francisco.

On our way home to Marcelle and Davog's it started to rain--our first rain outside of the Amazon. We went to the bus stop, but ended up getting a cab. This we also figured out by day three--cabs are relatively inexpensive and much faster than any other means of transportation in Rio.

1 comment:

  1. Bravo for nutritionists seeking chocolate ice cream