Well, here it is past mid-February and I am behind on my record of travels and impressions, considering that we arrived in Rio for New Year’s Eve. Subsequent travels have impinged on my ideal writing conditions, so now that I am home and the craziness of Carnaval has passed (as of last night), I will start up where I left off:
OK. We left the dry, visual neutrality of the Nevada winter desert. The heat had been blasting inside Jake’s house, the extent depending on who mysteriously tampered with the thermostat last. My hair was so straight I could wear bangs. My skin was cracking and falling off. Now we arrive in Rio in summer. I have always described exiting the aircraft and walking the jet way into Rio airport as walking through pork soup, but this time it is pork gravy. The heat and humidity are a staggering shock, as are the damp, lush greens everywhere and the startling effort required to breathe. This is a dramatic change. My skin is happy, my hair is frizzy, and we are HOT.
Now that we have the 2016 Olympics in Rio on our mind, actually to be preceded by the 2014 Soccer World Cup all over Brazil, we look at the infrastructure and the shape of things in a new, panicked light. Luckily, we discovered a section of the battered airport under reconstruction, but the taxi ride through tawdry, graffiti-covered sections of the city overwhelmed us with the number of needed improvements. Will four years be enough?
We arrived at our friend Maria Candida’s apartment in lovely Leblon miraculously, as Newton had given the driver the wrong address. Ahhh – to be inside Maria Candida’s apartment is always a pleasure. It is beautiful, full of light, full of beautiful things, and cool. I can spend hours there just studying the objects, the décor, the collections of books and music, and the harmonious arrangement of all of the above. Without Elise in tow, our photo-taking diminishes greatly, but here are photos of a slightly more sparse version of Maria Candida’s apartment taken in 2005:
After a long nap to supplement our all-night flight, we faced New Year’s Eve with our friend. Maria Candida had a cod fish dish prepared for our dinner, and then we headed out the door with a bottle of champagne and walked the block to Leblon Beach – which is the western third of Ipanema Beach. Unlike my previous Rio New Year’s Eve in 1983 on Copacabana Beach, there were no fire crackers going off at my feet creating a war zone effect, there was plenty of space on the beach between scattered groups of celebrants, and the mood was very calm. Little ditches had been dug at intervals and filled with candles, cachaça and flower offerings to Yemanja, the African goddess of the sea. Everyone was in white, executing their jumps over seven waves for good fortune. I found this much trickier in those crashing waves than on our gentle Cotovelo Beach, but was determined. (My white leggings dumped out plenty of sand on the bedroom floor later when I changed into pajamas.)
Newton briefly joined a beach soccer game with some 11-12-year-olds, and then we selected the partying group we wanted to hang around according to music choice. The sand was very loose and deep in this spot, which afforded us a good work-out as part of a dancing circle. The champagne bottle made a perfect beach accessory.
New Year’s Day produced the same locale by daylight. There are new rules on the beach outlawing wandering vendors – “camelôs” – which I consider a staple of Ipanema Beach from way back - and pertaining to specific delivery times for supplies. I’m sure the organization of deliveries and established “barracas” for the sale of coconuts, beer, caipirinhas, etc. will pay off in less chaos, but one of my favorite memories is beer camelôs dressed in drag during Carnaval on this beach. For us, the change meant everyone was out of beer, except the fourth barraca we tried. I imagine the authorities will work out a balance of both supplies and orderliness, as odd as this concept seems to us for this particular culture, and as charming as the beach chaos has always been. Large groups of sunning celebrants had brought their own supplies, so a hot, sunny, happy New Year’s Day ambience remained. I downloaded this photo out of deference to Newton’s friends who always request this aspect of Rio’s beauty:We had a great Arabic lunch (this food is very popular all over Brazil, thanks to the Arabic immigrants –as in Newton’s forebears). Maria Candida started feeling sick to her stomach later in the day and went to bed very early. We had a Saturday planned in Niteroi, the “twin” city of Rio where Newton spent his teenage years.
We were picked up by Jorge or “Crazy Jorge” as I call him – Newton’s friend since age 13, who was a child actor in film and television and later became a surgeon and then later became a lawyer. He lives in the state of Paraná and was visiting his relatives in town. We met their boyhood friend, Moarir (this is nigh impossible to say: Mo-are-EER), who lives in Rio, Jorge’s wife and 16-year-old daughter, and Moarir’s ex-wife at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Niteroi. This was designed by – guess who? Oscar Niemeyer when he was 89-years-old. I always say he is the only working architect in Brazil since he has designed so much, including the entire city of Brazília. Even now at age 102, he continues. The boys were reuniting for a tour of their old haunts in Niteroi, as well some new ones, such as the museum and the old fort from the 17th century, which the Portuguese built to defend Rio from the Dutch. Niteroi is across Guanabara Bay from Rio – one of the longest bridges in the world joins them. The view from the museum and fort area includes both Sugar Loaf and Corcovado:
A highlight was the boys’ favorite beach, Itacoatiara, with its wall of waves which were responsible in 1983 for my deciding, once and for all, that waves were not for me. (I drank a significant portion of ocean while gasping for breath “between” them, except there was no between.) I frankly missed most of their reminisces because the Portuguese was flying way too fast for me. High points were brought to me in the excellent English most of them speak.
As the day wore on, I became sick to my stomach, as well. Maria Candida was still suffering in Leblon, so I joined her in an endless sleep through the night and the entire next day. Newton met a friend at Leblon Beach with whom he had studied English at the School for International Living in Vermont in 1978. A rogue wave surprised the group and engulfed Newton’s cell phone in salt water. More on being cell phone-challenged in a future dispatch. By our last night, I was better and able to eat. Maria Candida accompanied us out to the lively streets of urbane Leblon, where we selected an open restaurant for dinner, even though she was still unable to handle food. It is highly unusual for me to have stomach problems at all, so I was grateful for a quick recovery. At least Maria Candid and I both had a partner-in-misery for 24 hours!
We bid Maria Candida and Rio a fond good-bye and made our way home to lovely, temperate Natal. The neighbors had arrived for their January at the beach, so we had screaming children playing outside the office window and night spotlights on the bedroom wall… but it is always good to be home!