August 28, 2010 – September 1, 2010
Rio is a vibrant, exciting city and it's clear we have not allocated enough time here. Our hotel is a beautiful old house with high ceilings and tall old mirrors, panelling and shutters. Our room is huge, all white with dark wood furniture and african drums. From the bed of white linen I can see across to be eye level with the top of the city's sky scrapers in the central district and intermittently buses rattling over the cobbles of our narrow street or the characteristic scrape and clatter of a careering tram fill or sound world from below and drown out the hum of our ceiling fan and the birds in the garden's 5 great mango trees trying to be heard against the distant buzz of the city. Catch a tram downwards (is there's no seat just stand on the narrow running board and hang on tight at the open windows|) after winding down the hill of Sant Theresa for a minute it crosses the high, narrow old Lapa viaduct into the commercial centre with nothing but the running board and an old wire fence between you and the ground 70 feet below. It was the main commuting route for the wealthy who had built the big beautiful houses on the hill but worked in the city in the first few decades of the 20th Century. I couldn't help thinking that my own grandfather had probably caught the same tram, as he had visited Rio many times in the 1920s and 30s as Representative for Doulton ceramics in South America. Near our hotel (Casa MAngo Mango)the architecture of the time is bold and daring; Parisian town houses neighbour art deco mansions, Venetian palaces or bijou pre-Raphaelite faerie follies and even the occasional Adam's family horror home, most now with the peeling paint or falling plaster of neglect but some newly repainted. Everywhere an eclectic mixture, in the city centre faded square-columned facades are reborn with the bright clashing colours of graffiti art where different artistic styles, tattoo-type porn or horror, kids cartoons, logos and landscape tableau sit without a pinhead of bare wall between, each seemingly comfortable, and perhaps revelling in, the others' proximity. It's the same with the diverse old mansions on the hill and the rich soup of racial mix in the people filling the streets. Wear what you like, a spangly halterneck with high red patent heels or a faded Tshirt, shortsand Haviana flipflops; it's up t you but just don't be boring and predictable for this is Rio: Stay awake and keep your mind alive or you will miss something exciting. Will and Harry body boarding yesterday in the surf between Copacabana and Ipanema beaches whilst Lisa and I watched the sculpted Brazilian bodies alternately mastering and tumbling in the waves over a fresh coconut at a yellow plastic table and chair on the promenade. As the sun went down the long stretch of Ipanema sand became the stuff of legend with its palm trees, people and a fine sea haze in the strangely suddenly violet air. We had caught the old cog train up to the Corcovado (famous Christ statue high on a hill) to appreciate Rio's vastness, and marvelled at the proximity of the Atlantic rainforest, hugging the city and sending tendrils of exotic green between the buildings and either side of the railway tracks. Enclosed between the green of the forest and the blue of the sea Rio's urban structure of concrete, metal and fumes holds its own in the sunshine, teeming with human life even as the ocean and jungle teem.
Tonight we will fly home at last. Yesterday morning we had a Samba lesson. Fabio came to our hotel and in Lisa and Harry's massive room with the huge mirror he taught us the samba rhythmn and the basic samba step. It was lovely to see Lisa and Harry dance together rather than quarrel. They looked pretty good by the end and everyone worked quite hard though the bed did unfortunately get broken when Will sat down on it a little too hard for a rest. For 3 nights now we have tried to go to a samba club but they all start so late (after 10pm) that each night we have been too tired. At the restaurants the meals are all for 2 people so Harry and Lisa order a steak and chips between them and then Harry eats all the steak and Lisa eats all the chips! We eat in Sant Theresa at the top of our hill or in Lapa at the bottom. Sometimes there is a samba band playing with the meal, perhaps with only a single tambourine providing percussion, though they can make it sound like a full electronic drum kit. Last night I tried a new technique for keeping my family up late; I let them all have a nap when we got in from sight seeing and didn't wake them until 9.30pm. Then I suggested a restaurant next door to a Lapa samba club. The club was in a dark street with a lady of the night sitting on a plastic chair nearby. Every evening since we arrived in Rio Will has identified several ladies of the night who are really just colourfully dressed women, self-financed from conventional sources and out for a fun night out. BUT, about this particular lady I had to agree with Will, until after we'd passed her when we realised that she was actually a man of the night, only pretending to be a lady! The entrance hall to the club had extravagant but faded 1930s reliefs of art nouveaux ladies in revealing evening dress amongst fruit flowers and exotic birds. The staircase to the dance hall was curved and of stone and underneath, in a corner a long formica table had been set up with a sign printed on A4 paper cellotaped to it proclaiming "Rio Samba Social Club". Here we bought tickets which bouncers then checked at the bottom of the grand stairs. The hall was broad with the lighted band and a large sprung dance floor in the middle and tables arranged at either side in the dark. Harry and I felt quite knowledgeable as we could identify a small group of dancing girls as tourists because they were not doing the samba step we had learnt earlier. We stayed about 3/4 hour but then had to leave in a rush when Lisa, who had fallen asleep at the table woke up suddenly and clearly needed to get quickly to bed. During our time there the dance floor filled up, the tourists sat down and the complexity and fluidity of the dancers moves increased. Each couple had its own style , but all were focussed in on the movements and the music in their heads - quite marvellous. On the way back to the hotel Harry sat in the front of the taxi. He has gradually taken over paying for all buses and taxis since he bought a leather wallet in La Paz. Now anytime Will or I pay at a restaurant or shop we give him the change, and then in the rush of having to pay for transport we don't have to go in to anywhere with big notes as Harry is quick and polite at handing over the dinero to the driver... no change needed, no argument Saturday 4th September: Yesterday we said goodbye to Rio by taking the cable car to sugarloaf mountain for another stunning view made more romantic still by the same wisps of veiling cloud floating past. I hope we will return to Rio some day. Next time we will visit a favella and hope to see further beneath Brazil's beautiful tourist mask, so much more to see and do and understand. Well that's it! Here we are descending into MAdrid after a very uncomfortable short night on our Iberian plane across the Atlantic. A couple of hours from MAdrid to Heathrow and our wonderful trip will be over at last.
We had read about the crime of Rio. Due to the proximity of the favelas(shanty towns) cheek to jowl next to the posh residential areas and the magnetism of the city, mugging , robbery and violent crime was commonplace and were on the increase. Brazilians had told us when passing through, they on the whole would just stay in their hotel. A Belgium man who had married a Brazilian had given us chapter and verse about the violence . "Take your wedding rings off,watch out , take nothing valuable except money for the day.It would be sure death if you walked into a Favela alone." These infamous favelas were often places where the police did not enter. Ruled 60% by drug gangs who dolled out often extream punishments for wrongs done,20% by militia who were retired Rio Police men and ruled in much the same way, then 20% who looked after themselves. An embrassement to the aurthourties, people living in the Favelas often had no water or sewage,electric or an address ,no social security number so could not open a bank account or really existed at all. We were staying in Santa Teresa area of Rio and because of nearby favelas, it was one the top 3 areas in rio for crime. I had seen the film " the city of God" and I was scared. Our hotel "Mango Mango " was a hundred year old European style mansion. "Faded elegance "which would soon need an arm and a leg spent on it but for now was a splendid place. Several mighty mango trees shaded the dark red painted building from the street where the Bonde tram rattled and scrapped down the cobbled streets then over an aqueduct into "Centro", the old centre of Rio in the 19Th Century. The Hotel had retained everything of the days of when it was "the area" to live in Rio . Carved wooden panelling , faded mirrors from floor to ceiling which opened to reveal passageways behind. Ceiling collapsing chandelier lights and hard wood floors everywhere when the idea of sustainability would seem absurd. The house smelt of wood and a faint sweet smell of fruit, I never discovered why. "Cat having a fit on the piano " music played at breakfast which had the first proper coffee I had had in months on alternate days. Only several rooms were used and "gardens" behind became a tangle of banana trees and other used buildings in the same style. Some friends of ours called Son and Ton could have lived here. Our family was on guard here. "Be smart" we would often say appearing from a bus or railway station in a new town. Wedding rings were placed in unseen safety areas , watches off, local supermarket plastic bags instead of the "tourist " rucksack , all money belts were off and a new memory card in a replaceable camera. We caught the tram up into Santa Teresa to a supper place of "Bar de Minerro". Harry and Lisa sat uncomfortably in this rather bohemian bar. The entire place was head to foot in small white ceramic tiles the size of a beer mat, placed there at least a hundred year ago . The only place I had seen this before was those faded city victorian tiolets at railway stations in Britain. Black and white faded photographic portraits and colourful posters advertising music venues years past hung on the walls. Evan here in Rio the Brazilian regulation TV nailed into the ceiling ,blared out. Bar Minerro did not have doors, just those "shop front" wind down metal shutters that boasted the all arround Rio weather. A middle aged lady with heavy makeup, top pulled over her shoulder with a prominent tattoo drank a caipirinha and shared a supper of a large plate of chips with her son. Characters sat around in the balmy temperature with the still ceiling fans overhead as this was winter. A thin rather Dickensean character walked between the tables selling booklets of his poems. "Look and then buy" as he gave us four copies. Harry's face looked shocked as on page 4 a seduction scene of anatomical pornography. He gave the booklet back trying not to touch the mans hand and wondering in disgust whether the piece was autobiographical. Harry and Lisa opted for the safe option steak and chips for two , as all meals in brazil were strangely for a couple. Lyn and I had the Brazilian roast pork which turned out to be bolied fat and bone and at £18 a bargain. This did not seem to matter as after 2 ice cold beers and the atmosphere of the Bar do Minerro I was smiling . For Lyn Rio was dance, music and more dance. At 10.30 the kids wisely opted for their beds leaving me hanging but to escort Lyn. The taxi's air con thankfully didn't work as we zoomed around Rio in the nights warmth. Intoxicating enough to think "Thats a greet record" as Chain reaction by the Bees Gees blared out on Rio Radio. I couldn't last the bands second half. I would need 20 bags of cooca leaves ,5 jars of coffee or a 4 hour afternoon sleep if I was going to keep up with Lyn in Rio. From the top of "Cristo Redentor" , Christs statue, high up on a near vertical volcanic dome of smooth granite the views are worth the father's eye watering ticket price. Rio de Janerio name is rather drab however. The Portuguese sailer who discovered its dramatic habour in 1505 thought it was a river mouth and since it was the month of January got its name. Curves of 8 km long beeches flanked by sky scappers broken up by mountians of rounded granite that had pushed through the earths crust millions of years ag this surely was one of the most beautiful citys in the world. That afternoon we hired "boggie boards and joined the surfers at e Arpoader end of Ipanema beech. Twice I was able to slide down the side of the wave just before it broke. I lost Harry in the first wave and without my glasses and the glare from the late afternoon sun didn't see him again for an hour and a half later chests raw from the boards. Ideas of surfing this autumn in Devon raced through my mind as we changed back into our dirty shorts. With that "end of the day beach day feeling " of calmness and sandy bottoms, we all stared out at Rio on the way back to Mango Mango. The route, rather elabroate due to Rio's igneous lumps , we seemed to take the flater route of the miles of beech front roads. Copacabana hay day of the 1920's film stars place to be seen was meant to be all faded away but it oozed life. Tens of elaborate sand sculptures of the city guarded by their owners hoping for a tip lined the beach front.Rows of football pitches and volleyball nets almost obscured the view of the waves and it seemed that the whole of Rio was out in the evening sun jogging on running tracts parallel with the road and sea. Taned toned bodies stopped for a rest at outdoor public gyms the size of bus stops and worked out together. Tall skyscaper hotels sandwiched carved wooden 19th Centuary buildings a mix between onion shaped Russian orthodox churches and the "Adams Family"residence. Ice cream pallors and Brazilians sipping beer watching the evening go by. Just before our hotel in Lappa , crowds of black, white and every possible combination between , tumbled out of very open bars onto the streets drinking and talking . Everyone talks in Rio. Elaberate in-depth discussions, their hand and arm movements indicating more interesting topics of conversation than "Weather looks good today." Vibrant coloured graffiti good enough for a art showroom on boarded up windows nailed to die for 19th centurary buildings with a hint of Art Deco. I had forgotten about my watch and the supermarket plastic bag was just fine.. Sobenatural was a fish restarant a trams ride up the hill. A man with a shaven head dressed in white with tattoo accessories showed us the menu and waved us in. A waiter in classic black and white ushered us to our table. Harry and Lisa had the rare fillet steak for two Jack Sprat and his Wife style and Lyn and I a Brazilian fish with a unheard of name and Brazil nut sauce. Lyn melted away with her caipiriana and the intertwined Latin live music. Wednesday evening was packed with a chaos of tables full of people living life to the full. Deep in conversation directing the finer points with expressive hand movements occasionally standing to embrace and kiss passing friends needing to sweeze past for a pee. A slightly overweight man with a Panama hat wisked up a much younger slender girl in a Samba. I thought what do Brazilians do? Wednesday night at 11.30 , we left them deep in drink and conversation. Didn't they have to go to work the next day? What about the life style of getting home at 7pm , make sure kids are doing their homework, cook a meal , put the kids to bed and fall asleep watching the 10 o'clock news. They must work to afford the bar bills . What have we got wrong? Was it just the weather that forced everyone out in bank holiday style eating and drinking 7 days a week? The the last day we had a Samba lesson from a another man with greased back hair and a Panama hat. I eventually got the basic 1 to 4 rhythm but my head hurt full with all that foot concentration. Lyn,Lisa and Harry zoomed arround the kids room in front of the 16 foot high mirror. A quick supper at a downtown Boehemian restaurant "Nova Capela" White and black tiles adnorned the walls , some with painting on , some with a blue almost an Arabic style making it feel almost that we were in Istanbul. The waiter looked interested ,yet allowed our order of steak and chips twice. He insisted that these tourists have a classic Brazilian dish of salted fish balls as a starter. I wasn't going to mention the history of this fare to Lyn and the kids. For me it added another dimension to the enjoyment of this round fish finger and to this memorable institution. Lyn didn't seem to mind that we were dragging the kids out to a Samba club at midnight. Lisa at eleven years of age stood outside this rather forgotten looking immense building with hangers around ,music booming and shouting echoing from within. Harry didn't want to go in and Lisa was "hanging".But Lyn had made it clear how important this was to her and she hadn't been so direct about anything else in the 10 weeks. Her dancing shoes had been kept hidden in the rucksack all this time and like everything else we had carried ,needed to be used. I felt she now had lost insight a bit wanting the kids to come as well to a Samba dance hall at midnight in an area not recommended to be walked around at night when they both wanted to go back to the hotel and that we were flying home the next day. Against my parenting duty but for my wife we all went in. Art Deco bas relieves looked down on us as we walked up the sweeping marble and brass staircase.Cheap wooden tables and chairs scattered the dance floor in front a broad stage where a band played out great rhythms. The enormous 100 years old dance hall with gilted wood hand been defaced by 20th century additions of aircon vents, a bar and a DJ platform half way up one wall with no thought to the original arstitic proportions. It reminded me of Cuba evan though I have never been. A second band now tuned up. In a laid back manor different band members found chairs and started to tune up. As additional instruments arrived on stage , sound checks were carried out while others started singing or playing their rehearsed songs. It took half an hour while the band crescendoed into a full piece of music together. An electric guitar, a large bongo drum and a girl who played a small wooden thing who yawned then started singing in a beautiful melodious haunting tone so different from the set American popular voice of the moment. It reminded me of the Talking Heads vedio of the band live gradually putting the set together . At 1.30am I persuaded Lyn it would be best for the kids and me if we got to bed. Our last day in Rio and South America. Lyn,Harry and I didn't want to go home and were all amazed it was the end of the trip. Lisa had been home sick for 3 weeks and had been counting the days was aching to see her friends. We kept on reminding her that with in weeks she would be missing this, now , today a beautiful island, a beautiful jungle , a beautiful City but all she wanted was to see her friends. A late flight meant we could ascend the Sugar loaf mountain in the double cable car ride and admire the stunning views of the city we loved. We had had no problems here and quiet the opposite everyone had been kind,helpful and understanding , very much like all the people wer had met over our 10 weeks. Thinking about it I can't remember any bad encounters. Driving back to the Bonde tram station to ascend to our hotel, we all gazed out at Rio life with warm air in our faces . "I'll come back here one day." Harry said breaking the silence between us. I thought it would be difficult not to say that for anyone but Harry had been smiled apon by groups of girls quite openingly , seen beautiful young things running and playing sports on the beech, surfed big breakers in a city with clear skied hot midwinter days that partied into the weekday night. I hope he does I thought, but not for ever, I hope.