Rio de Janeiro feels more familiar to a babe like me who knows from tropical Christmases. Heat, sweat at the hairline, linen clothes, palm trees, coconut water. And at breakfast papayas, pineapples, oranges, mangoes, guavas fruits, full-flavored bananas and jack fruit. Yes, yes, yes. Adding to my throb of nostalgia is that the street trees are spreaded tropical almond trees with their lush oval crowns, the occasional dying leaf a vivid bull-fighter red.
Many of the beautiful baroque buildings in Rio have a faded kind of gentility. The long stretches of beautiful, well-used beaches? Clean and wide and inviting. Because it rained every day of our visit, the ocean reflected the pale, disappointing gray sky instead of the rich indigo and marine green I’d anticipated. But it won’t be easy to think about Copacabana without remembering the brown, athletic men playing soccer volleyball in black, tight Speedos. Maybe what I meant to say was I won’t soon forget the undulating black and white mosaic sidewalks of Copacabana and Ipanema.
A party lies just beneath the skin of most everyone here, I’m sure of it. More than three times at the first sound of samba drums, Cariocas spontaneously stood up, hooted, danced. Even our very professorial-looking guide with his thick lenses. It’s not hard to catch a glimpse of how outrageous the pre-Lent Carnivale must be. Of course, for a small fee you too can have the opportunity of trying on some of the actual costumes deep in the gift shop of the Sambrodromo, the long parade strip with its luxury boxes and spectator stands.
I’d be so lying if I said I got a true sense of Rio de Janeiro. There never was an overt sense of menace, ever. But it was strongly “not recommended” to walk after dark—even with the heavy presence of tourist cops. Neither was it “recommended” to take the local bus three or so miles in a straight line to Ipanema Beach. The metal detectors at the entrance to the bank and the ATM machines were also just a little intimidating. So was ostentatiously-armed guard watching every twitch. We’d planned on taking an escorted tour of a favela, a shanty town high on the hill with a million dollar view. Lost our appetite for adventure, have to say.
Yet, you know, I’m looking forward to going back in a couple of years. Locals report the threat of crime has already eased significantly. Rio may not be ready for prime time without escorted day trips. But I’m confident things will change eventually. Besides, in Rio, nobody stole my new camera.
It was also interesting to me that I have all along had a Brazilian in my novel. Now that I’ve been there, I think my character’s looks wrong. I also must remember to try and use the two little Portuguese words I learned—Oi. A casual word for “hello.” obrigato: thanks. And, of course, Ciao!