Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Real Rio de Janeiro

In Portuguese de novo (je nofoo) means again, which is the line you hear most often in any capoeira gym, or cheap beer commercials. Do it one more diime. Two weeks ago I found myself at the foot of famed Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro - de novo.

Last time it took me a year of riding cycle to arrive in Rio de Janeiro. Still, it seemed more final now. Like I was about to give up my Greencard. Yikes!!! Mariano, Bebum, my two closest buddies on the epic adventure, and I had always talked about how we would never stop.


We wanted to keep riding forever. We'd combine our bro-losophical interpretation of The Power of Now with the teachings of the Capoeira roda and share the fantastic result with the world. The roda, any Capoeiristas’ Stonehenge, is our focal point and, to us, a perfect representation of life (Mestre Acordeon says so). In the roda only the truth remains. In the roda we engage in ritualistic combat. We laugh, we cry, and we face our fears and insecurities. In a circle of friends we must Be in the Now, the way Buddha and Eckhart Tolle tell us to strive for enlightenment.

But here I am, back in Rio. I wasn't riding to Argentina or Chile with my brothers. Gone were our dreams of life on the road, of sharing our bro-losophy with the world. Mariano is starting his PHD, Bebum is selling art in Colorado. And I? I followed a beautiful Levantine girl to Brazil. Might as well write about it, right?

Rio, the marvelous city, the shiniest pearl in Brazil’s necklace of glorious tropical beach life, is sort of readying itself to host the 2016 Olympics. I say sort of, because while the Germans seem equally corrupt when it comes to bringing the World Cup home, they are somewhat more efficient about it. So Rio is renovating turn of the century faux French and Austrian architecture here and there, tearing up roads for a tram line to nowhere, and adding overpasses like stairways to heaven - as such, also to nowhere - to the dedicated Airport bus lane.

Small pockets of the faux architecture have somehow survived between an invasion of supremely ugly technocratic 70s structures. A far cry from the fancy-full Jetsons Niemeyer architecture of Brasilia.

Concrete is apparently patient. Even under the onslaught of tropical mold and latin laissez-faire, which is more laissez than fair. All of which leaves zero room for public transport systems in the already too narrow Gotham like canyons of the overpopulated megalopolis's L-shape. The sea in front and the abruptly vertical peaks in back barely leave half a mile of sweaty, Blade Runner Marvelous. It creates a Victorian corset, the fish bone kind, requiring a torture contraption to tighten Rio into a waif. She is so skinny, she only needs one Subway line but fairly bursts from both ends like a Samba dancer’s ample bosom and bunda. Sadly, in the case of Rio the only thing bursting is marvelous amounts of refuse and mold.

I spend a week in Rio. A week that doesn't fit on that perfect Rio postcard everyone sends to their jealous friends. I stay in the Favela of Santo Christo, right next to the oldest Favela in the world – Providencia. It’s where my B2B peeps Amber and Juanjo live. It’s not where I would choose to live. I’d be up on a hill Favela, with the cheapest best view in the known universe.

A gondola runs from the Central Metro Station up to the top of Providencia. I wonder if the gondola was built by Austrians – ski lifts and gondolas are our second most muscular export. After Arnold Schwarzenegger.

On the day of my arrival I go to the local Favela clinic with Amber. Amber is seven month pregnant and has a meeting to set up a meeting about how the birth thing is going to go down. Brazil is on a drive to institute better pre/post natal care in its public hospitals. This requires intense communication strategies because low income people have a low information level about personal health care. Amber partakes in these because as an unofficial resident she goes to the Favela Clinics.

As in the West, Brazil's private hospitals push the Caesarian variant while public hospitals don’t. I am told this is because public healthcare has no profit motive. Brazil : USA = 1:0
Being a unofficial resident Amber still receives free health care. Brazil : USA = 2:0
We arrive at the clinic. It’s a nice, little low-slung building with a long corridor and two large openings at either end. People walk slowly. They talk to each other. I get a feeling that here care is actually a part of health care. Compare this to the frenzy in any public clinic in the USA. Brazil : USA = 3:0
It’s a good thing too. Brazil needs a solid win after my German bros beat their ass like a steel drum in the World Cup.

I spend days walking around Copacabana and Ipanema. As impressed as I am with Brazil’s efforts to better the lives of their poor I remain unimpressed by the marvelous city. I go to that lake under that dude holding his arms up on a hill like he’s got Walla-Pit (Going to have to buy my book to find out what sort of nastiness exactly that involves).

He blesses all the white sheep at his feet and turns his back on all the black ones living up in the hills behind in the City of God. No matter where you walk though, the streets are always dirty and so are the buildings. Even in white people land of Zona Sul. The really funny thing about writing this article is to learn that in supposedly none-racist Brazil the census form asks people of Asian descent to check the yellow box. Hear that Chinese/Japanese/Vietnamese/Indonesian/Thai/etc Americans? Ya'all are lucky!

Back to cracker land, which instead of mold and dirt also has no parks. It’s a total concrete jungle. Moldy high-risers obstruct your view of the impressive tropical cliffs and the perfect, rather exclusive beaches. The food is crap, everything is fried and overpriced. And it rains all the time. The only time the sun is out reliably is in fall. Exactly four months before the Olympics. I like the Favelas better and can't wait to go to Salvador. Somehow poorer problems are more honest problems.

To get around I take the subway with its advertisements to advertise because “Rio’s most interesting people take the subway.” Rio’s most interesting people are all white. The bus, which I also like to take, is 70 centavos cheaper. There is no air-condition on the bus.

The upper class people are still incredible rude getting on the subway. Apparently, fuck noblesse oblige when its about getting on that train. Even though the arrows painted on the ground in front of every door tell embarking passengers to wait on the side of the doors for people to exit they stand right in front of the door and literally sprint into the subway as soon as the door opens a slit. Leading to this:

I long for my days in Tokyo with those white-gloved Subway administrators apologizing (Sumimasen) as they gently push me and the crowds into the trains. The Rio subway rugby scrums, on the other hand, are the only opportunity in my life to pretend that I am the All Black, mostly because I am a head a taller than all these rude, little, upper class assholes. The contest does not end well for most of them, especially not when I am pulling two full suitcases.

Marvelously, once they are on the subway, they turn back to being the perfectly polite Latin Americans, giving each other space, taking each other’s purses and bags as they sit down so that the standing person doesn't have to carry it. Offering even me a chair to sit on - because of those two suitcases. This noblesse oblige lasts thirty seconds, or until the next stop. Then their exit/entry Mr. Hyde returns with a vengeance. I notice people's inability to wait their turn everywhere. It’s like the whole country has a massive case of FoMo, of not being with it, of not being fast and modern enough. Yet they walk slower than Hawaiians.

Though it is too rainy to go to the beach I still ask Cariocas (Rio natives) what beaches mean to them. I feel like it must be a center of their lives, lasting childhood memories are surely made there, tasty coconuts, memorable footeball games, perfect asses. They tell me that they never go. Which makes me wonder what the hell the point of the marvelous city is. Other than providing post card jealousy of course. If all you do is fight on the subways, walk through moldy concrete jungles, eat shitty fried food and live in fear of Favela muggings where exactly lies your happiness?

I found mine on the flight out. Rio has two airports. The “modern” one, which is two hours outside of town, and, you guessed it, undergoing its obligatory Olympic face-lift, and Santos Dumont. Santos is right smack in the middle of town, ten minutes’ walk from the Subway station Cinelandia. Saunter past the museum of modern art, buy yourself a bag of delicious tropical fruit for a very small amount of cheap Reais and walk right onto your flight. A flight that will remind you of Goldfinger and The Girl from Ipanema. Beautiful, luxurious and completely fake entertainment icons, that, just like the Sound of Music, make you think the place is the perfect masterwork of  the supreme being of your choice. Since they can’t all be the supreme being's masterwork it’s obviously bullshit.

From the air though, slowly rising through the mists of Botafogo and over the Sugarloaf, drinking cheap peach juice instead of a shaken Martini, I admire Copacabana’s and Ipanema’s endless yellow expanse, and the city, miraculously, becomes marvelous again.


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