Archive for November 10th, 2010|Daily archive page


In Braaaazil, Rio de Janeiro, Sud America on November 10, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Brazilians dance. Samba feet blurring from left to right, hips dipping and slipping. There is no song too fast for the Brazilians to step together and grind hips, or gently bounce them, faces pressed together, eyes closed as if in a trance. For those moments the heat rises, and the languor slows their movements, for those musical moments it as if they are in love, until the woman turns away at the end of the song and leaves the man with a wave.

Tuesday night in Rio, there’s a supposed to be a good samba night on just down the way in Ipanema, it turns out to be another tourist festival in the bar of a hostel. It’s not much cop, from the tiny, narrow smoke-filled smokers area, to the heaving dance floor, filled with hunters and prey, and fey travellers, trying to find the right steps. I am nonplussed, and determined to find something more authentic

On the Wednesday we head out down to Lapa, on the recommendation of Michael who works at the hostel. He’s phoned ahead and put us on the guest list. From the moment we walk up the stairs into the half filled room as the band prepares to play, I am smiling from ear to ear. This is why I came to Brazil, for this musical melange, this joy of playing/listening/dancing/singing music.

The dance floor gradually fills, but it is never totally packed, but the band play beautifully, and as always there is an old man who sings, and sings, and sings. His tone pure and ragged, and yearning and joyous all at once. We sit and drink beer, and I am envious of the sinuous nature of the dancers, how they are molded to each other, the swirl of hips and the tinkle of their feet, how quickly they spin and move. I want to dance like this, I want to be able to have my hips be so fluid, and my feet so nimble.

favela funk

In Braaaazil, Rio de Janeiro, Sud America on November 10, 2010 at 5:09 pm

The funk parties that happen down at the base of the favelas on the weekends, especially the Sundays are raucous events, filled to bursting with people of all different skin tones.

They are sweatboxes. Pure and simple, muscled men roam sans tops, girls are dressed in the usual lack of clothes. Queue to pay for tickets to buy drinks, then queue to give tickets to man to get drinks. If you just want beer go to the man standing on the box for quicker beer tickets.

The girls dem bow! Dem bow, dem bow, dem bow. Girls dancing to the favela funk shake that ass, then continue to shake ass as they bend knees and shake it ever lower and lower and lower. They stand and then repeat when the mood hits them or a particularly big tune comes out of the wall of speakers. And I do mean a wall of speakers, it is so loud conversation isn’t possible, though people do, exchange names, numbers, email addresses, saliva.

Tourists stand out, we are the sore thumb, but the Carioca’s don’t mind, if your fair and female you are given all sorts of tactile man attention, if your dark and female you get all sorts of male tourist attention. It is courtship at its most shortened, lack of words creating a straight line technique, smile, hold, dance, kiss. Repeat for the rest of night.

The music blurs into one beat filled mix, the only change is when the favela dwellers signal their approval for this song or another. There is no threat or hint of violence, we are far from the men with the gold plated machine guns, who circulate high up the hill.

But the fever that pervades the place, the electricity that circulates, the thunder of the bassline, it is impossible to talk, impossible to think, just imperative that you dance, however you dance, the intro’s are short and the songs are long, the beats rolling, rolling, rolling. And when the doors are thrown open at the end of the night and you are spat out into the street, wondering which bus to take to get back into town, you can’t but feel bereft.

These parties are throwbacks to what we no longer have, warehouse raves, filled to the rafters with people who want to dance, and to shake, and to make new friends/lovers. Easy come, easy go. Everything is easy apart from the beats..


In Braaaazil, Rio de Janeiro, Sud America on November 10, 2010 at 5:08 pm

I’m reticent about going on the favela tour, which is one of the main sights that is touted in the guide books. I’m not into voyeuristically viewing people’s poverty. It feels somehow wrong, and deceitful, being able to walk protected through the favela’s peeking in on how the poorer half of Rio live, whilst safe and secure in the knowledge that I don’t, and probably will never live there.

But in the end I overcome my apprehensions and after riding back from center of town, huffing and puffing, believing that I will miss my tour guide, I’m on a van being taken over to Rocinha, which is one of the cities major favela’s an is a short drive away from Ipanema where I’m staying. (Taken from a website) Most of Rio lies on a geological structure called Brazilian Crystal Basement; the rocks, gnaisses and granites which make up the basement are the oldest of Brazilian territory. The structure had many tectonic alterations, which resulted in the several elevations, hills, mountains and valleys which characterize the coastal line of Rio.

So Rio itself is split into flat sections and divided by huge eruptions of rocky hills, which lurch into the sky. And on these rocky hills are built the favela’s with marvellous views of the coast and lush jungle which lies inland, covered with makeshift housing, built one on top of another.

The only way to get into Rocinha is via one long winding road, a thriving micro economy has sprouted up on the back of  this, with a taxi service of  little 50cc motorbikes ridden at breakneck speed up the winding single lane switch back road, squeezing past trucks and cars, as you hang on the back, trying not to imagine your death at every close shave, as the driver tries to talk to me in portuguesa.

The favela is a working class enclave for those who can’t afford or who don’t want to live elsewhere. Amenities are free, everyone parasitically taking what they need, electricity, cable, internet, when did having cable tv and the worldwide web become a basic human requirement?!

Despite our guide pointing out the young men who stand at the entrance, both top and bottom, constantly looking out, radios in their hands, who guard the favela, and make sure that no one who is a stranger enters or leaves, the people who live here seem to be nice enough, for them it is just living, this is how you live here, and they are the ones who are the cities heartbeat, the ones that come out for carnival, that clean and serve and make the city turn. And they are proud of this, you get the sense that they will never leave, born, raised and dying in the hills above the beaches.

But the favelas are cramped, shanty towns with people building unsafely, big families needing more space, girls getting pregnant early, the police coming in shooting at the bottom and never getting close to the guys at the top, but still it is a community, with corner stores, bakeries, rum shacks, people standing in their doorways watching the day go by, chatting the day away, greeting each other in the narrow confines of the alleys and walkways which wind labyrinthine like across the expanse of buildings.

People  pay 500$ reais pmth for the top of the favela, 100-200$ pmth for the bottom, with the ramshackle, cobbled together construction fueled by the fact that people will build a dwelling, then sell their roof to someone else who builds on top of that, who then sells their roof, and so on and so on, until the whole structure is on the verge of falling over before they stop.

One thing the tour guide says sticks with me, that companies in brazil have to pay for the travel to and from work for their employees, so Rocinha being so close to the center of town has become a desirable address, as in terms of the transportation costs, people from Rocinha are relatively cheap labour.

We are taken to a studio that is run out of the favela, the artwork isn’t as good as the stuff you see in Argentina, as political but not as diverse, replications of the same scene in different colours, Christ on the hill, and the favela, lighting up the hillside, dots of lights. But it is interesting to see that even here, or maybe because of it being here, that creativity is still treasured, still valued.

At the end of the visit we are taken to a crèche/nursery which the tour company has set up and which our money provides the funding for. It is filled with little children, at once both curious and apprehensive about our presence, several stare at me with wide eyed interest before hiding behind away behind columns, then peeking out again. It is heart warming to see the money going somewhere productive, and the children are happy and well cared for, but as we walk down to the exit, our guide points out the bullet holes which pockmark the walls around us, from where the police have entered all guns blazing..

the steps, the steps

In artworld, Braaaazil, Rio de Janeiro, Sud America, travelling on November 10, 2010 at 5:05 pm

I see the steps in Lapa for the first time, the night of the street party that engulfs Lapa every friday and saturday night, though Friday is the night. The streets a roiling mass of people walking up and down, plastic cup of caiparinha in their hands, strong to the point of moonshine, smiling, walking lean. The food stalls set out in the paved island that splits the roads which run under the aqueduct.

After watching a samba band perform in the tight confines of a bar, and the Carioca’s singing and dancing to each and every song, a group of us stumble away from the music and up the tiled steps in Lapa. The steps all 250 which run for 125 metres are the work of a chilean artist Jorge Selaron, who started tiling them in 1990, initially doing the stairs in a combination of green, yellow and blue, his love letter to brazil, his adopted home. When he finally finished tiling the steps and adjoining house fronts, he started all over again using red tiles. It’s a labour of love or insanity, whichever you prefer and Selaron says he’ll never stop until he dies.

The steps are one of those iconic points which people will come and film at whenever they are in Rio. See the Snoop and Pharrell video below for “Beautiful” for evidence.

But the walk up them when drunk is interminable, just when you think you’ve got to the top, there are more, and your wheezing like an asthmatic in crazy cat lady’s house. But it is worth it, the amount of work and time, and effort he has put into it, despite the insanity of the project is jaw dropping. I stumble away into the night, enjoying the quick walk back down, more than the long trudge up, and immediately forget where it is.

Only to find it again days later as I ride back from the center of town trying to avoid hitting the big main thoroughfares, where the speed of traffic is limited to 60km, which is just a bit too fast to ride comfortably with. Ducking down a sloping off ramp, I spy the aqueduct and the old location beacon kicks in and I’m taking a side street here, down a back street there and the next thing I’m at the base of the steps, determined not to walk up them again in the bright glare of day, but camera is poised and I take photos instead.


In Braaaazil, Rio de Janeiro, Sud America, travelling on November 10, 2010 at 5:02 pm

So when I get to Rio, the big christ is draped in scaffolding, and I put off going to see him, as whats the fucking point! I did not come to Rio to see a tall box of scaffolding, rather than the big christ. So I wait, and I wait, and I wait, and every so often I look to the big hill to see that the scaffolding has moved down a few feet. To begin with only his head is visible, then its’ his arms, then his torso, and when I finally pay the money and do the big tour, big christ, sugar-loaf, samba drome, maracana, the tiled steps at lapa and the Rio Roman Catholic cathedral, the only scaffolding left encloses his feet and the plinth that he stands on.

Doing touristy things, is at once enlightening, especially if you’ve got a tour guide who knows what they are talking about, and depressing. Depressing because there is such a mass of humanity, trying to get to see these landmarks, and whilst standing there, being jostled left and right, edging into gaps, and trying to make sure I”m not in someone’s photograph, I go all greta garbo (repeat after me in a deep stereotypical german accent) “I Vant To Be Alone”. I just want to stand and gaze at these testaments to nature and man’s ingenuity, these iconic symbols of a great sprawling city, and the people who inhabit it, those photogenic shorthand, that films will cut into a montage that tell you where you are without the spy film location subtitles rolling across the bottom of the screen.

So I grin and bear it, or rather stare over the side and watch the cloud cover roll past the mountain.

Highlight for me was putting my feet in the foot casts of the Brazilian players at the maracana. My heroes from the ’82 team, falcao, socrates, junior, zico, though to my dismay no eder. standing in the footprints of pele, ronaldo (the first one) and garrincha. Discovering that their feet aren’t that much bigger than my own. God I love football. And all the twinkle toed, nonchalant, arrogant, preening, charismatic, alcoholic, furious, demanding men that have played the game.

So see below what I saw when I went on the grand Rio tour.