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.

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