Reflections on Rio

My sister, an avid reader, says my stuff here is great, but after my last post, she said I was giving maybe too much of a Brazilian music lesson, and not enough of my own reactions to Rio. Well, here are a few thoughts. I actually had jotted down some topics the other night while Gallotti was shouting samba, somewhere around 2am, after about 60 ounces of beer. Or 80.

It’s rough, because certainly I have some perceptions, but often, they pop up for a bit, then disappear, only to come back an hour, or 10 years later. I think fleeting is the word. I see things on the street, process them, then file them away…they don’t seem important enough to write down, or even remember a conversation or two down the line. Example: tonight, walking home from my late dinner, I saw two different people walking their respective, smelly dogs (all dogs stink, so come on…) and both of them, as soon as the pooches hunched over to deposit some used dog food onto the sidewalk, pulled out plastic bags to pick up the poop. Now, this act grosses me out, and, if I didn’t hate dogs so much already, would be the main reason I would never own such a creature, especially in a city. I see it all the time in Portland…one morning I saw it occur SIX times in about 5 minutes around Woodstock Park in my neighborhood. But I NEVER thought I’d see this nasty, still-warm-through-the-plastic-bag shit grab in Rio de Janeiro! Never. Brazil was just never that way. Streetside trashcans always seemed to be a polite suggestion, but the crap scattered around every sidewalk stated that they were only a suggestion, and probably never needed to be emptied…ever, well, except when dumbass tourists like me dropped something into them, always feeling like the responsible, guilty American. I had the urge last night to throw some paper on the street, a receipt from my dinner, but I did the right thing. I found a litter basket. So, clearly Brazil is changing. And I’m still in shock!
My night of samba on Saturday took place in a club full of under-30s. Spring is here, so lots of skin is popping out of too-tight tube tops and dresses. No complaints there. But what was interesting to me was the lack of tattoos. In Portland, and to a lesser extent in Austin, tattoo-less under-30s are rounded up and castigated. Or at least it seems that way. I think 8 out of 10 kids in Portland have a ridiculous amount of tattoo ink on display. I just can’t understand this mania. To me it shows that these free-thinking youngsters actually can’t do much real thinking of their own, but feel the compulsive need to fuck up their bodies with such silly, forever “skin art”. Wow, that’s real self expression alright! His is green, and her’s is red! Wow, such individuality. Let’s see that in 30 or 40 years. Beautiful. Now, Rio is a city where folks are proud of their bodies and show them off at every opportunity, on the beach (where any suit over an ounce in weight is too much), at a samba club, hell, at Cafe Lamas tonight. So it’s interesting to me that tattoos here are far more rare than in the good old USA, yeah, I see a few here and there, mostly on guys, and a few modest ones on female ankles. But they are the exception. Believe me, Brazilians love to feel like they belong to a group, or to groups: soccer club fans, samba school fans, and so on, so you might think that the tattoo club would have more members. But, it’s that body thing–they think the body is beautiful and they don’t feel the need to fuck it up with pictures of hamburgers, pirates, snakes, dragons and old boyfriend’s names. And the bodies here are beautiful, I see ’em constantly on the street, in the clubs, etc. Tanned, lithe and lovely like the girl from Ipanema (who I saw once with her daughter in 1980, curiously enough as I was drinking a beer with the great guitarist Helio Delmiro at the very bar where that famous song was written…she really was a real girl in Ipanema back in the late 1950s). And it’s so nice to see NO tattoos. What’s wrong with OUR kids today? (My sister has 5 tattoos, so she’s gonna hate this and ask me to go back to the music history lesson!)
Another thing: Brazil was once the seat of the Portuguese empire. When the emperor returned to Lisbon, he left his son here to be Emperor of Brazil and Brazil became an empire too! So European court traditions, social behaviors, etc became entrenched. As a result, Brazilians have to use some sort of implement to eat everything. I’ve seen Brazilians eat ice cream cones with a spoon…you would never want to lick the actual ice cream with your actual tongue, how gosh! (sidebar: I’ve had Brazilians tell me many time that eating ice cream when it’s cold during the winter will cause you to catch a cold, or to come down with the flu!!!!! I love it!!!) Bar snacks are more common here, in a wider variety, than in the US. Lots and lots of great stuff, lots of it fried including standard french fries (no catchup, that goes on pizza!), fried manioc root, fried codfish balls, little fried empanadas, singly call a pastel, strips of fried fish, chunks of great fried chicken covered in fried garlic, and so on. But NO Brazilian would ever pick up any of these with bare fingers to pop into the mouth. Never! One must use a napkin to grab these morsels before gracefully biting into them. Never. Not one. Never. And god, do I feel like a heathen, ’cause I just ain’t gonna do the right thing and grab my codfish balls with a napkin. Never. A fork, maybe, but never a napkin. I just can’t do it. The other night at the Epoca de Ouro show at Rio Scenarium, there was a family of four at the next table, mom, dad and two teenage kids. They ordered several rounds of snacks, all dutifully consumed via the napkin thing, even the gangly boy, probably nearly 18 years old. Can you imagine an American kid (except maybe in Charleston South Carolina) picking up a tidbit of fried chicken or fish with a napkin???? Never!!!! Then, the young girl, maybe 12 or 13, picked up a fried shrimp with her fingers! I was shocked! And apparently so was her mother, because mom grabbed a napkin and handed it to Sissy, and gave her a very heavy look of disapproval…Sissy dutifully wrapped the napkin around the last bite of shrimp before gobbling it up! Too much! Talk about social pressures! Too funny.
I’ve got more, but I still have to write about Saturday’s feijoada. Tomorrow, always tomorrow….

2 comments on “Reflections on Rio

  1. These are all interesting reflections SambaMaster. Keep up the good work! Enjoying all the pictures too. Did you eat all that feijoada by yourself? What does a feijoada meal cost. The beans look different than the black beans we get here. Are they?


  2. I ate the feijoada by myself, though there were two others folks at the table…they split a steak. I think the beans are the same…they just cook 'em much longer, and smash a lot of them in the pot to make it thicker.
    The feijoada was R$48 which is about 27 bucks. There was a doggie bag.


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