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Brazzil - Impression - August 2003

Brazil: When in Rio Do as the Cariocas

Copacabana and Ipanema are two of the most densely populated
neighborhoods in the world. The rest of Rio is just as packed with
people, animals, and nature. And all contribute to an energy
that is a raw, sensual, and powerful. It's like a
viscous pheromone that covers everyone here.

Sam Logan


I live in Ipanema. I have an excellent view, which is only enhanced by the "veranda" (terrace) that overlooks Visconde de Pirajá, the busiest street in Ipanema. The veranda is twice the size of the interior portion of my apartment, small but comfortable. Most importantly, the apartment is a pleasant escape from the exhausting, dangerous, exciting, and addictive human energy that constantly flows through the streets of Rio de Janeiro.

Regardless of how hard you try to fight it, life in Rio moves at a pace you do not control. There is no reason to feel rushed. I recommend you avoid the sensation at all costs while in this city. If you find yourself in a hurry, you will soon become very impatient and frustrated—not to mention hot and sweaty. Nevertheless, rushed or not, you will spend easily a third of your time here waiting on someone or something. It does not pay to hurry up and wait.

"Lazer," the Brazilian Portuguese word for "leisure," would not accurately describe how Rio's inhabitants actually live. It describes how they prefer to live as much as possible. While those who live here work most of the time, leisure is a daily pursuit of Rio's denizens from all levels of class and society. If you run an Internet café, you have computer games; if you drive a bus, you bullshit with the fare collector; or if you run a Copacabana beach-front kiosk from seven at night to seven in the morning, five days a week, you sell beer, liquor and drugs, you smoke at least four or five joints a shift, and you get to know an array of prostitutes.

One day during my first week here, I was watching a soccer match at a street-corner watering hole in Copacabana. While there, I saw a white-collar businessman shoulder to shoulder with a street beggar. They were watching the same game, Brazil-Cameroon. The beggar cheered the loudest of the three of us. After the game, he dragged his club foot across the street and began begging again.

Rio is a town with an incredible amount of human energy packed into a very small space. Copacabana and Ipanema are two of the most densely populated neighborhoods in the world. The rest of Rio is just as packed with people, animals, and nature. And all contribute to an energy that is a raw, sensual, and powerful. It's like a viscous pheromone that covers everyone here.

Eventually it covers you too. First you smell it. Then you see it and feel its vibe. And after some time, maybe a month, you wear it, move with it, and become part of it. That's the subtle side of Rio. What happens when a group of Brazilians decide to let it go and really relax is synergy in your face.

When the denizens of this town decide to fully embrace lazer, they present you, me, or any other foreign visitor with a Party. Capital "p" because I am convinced Brazil throws the best party of any nation in the western hemisphere, and most likely the best party in the rest of the so-called southern, underdeveloped countries. The music, dance, dress, drink, and drugs together create a synergy of movement that captures everyone whether they like it or not. Fortunately, most here like what this town does to them.

Five minutes after the first five girls arrived to a friend's apartment (I was the first male guest to arrive), they insisted that we put on some real music and dance. Thirty seconds later, we were dancing to a samba CD one of them had brought. Six hours later, I took a moment to ask the time and arrived home just before dawn. I have never been to a party where I passed seven hours without considering, even for a moment, the time. Have you?

But it was more than the music. The atmosphere was very sublime, relaxed and groovy with very little more tension than the friction between sex-charged men and women. There was enough music to last for hours because many brought their favorite CD. There was enough beer to last forever because the corner bar downstairs sells cold beer and cachaça, and never closes.

The party itself was amazing. But because this is Rio, parties like that happen all the time, regardless of time, date, or otherwise. And if you can't find a private party, you can most certainly find someone willing to go out on the town.

The nightlife in Rio is energetic and spunky. It never ends. One morning, at nine, I walked by a small group of very drunk locals. They had eight empty bottles of beer and jokes and laughter to show for it. Those around the early morning drunks didn't give them a second glance. In Rio, early morning drunks is a normal sight, as are pedestrians with an open can or bottle of beer.

Fortunately most people here make it home in time to sleep a little before heading to the beach. If you were to ask the denizens of Ipanema, Leblon or Copacabana what they'd rather be doing, I'm convinced pegando sol (sunbathing) is one of the first two, maybe three, things they will mention. Pegando sol is one of the most quintessential lazer experiences. On Saturday or Sunday, if you're not at the beach for at least a few hours, you're not cool, you need to relax, or it's raining.

For just simple sunbathing on the beach, I would recommend you bring a pair of sunglasses and little else. You'll be glad you did. First, the amount of flesh you dare to expose is nothing near to what is normal in Rio. Modesty does not exist on the sand. Part of the allure of sunbathing is that it gives Rio's denizens the excuse to show off their body while surrounded by a feast of beauty. It's not uncommon to see a large cluster of bodies in a certain spot with large stretches of less populated sand.

Quick witted thieves will steal everything they can, like dogs hampering for table scraps. If you sleep, use your bag as a pillow. But the less you carry, the less attention you attract. So don't bring a big bag, flashy CD player or a fat wallet to the beach. You'll keep it longer if it stays at home.

Rio's beach culture extends to the city as well. It is quite normal to see half naked men and women cruising the streets in search of some exotic juice, a paper, or a friend before heading just two or three city blocks to the beach. Bare-chested men order suco from a corner juice bar in skimpy bathing suits and flip-flops. Sleeveless shirts, tank tops, cleavage, hard nipples and string bikinis are all normal and not alarming. In Rio it is practical, accepted and even expected to wear as little amount of clothing as possible during the heat of the day, especially if you plan to make a short trip to the beach along the way. Beach-time/urban-time wear and apparel is quite fashionable here.

The close proximity of beach and city makes for an urban street atmosphere that lends itself to hours of people watching. I was once told living in Rio, especially in Ipanema and Leblon, too long will get you into the "body thing," referring to the focus on exercise, getting out, and looking good. Tight buttocks, well defined chest and arms, and, of course a tan, is a cultural preoccupation.

I'm still people watching, and even beginning to work out a bit. But only in the privacy of my apartment. I'm still not ready to join the public displays of muscular prowess you see on the beaches here. So when you come to Rio, don't be scared to bare it, try it, smell it, or taste it because, whether you like it or not, the essence that swirls in this place will invade your thoughts, feelings and organs. Better to jump into Rio head-first because you'll not find a local here who will wait for you to test the water, even if you are in a hurry.


Sam Logan is a freelance journalist living and working in Rio de Janeiro. He is from New Orleans, and is currently completing a Masters in International Policy Studies with the Monterey Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California. He speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese and has lived in Costa Rica, Mexico, Chile, and Brazil off and on since 1998. Email for contact: slogan@contactouno.com




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