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O Rio! ("A Sweet Lightheartedness")

O Rio! 
("A Sweet Lightheartedness")

Brazilians’ black and white and brown bodies interlock in
volleyball games, in wrestling, in affection. The Cariocas’ bodies
are sinewy or supple, whether gliding across the beach,
or moving sensuously in a samba.
By Jill Weissich

There are no right angles in Rio de Janeiro; Rio is all curves. The city winds around
the mountains, and 53 miles of beaches twist along the base of the foothills. In dental
floss bikinis, the Brazilians’ tawny bodies are showcased among foam-scalloped waves.
Lissome Brazilian models rule! In Rio, life is alegria, a "sweet
lightheartedness," amidst the music and the sun and the sea. High above Ipanema
Beach, a tram is suspended mid-air, nosing up Sugar Loaf Mountain. Corcovado, which means
hump-backed mountain, is Rio’s highest point, from which the 98-foot statue of Cristo
Redentor stands. The statue, of reinforced concrete, is covered in limestone. Illuminated
by night, and even shrouded in fog, the Redeemer’s perennially outstretched arms are
visible as He blesses the city, whose motto may well be:

"There is no sin below the equator."

Rio’s Parque Nacional da Tijuca is the largest urban park in the world where enormous
butterflies swoop over caves, waterfalls and the canopied rainforest, all that remain of
the tropical jungle which once surrounded Rio.

If Brazil symbolizes a tropical paradise, Rio de Janeiro is the Cidade Maravilhosa or,
Marvelous City. Rio is known for Carnaval, the riotous celebration at the beginning of
Lent. Rio embodies the festival conception of life, from the city’s samba schools to the
Carnaval balls. During Carnaval, the entire city of Rio, from the poorest in the favelas
to the politicians and stars, mingle in a contagious, costumed revelry. Months after
Carnaval is past, Cariocas, (the locals of Rio) show fading glossies of their elaborate
costumes.

"Sadness has no end. But happiness does" was written about Rio’s working
poor, who save all year for a costume for Carnaval, "a single moment of
fantasy."

Carnaval signifies the start of Lent, the forty-day period when Catholics abstain from
a particular pleasure in preparation for Easter. The days of Carnaval are a savored
indulgence of what will be missed. Thirsty Cariocas sacrifice caipirinha. Now the
rage in Europe, this Brazilian drink is made from cachaça (Brazilian sugarcane
liquor), lime and sugar.

The Cariocas do drink in style, after work, in an area called Telles Arch. At 5:00,
bars set up their tables and chairs outside along narrow alleys winding through the
business district of downtown Rio. Soon dozens of barefooted children appear, handing out
tiny cornucopias of peanuts. The peanuts are followed by beer such as Bohemia, or Cerpa.
Draft beer is chope. More peanuts are sold, and many more cold beers and snacks,
such as cheese, twisted around a stick, cheese patties or deep-fried codfish balls. Local
men and women, aw6kxtling for a seat at the tables, eye each other while shedding blazers,
neckties, and shirts in the tropical heat. Alegria!

Although the word Carnaval sounds primitive—even
exotic—"carne-vale," means "abstinence from meat." Brazil is
cattle country, and the tang of roasting meat is in the air everywhere: sold at street
stalls, meat on sticks is dipped in hot sauces; in snack bars, or on the beach, as an aperitivo.

In a bar, a group will share a fillet cooked with spring onions, spearing it with
toothpicks; in pubs, it’s sliced in sandwiches, or barbecuing on skewers.

Brazil’s cattle industry is one of the world’s best, and nowhere will you find beef in
such glory, drama, quantity and flavor than at the Restaurant Marius.

Located on Copacabana Beach, Marius is in a huge space, befitting the enormity of this
dining experience. The tones of the restaurant are muted; the wood and burlap and straw
interior is the sole aspect of Marius which is understated.

From the ceiling, huge, gleaming copper pans hang above a cosmopolitan buffet.
Bresaola, covered with fresh ground Parmesan is arrayed between a cascade of hearts of
palm, and a platter of deep red, ripe tomatoes. Select one tomato, and an attentive waiter
appears with a sizzling pan of bubbling mozzarella cheese.

A cart with leather covered wheels, befitting a covered wagon, holds covered platters
of feijoada, (the National dish of Brazil,) individual fish dishes and lasagna.

Achingly fresh sushi and sashimi are accented with bowls of fresh shredded ginger,
green horseradish and soy sauce. But after sampling the salads, lasagna, a perfect sushi
and the sashimi, one turns to the true point of Marius.

Costumed in a billowing white shirt, the waiter approaches. Like a matador, he bears a
long skewer held at an angle. As he carves a slice off the body of the roast, it is
considered good etiquette to spear the slice before it flops onto the plate. A pewter dish
is anchored to the bottom of the carver’s rigging to catch the dripping fat.

The roasts, charcoaled and burnt fiercely on the outside, when sliced, reveal the pink
flesh beneath. After the roast came a serving of wild boar, a very high, gamy taste,
followed by a filet mignon. For variety, there were skewers of roast chicken, chicken
gizzards, and chicken hearts.

One is expected to have several pieces of each offering. It’s easy to do since you
never see a giant filet steak on your plate, but only a slice at a time. It looks too good
to refuse. It tastes too good to refuse.

In Brazil, everyone who can afford it eats meat with a vengeance. It is the staff of
life; from the vast ranches comes the wealth of Brazil. As the waiters carve, and as
patrons dine, "carnal" (as in desire) here takes on a new meaning. On each table
stands a silver globe, which the diner turns. When turned to green, it signals the waiter
to "keep serving;" yellow means "serve, but more slowly;" and red is
"stop!" The price for the feast: $32.00, or $16.00 without the meat service.
Children are free.

Waves and Swing

The last surviving open-air tram ascends up the steep hills to the Montmartre district.
Rio’s Santa Teresa is a colorful neighborhood, where once elegant mansions now stand in
raffish disrepair. A tiny museum, Museu Chácara do Céu (Little House of Heaven) displays
18th- and 19th-century landscapes, the Brazilian artists
interpretation of the New World.

The Museum is set in manicured gardens, which affords a 360-degree view of Rio,
including the pink-roofed favelas. These shantytowns of Rio’s poor tumble down the
hills onto the pavements’ curving patterns, one of which is Avenida Atlântica. On this
broad pedestrian walkway in front of the round Hotel Rio Internacional, in an Escher-like
design, the letter "S" undulates, not unlike the nearby waves. A blindfolded Rio
native, they say, could identify which barrio he was in from the sidewalk’s design.

Across from the Rio Internacional, on Copacabana Beach, the Brazilians’ black and white
and brown bodies interlock in volleyball games, in wrestling, in affection. The Cariocas’
bodies are sinewy or supple, whether gliding across the beach, or moving sensuously in a
samba. From Copacabana Beach, an open-air jeep can get to the harbor in ten minutes.
Another perspective of Rio is that from a sailboat in Guanabara Bay. The modern city
sparkles above the grassy Esplanade.

On the opposite side of the bay is the island of Niterói, where the Museu de Arte
Contemporânea is located. As dramatic as the Bilbao Guggenheim, this museum has been
compared to a flying saucer. Its improbably narrow base expands into a symmetrical,
circular structure. Defying gravity, and suspended in space, the circumference of the
museum billows out over the water. Why was this fantastic structure built on Niterói
rather than Rio? Oscar Niemeyer, who also designed Brasília, the capital of Brazil,
explained:

"At the Museu de Arte Contemporânea in Niterói, the landscape gave me the main
guidelines. Everything started when I deliberately dismissed the highly-praised right
angle. This world of curves arose naturally from where I lived, white sand beaches, huge
mountains, old baroque churches and beautiful sun-tanned women. In all sketches, the curve
prevails as an omnipresent element."

To enter the Museu de Arte Contemporânea, ascend the slight slope of a shocking pink
ramp which unfurls, invitingly. Glimpses of Rio’s coastline are visible across the bay.
Inside, the museum’s 28′ round base displays the art while the museum’s exterior
circumference consists of windows. Less resembling a flying saucer, the interior is more
like the inside of a stationary top. But multiple visions of Rio, each framed by a
windowpanes makes the site of the museum much more than understandable, the choice of
Niterói was inevitable. Each pane of the museum’s windows highlights an aspect of Ipanema
or Copacabana Beach or Rio itself, which only distance makes visible. Alegria! The
antic esthetic of the Museum’s shimmering exterior rivals the artwork, already challenged
by the framed views of Rio’s beaches. The island of Niterói is accessible from the water,
or by driving across Ponte Costa e Silva, the second largest single span bridge in the
world.

Brazil’s national dish, feijoada, is made with cured beef, baby back spare ribs,
and choriço, for example. To describe the dish as a stew fails to do justice to
this feast. That feijoada is a black bean based dish, served with a starchy grain
called manioc, is true. But combine the sweetness of the sausages with the tang of sharp
onions; pair the rough texture of cured beef with juicy orange slices. The result is a
dramatic and unpredictable dish, equivalent to the surprises of a piñata. Feijoada
is eaten in great style, almost only on Saturday afternoons.

At Delightful, a restaurant on Delightful Street, the entrance is through a rough gate
in a stone wall. In the garden, four chefs in white toques bustled over the round stone
oven, and the open grill. The feijoada was served over rice on ceramic plates. But
oh! the accompaniments! Slices of orange ringed the ceramic platter amidst onions, bay
leaves and heaping manioc.

Because of the heat, beer is more popular than wine. Bohemia is available in bottles
but the draft beer, chope, is the favorite. Brazil’s national soft drink is guaraná,
from a red fruit in the Amazon forest. Guaraná tastes like cream soda but its
caffeine content may be the source of its popularity in a population that starts the
evening at 11 p.m, and is on parade at 8:00 a.m. the next day.

Brazilian desserts include papaya and mango puddings, "angel’s Belly," made
of egg yolks and sugar and "baba de moça", the "drool of a
virgin."

Oh, sweet light heartedness!

If You Go:

Hotel: Rio Internacional, Av Atlântica 1500, Tel: 543-1555

Major Credit Cards, US $175

Marius Restaurant, Av Atlântica 290, Tel and Fax: 542-2393

Open Daily, Major Credit Cards

First you need a Visa, which costs about $45 and you need three passport-sized photos.

Airport Departure tax is another $40

Jill Weissich, an attorney, is the Travel and Food Editor for San
Francisco Attorney Magazine and has contributed to several other publications. She can
be reached at jweissich@excite.com 

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