Postcards from Rio de Janeiro
Then there is a third "click", much closer to my
temple, a little louder, and a sound I have heard many times on the movies but never
experienced in real life. I just freeze for a second, and gradually turn my head to see
the end of the barrel (God, it’s dark inside).
By John Miller
GGGGood morning eeeeveryone. IIIII hope you arrrre alllllll wwwwell as tttttthee
jjjjjackhammmmers hhhhhave sssstarted early in the ssssstreeets of IIIIIIpanema.
Weather here is very boring and predictable so far (I promise not to talk too much
about how good the climate is here).
Let us deal with the bodily functions first. My diarrhea continues on about a
fortnightly cycle and lasts about 24-48 hours, and wipes me out badly. I am very careful
with the water and only use bottled água for cooking, making coffee, and drinking.
Anyone got any suggestions? I keep thinking of that Steve Martin movie where the girl asks
him if he wants a "high colonic". Yet to see what fun there can be in this
activity. The bidet is an essential item when this happens, and is very gentle on this
sensitive part of my anatomy. The upside to this is I am losing weight (Lose weight NOW;
Ask me how. Ph +55 21 521 5131). Apart from this my health is well, and getting lots of
exercise and sunshine.
THE STREETS OF IPANEMA – The saga continues
I have discovered the hand of Rupert Murdoch is behind this process; yep it is the old
cable TV/Information highway in the ground game. The local resident action group seems to
have surrendered, although it is a regular news item from what I can understand. They
would have a field day. Last month I saw an old lady of about seventy beating up one of
the work crews with her umbrella, everyone stood around and applauded. There must be a
fortune to be made from someone who can design a silent jackhammer. They expect to
complete the project by October, they did not say which year? More to follow on this as it
is a real hot topic here.
Marta put on a small welcome party for me at the apartment with some of her friends one
Saturday. We had traditional Brazilian food and drink (still to master the caipirinhaa
margarita-like concoction; it is toxic to say the least). One old guy got horribly pissed,
he was such a laugh and I like him immensely, even though Marta thinks he is "TV
Soccer" addict (Nice to know that there are Norm’s all over the world). I met Marta’s
mum, the same as any great "mum" all over the world; sensational cook, great
listener, and a really lovely lady. I charmed the pants off her!
Marta took me to her place of spiritual worship on Friday 27th April. The
place was in the backstreets of Botafogo, in what looked like an old aircraft hangar. It
could hold about 3-4 DC-3’s comfortably. Now I have to tell you I was a little nervous
going to this place as I know very little about Marta’s "religion", so I am
checking her bag for little dolls with pins in them, listening for the sounds of headless
chickens, strange garbled talking and dialects, etc. But I trust Marta implicitly, and I
know she is a very good person.
So we go inside, and there is a sort of room within the hangar, but the walls do not
extend all the way to the ceiling. There is quite a bit of smoke and incense burning, but
it is very quiet. There are large ceiling fans hanging down along with a very big colored
cardboard pyramid. Before we can enter the room, we must remove our shoes and any leather
belts, etc. (luckily I am wearing some tight fitting jeans). There must be about three
hundred shoes on the floor outside the room, so I have some idea of the number of people
We now go inside the room, and lighting is from some blue lamps and not very bright. I
can barely see the other end of the room where all the action is taking place. Marta
directs me to sit on the right side of the room in a wooden chair with the other men; the
women all sit on the left side of the room. It is obvious that all of the people in the
room are from working class or even poor backgrounds. I look around the room and see
photos of some familiar faces, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Heili Salasi, Mother Theresa,
Muhammad Ali, and some other guys I don’t know. A few colored rainbows painted on the wall
as well. On both sides are the signs "Silêncio, Não converse". Even I can work
this one out. Everyone is very quiet.
At the front are the spiritual leaders. This is obvious as they are all wearing white
costumes that look like a cross between a judo outfit and the KKK without the hoods. I
can’t quite see properly what I think is a fire pit (Oh no, not the walk across the hot
coals and feel no pain game). The spiritual leaders seem to walk over them and ventilate
their costumes with the smoke from them. Now I understand, this is the incense burning,
huge amounts, that smells like a cross between rosewood, Sandalwood and cardboard.
Over the next two hours, there is a great deal of prayer and meditation. Not much
speaking from the spiritual leaders, it just seems to happen in a very coordinated manner.
The leaders are an equal mix of male and female. Marta is well known and they make a
special effort to see her and talk quietly with her. Everyone has a bit of paper on which
they write the things that they would like to happen, and this is given to the leaders who
place in a box. No handing round the money box either. In the background they play some
soft music, a cross between Enya and Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells (no exorcist jokes
please). There is a bit of chanting and circling of the altars, and a little quiet
singing. Very peaceful.
Then we are asked to go up the front to get what appears to be a spirit or aura
massage. This is a non contact process, and the spiritual leaders pass their hands (some
candles) over the persons body, head, and limbs. The process of who is directed to which
spiritual leader is totally at random, you cannot choose which person gives your aura
massage. I go up the front, and I know no one knows me from a bar of soap as a
specifically told Marta not to tell anyone here as I wanted to be treated like anyone
else. I am directed by one of the spiritual leaders to go towards one other spiritual
leader for my spiritual massage (no speaking you understand). This guy looks at me, and
says in English "Please relax, no one will hurt you, let me unburden your
stress". Half of me wants to freak out at this (How did he know?), but the other half
takes over. For the next five minutes this guy gives me the full works, much rubbing of my
aura, really working hard at this. Then he says to me "Trust your spirit, you have
much work to do". He directs me to sit down where I was before, and I am totally
blown away at this stage. But I do feel quite relaxed. There is an inner calmness taking
A bit more chanting and prayer and then the evening closes. Marta comes over to me, and
can see I am very deep in thought. She decides it is best that we go at this stage, and
that we will come back soon to talk with the spiritual leaders.
So what do I think now upon reflection? Well I do not use the word "church"
but the same things apply; a lot of very good people coming together to bond, share in
each others feelings, and try to help the poor, the ill, the homeless, the unloved, the
hurt, etc. This was a very good experience; I have much to learn. I checked with Marta
about the guy speaking English, and she smiles at me and says "John, you will learn
many things in Brazil, but sometimes you have to trust that people will look after
you". Ok, so now I am not so blown away!
LESSONS IN ADVENTURE
Rule No 1 – Do not be in a hurry
Do not be in a hurry. If you go fast, it costs you time, money and can be dangerous.
You must slow down. I keep trying to remember this, but every time I break this rule, it
costs me time and money. The benefit of slowing down is you are much better prepared, you
have a plan, a contingency/fall back position, and meetings are much more productive.
Rule No 2 – Don’t go looking for business
Do not go looking for business. Wait for the business to come to you. The key to the
process is putting yourself in a position where you will meet the people you need to
connect with. Then you can relax, socialize, and build a relationship without the tension
of business driving discussions. And it is more fun this way and you learn more before the
discussion turns to business.
MY OFFICES IN RIO
I have to get out of the apartment. It is no place for me to work. It drives me crazy.
It’s not that the apartment is bad or dirty or anything, but it does not place me in
contact with anyone in business and therefore no networking. So I have spent a lot of time
setting up my office in Ipanema, a place I can network, meet people, relax, talk business,
My main office is the Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema), the most famous
bar/restaurant in Rio. Most of my business meetings when I can call the shots are held
here. I have worked up a great friendship with a couple of the managers and waiters. The
bar and restaurant is quite good, but by no means the best. The location is close to the
beach, and on the corner of two very busy streets. The noise and air pollution can be
quite horrific (I do not suggest a window seat, this is only for the posers). But it is
well known, and it has a lovely international feel to it. You are never too sure whether
the people at the next table are Brazilians, or from New York, Paris, Hamburg, or
The price of new books in Brazil is incredibly expensive. In fact anything to do with
education and learning is expensive. The net result of this is that there are the world’s
best second-hand book stores in this town. No one chucks a book away, they are like used
cars, and they have real value. I have spent hours in the city looking through second-hand
book stores, and there are absolute gold relics in here. Great export opportunity for
Australia I feel (small language problem though). I have never seen so many second hand
book stores, even the stores that sell new books also sell second hand books.
I do not recommend this place to export Clearasil to. The teenagers in this city seem
to have flawless skin. Very few teenagers seem to have pimples, acne, or whatever grows on
your face during those pubescent years.
I mentioned the need to blend in here. Fortunately I have traces of melanin in my skin,
which enables me to at least go some color approximating a Carioca. But more
importantly, I wish to thank my Mum and Dad for not circumcising me, as it would appear
that no self respecting Carioca is circumcised. Standing on the beach in my
Speedos, along with the Carioca, it is apparent that the foreskins are in
abundance. God, these guys are well endowed, is it part of the diet? Why are those women
on the beach laughing at me? Everyone knows when you go swimming that the "old
fella" goes into hibernation and shrinks down to the size of your little finger. God
I have a very small little finger.
BEACH CULTURE – Copacabana & Ipanema – Part 1
Where to start on this topic. I guess the origins for Australian beach culture are very
Anglo-Saxon, and let’s face it, the Poms have never really been comfortable on the beach
(I guess that’s why they wanted us to go onto the beach at Gallipolli first, "You go
first, you know more about the beaches than us"). If any of you have been to southern
coasts of England you would understand why (I keep thinking of Mr. Bean). This explains a
lot of things; we don’t actually do much on this beach except lie around and cook
ourselves (the exception is the lifesavers of course).
We have an incredible number of laws that prevent having fun on the beach, making a
living, or making it more enjoyable. We desert the beach at night, and most people don’t
see the sun rise over the water. We pay not respect to the ocean spirits (OK, so what), we
have few if any facilities to encourage more activity on the beach, we charge a fortune to
park at the beach, and little if any public transport to get there. No wonder we don’t get
much pleasure from the beach, or the well to do get a disproportionate benefit from it.
Things here are quite a bit different. It is like Baywatch without the need for
silicon, and much more real drama (like life and death). Beach life starts early, before
sunrise, usually about 5:00 am sees the change of guard from the bar/club leftovers and
hangovers to the fit early birds that catch the worms. I cannot describe how beautiful the
sunrise here are in Ipanema and Copacabana (Yeah sure, John, as if you would get up this
early). The ocean is glassy, and the birds have eaten a lot of the rubbish from the night
before. What the birds don’t eat, then the tractors eat with their garbage filters pulled
behind, like the wheat harvesters.
The birds on the beach are all gathered together like some scene from an Alfred
Hitchcock movie, and about 6:30 when the sun comes up over Sugarloaf, they disperse to all
ends of the coast. People are power walking, jogging, cycling (my preference), aerobic
exercising, doing sit ups, chin ups, stretching, volleyball, swimming, and SMILING. Its
like happy hour for the fit and healthy. I know a lot of people do this in Sydney, but
here it just seems more passionate and everyone seems to be really enjoying themselves;
they are not just doing it to avoid the next heart attack.
The next part of the day starts about 9:30 when the people start to arrive on the beach
for a day of leisure and the tourists start to pack down for a day of oiling up, baking
and frying. It really is so easy to spot the tourist, usually just out of winter
hibernation, he/she stands out like a neon sign. They usually come to the beach in the
wrong attire (I always have to laugh at the Asians who come to the beach in a suit and
tie), with T-shirts that scream "I am a tourist, come and rip me off". One way
to spot a tourist is they face the wrong way on the beach. They want to look at the ocean.
The Carioca wants to face the sun and look at other people and the volleyball
matches played at the back of the beach. About 9:00 am the people from the favelas
(shantytowns) begin to arrive with their goodies to sell for the day. If they have heavy
produce or equipment to lug around, they dig this out of the sand where they buried it one
meter below the surface the night before. (2 meter sticks in the sand with their initials
on them tell them where their things are).
Then the selling starts. Your want beer, no problem. You want beach chair, towels,
suntan oil, sandwich natural, ice cream, caipirinha, a girlfriend for the day,
money changed (not recommended), soft drink, BBQ prawns, sausages and bread rolls, all of
this is no more than about a 2 minute wait max. No Balinese back massages though (Hey what
a great idea!). You want beads, T-shirts, bathing costumes, maps of Brazil, souvenirs,
blood pressure checked (seriously), cigarettes, coconuts, jaffles, Rio de Janeiro car
number plates, water melon, Walkmans, thongs, Beach Igloos (watch them take off in OZ this
summer, go for it Margaret), surfboards, CDs, boogie boards, sunglasses, oh hell, you want
to buy real estate, come with me. This is like TV Box Office Home Shopping but loads more
Did I mention the bundas (derrières) as well!
OK, so there is a downside or two. There is more noise, but if you want a quiet beach,
don’t come to Copacabana or Ipanema, go to Barra, 20 minutes away. And there is of course
the "Rato de Praia" (Beach Rat) to contend with, as if we don’t have our share
of beach rats in OZ. But if you can cope with this, it is heaps more fun, and soaks up a
heap of unemployment (teaches you how to sell very quickly). Personally I love it, and
Australian local government laws (especially in Sydney) should be reviewed to allow some
of this type of activity to take place.
BUS ADVENTURES – Part 1
I am becoming an expert at using the local buses. The service is excellent, very fast
(and fairly jerky), frequent and the best way to get around. On the back of each bus is a
sign that says "Máxima Velocidade: 60 km/h". This does not refer to the speed
of the bus (top speed I have seen is 95 km/h in Flamengo Drive, totally awesome), but the
top speed at which passengers can move down the aisle when the bus driver brakes to stop.
Each bus has a driver (with a Wayne Gardner personality defect) and a ticket collector
that sits at the back of the bus near the turnstile and rear entrance. People over 65
years and school children travel for free. The standard fare is $0.65 that will take you
Buses will stop anywhere you signal practically. The only thing that seems to be a
problem is for the aged and infirm, as the entrance/exit to the bus is very steep, and
they only wait for you to have one foot on the bus before the driver starts to move and
close the doors. I have used the bus to go to the city about 20 times now and feel very
comfortable, although they do get very sardinish at times. I have much admiration for the
bus drivers in Sydney, the way they maneuver these large vehicles around the narrow
streets of Sydney, and on the Harbour Bridge.
But nothing can compare to the fine tolerances and risks these drivers take. You
regularly see near misses in the millimeter range, and they are frequently driving while
eating their lunch, chugging down a beer (seriously), and smoking six or seven cigarettes,
all while listening to a Walkman tuned into the local soccer. It’s an experience, but you
seldom see accidents involving buses.
Taxi drivers here are also very good. I have yet to be ripped off by a taxi driver,
they open the doors for you, and something you never see in Sydney, you can easily get a
taxi when it is raining. They also have similar driving skills to the bus drivers, but
have a more cross country rally style, and have no trouble going up onto the footpaths or
skating up the wrong way in one way streets. Yet to see anything done on two wheels, but
would not surprise me. They all seem to have a side business going in illicit substances
(lots of snorting and pointing at their noses, wink, wink), and regularly offer to take
you to some bar where lots of ladies are waiting to take care of my every need, including
my wallet, watch, sunglasses, etc.
BUS ADVENTURES – Part 2
Friday 3rd of May, we decide we are going to go the final of the soccer at
Maracanã Stadium (the largest football stadium in the world, capacity 180,000; Frank
Sinatra played to 200,000 in 1980, totally awesome). This is the state final between
Flamengo and Vasco. Flamengo is the most successful club in Rio, the largest following by
a country mile, and play in Red and Black colors.
We start hunting for tickets, and it is all very depressing, but finally we learn that
there are 500 tickets still unsold in a town called Bangu, in Rio. So at 5:00 pm on a
Friday we head to Bangu to get tickets (somehow word leaked out we were going to get
tickets, and we were now getting tickets for 20 people). So, after a two and a half hour
bus trip we arrive in Bangu (I have no idea where this place is, it’s on the outskirts of
town, and I am thinking what the hell am I doing this for, I could be at the Garota de
Ipanema having a beer). We arrive at the ticket office to be informed that the last
tickets were sold fifteen minutes ago.
Marta is sensational, she makes me laugh, and says who would think in Australia that
you would be in Bangu on a Friday? (I ask myself the same question). But out of every
adventure comes something good and we have the best hotdogs I have ever eaten (over 20 cm
in length, with all sorts of things piled on top). Another two hours later we collapse at
home, tired, covered in diesel fumes, and with headaches to match from the air pollution.
Rule No. 1. Never be in a hurry, always plan, if you go fast it costs you time and money.
(When am I going to learn this lesson!)
As it turns out, the feeling in the town about the match is not good. The local cambistas
(scalpers) have bought up a heap of tickets, and a lot of supporters are angry. Marta
thinks this may be a bad omen, and suggests we don’t go as there could be trouble. Anyway,
there will be plenty of other matches to go to, so you will just have to wait.
Sunday, Flamengo beats Vasco 2-0. Crowd estimated at 110,000, but many people have
jumped the fence to get in, so who knows.
The news footage shows some pretty enthusiastic supporters getting stuck into a couple
of the cambistas (are they covered by workers compensation), along with the usual
flare throwing, over adrenalined crowd behavior and some vigorous horse riding by the
BUS ADVENTURES – Part 3
OK, so now it is about the fifteenth time I have been by bus to the city, and I am
feeling quite relaxed. I know where to go, where to get on and off, I am quite cool about
the process. My guard is down (Lesson number 3 – be always on your guard!). It’s about
10:30 am, morning rush hour is beginning to ease.
So the bus picks me up in Ipanema, and we go through Copacabana backstreets, then onto
the main road into the city. You come through a tunnel leaving Copacabana, and the road
widens, the traffic flows freely, and you will be in the city in ten minutes max. This
part of the bus trip is very pretty, as you go past Botafogo and Flamengo, beautiful views
of Sugarloaf, Corcovado, and the Guanabara Bay. The streets are very pretty, and you pass
some of the Old City charm and architecture. I am very relaxed. The bus is quite full, so
I stand near the turnstile towards the rear of the bus, leaning against the back of a
seat, facing the rear. What can happen eh?
The bus pulls into one of the usual parking bays to collect passengers (I think). But
instead of a passenger getting on, a Military Police man enters the rear of the bus with
his gun drawn (Colt 45 I think). He waits at the turnstile, and looks up and down the
aisle. This is interesting I think (my guard is still down, I’m not thinking properly, my
frame of reference is Australian police, etc.). I look over my shoulder to the front of
the bus, and two more Police have entered at the front, one with his gun drawn.
I look out the window, and notice some Armalite rifle armed Police (why do they like to
sling so much ammo over their shoulders, must be heavy). Everyone on the bus is very
quiet, sitting still, and trying not to make eye contact with anything. The Police at the
front of the bus proceed down the aisle and stop at every male and ask him to stand. The
police then do a full paddle search, and request identity papers. No harm so far, just
OK, so now Military Police get to the back of the bus where I am. The PM says something
to me in Portuguese, which I don’t understand, but I know they want my ID. My passport is
in my briefcase, so I bend over and unclick the briefcase. "Click . Click".
Then there is a third "click", much closer to my temple, a little louder, and
a sound I have heard many times on the movies but never experienced in real life. I just
freeze for a second, and gradually turn my head to see the end of the barrel (God, it’s
dark inside). I slowly take my hands away from the briefcase and ever so slowly begin to
straighten up. I put my hands beside my ears, and I get the general indication they want
me to get off the bus. I am positioned between two of the police, and a third guy takes up
the rear with my briefcase. I keep looking over my shoulder to see what he is doing with
the briefcase, but I can’t see as the guy behind me blocking my view.
We walk down the aisle and off the bus, and I am directed towards the man with the
stripes on the arm (I can’t spell sergeant, why are these guys always so big). He has the
usual mirror sunglasses, moustache, and stomach to match. He looks at me and says
something in Portuguese which I don’t understand but the word "Gringo" is used
several times (but not overtly antagonistically). He then says "Are you
Americano?". I say "Eu não sou Americano. Eu sou Australiano". He then
says, "Australiano! Muito bom país (Very good country)." My God I can’t believe
He then pulls out the cigarettes and offers me one. I want to take about six at once,
but decide that one is better at this stage. We start to talk in broken Portuguese/English
about Australia and Brazil. The guy with the briefcase comes over with my passport and
hands it to the sergeant, and he flicks through it, and comments about a few of the
cities/countries I have been to. I look at the people on the bus, draw heavily on the
cigarette, and wink at a few of the passengers, like this is an every day event. They are
all just staring in disbelief.
You have to remember my frame of reference is OZ police, so I am not totally freaked
out, just dumbfounded. I reach into my pockets (slowly in sight of everyone), and pull out
a few trinkets and give these to the sergeant to disperse (he keeps them all). I shake
hands, and he indicates I can go, hands me my briefcase and passport, and wishes me well.
I get back on the bus, and everyone is looking at me like I am royalty or something. One
guy gets up and offers me his seat. I decline, and the bus pulls away.
So what do I make of this. One, never ever let your guard down. Two, if this happens
very often, I will be very quite nervous (accidents can happen). Three, Thank God I am an
THE SOUNDS OF RIO
This is certainly no place for those who seek the tranquillity of a property on the
outskirts of Melbourne or Sydney. Noise is something I have yet to get used to. The first
couple of weeks it just is there, and you deal with it. Now the novelty value is starting
to abate, you do get a little sick and tired of the constant noise from jackhammers, car
horns (they should remove them from the cars, they do nothing at all but get people
angry), police sirens, and the usual cacophony of sounds that accompany a city of this
We live at a fairly busy part of Ipanema, so the noise starts early, and does not die
down until well after midnight and sometimes much later (the night of the soccer match was
incredible). Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night hearing firecracker’s going off.
These are used by the people in the favelas to send two messages; fresh drugs have
arrived or the police are on their way to raid the favelas.
A priority in my work will be to secure quieter lodging in the next six months. But for
now, I can deal with it (please send some industrial strength earplugs for Marta and I).
John Miller is an Australian, living in Rio de Janeiro, selling
Australian wine. ‘Postcards from Rio’ is a journal of his journey in the land of the Cariocas.
Rua Joaquim Nabuco, 106 / Apt 1001
Copacabana CEP 22080-030
Rio de Janeiro
Tel: +55 (021) 521 8568