R$5 for a picture with the Indians. R$5 to drink massive quantities of bottled water and feel good about yourself when you throw it into the LIXO RECICLAVEL. R$5 to think that you’ve done something for the environment today. Look up, even Jesus is green.
The doorknobs at the IMS.
Sometimes I’m reminded that culture shock has endless reserves. In the past week and a half, I learned that two things are Not Done. First off, going to the cemetery. I already knew that Brazilians thought my affection for São João Batista weird. But I went back on a recent weekend, this time to see Nelson Rodrigues, and made the mistake of telling some friends about it. “You went where? Why?” “For fun, I guess. I took pictures.” “You took pictures?”
I did, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself — and ended up running into Hélio Oiticica’s grave, but I guess that’s another story. But despite my cheer, recounts of my afternoon pastime fell on horrified ears. In vain did I explain that in other countries, cemeteries are tourist destinations; in vain did I show photos of the Cementerio de la Recoleta and the tourists clustered around Evita’s tomb. To this day they make little circling gestures at ear level, demonstrating that for all my charms, I am a few sandwiches short of a picnic lunch. It has a lot to do with notions of respect for the dead, is what I’ve extrapolated, as well as a healthy dose of the heebie-jeebies. São João Batista is commonly referred to as not a cemetery, but a “necropolis,” a word which gives a more vivid sense of its nature: a shadow version of Rio, accumulating illustrious cariocas since 1852. Which is exactly why I like it.
The other no-no is being a multitasking reader. Again, I was aware that people — even Americans — worried for my safety when I read while walking; but a few Brazilian friends raised their eyebrows when I raised the possibility that I also read while I ate. Judging from their expressions, this was not only not advisable, but perhaps not even physically possible. They seemed so skeptical that I grabbed a book from my bag — we were eating lunch in Gávea — and showed how you can splay the pages with your left hand and wield a fork with your right, quite delicately if I do say so myself. This time there were no corkscrewing gestures. I was too far gone.
When I flagged down the 593, I felt victorious. It’s one of only two buses that climbs the street where the IMS is perched, and it comes with such cruelly erratic frequency that the other researchers refer to it sadly as the “cinco-nunca-três.” Regret was soon to follow. On my normal commute to the Instituto, I have the extraordinary luck of going against the flow of traffic: when I’m heading west to Gávea, the bulk of the Barra is flowing east into Zona Sul, and when I’m heading back east, Zona Sul is emptying out. But on Thursday night — tempted by the Roberto Silva show — I had gone back, dumped my stuff, and now was having a thoroughly authentic carioca rush-hour experience. Not just the stopped traffic along the canal and the 600 lights of stop-and-go lurching, I’m used to that: this bus was packed. And hot. Just like Buenos Aires!
Except carioquice soon asserted itself. “I’d like to see the heads of Rio +20 in here,” snapped a woman clinging to the wheelchair lift to stay upright. The bus groaned forward another couple feet. “They’re out there blabbing about how much they love Rio, cidade maravilhosa e tal, let them try taking the bus.” General grumpy assent. A group of us were pressed against the exit, and I contorted myself to make room for a mother with her little boy. We were a captive audience, and the spokesperson for Zé Carioca entertained us all the way through Gávea. Soon — changing topics — she was talking about how her son wouldn’t eat a thing, no meat, eggs only twice a week, the only thing he liked was soy meat. Various mothers came out of the woodwork to commiserate and chuckle.
At first I couldn’t figure out who in the bus knew each other, if the talkative woman had gotten on the bus with the mother and child, but soon everyone around was pitching in their 2 cents and I saw that it was good old-fashioned carioca camaraderie, a cordial busful. This is the difference from Buenos Aires, when you come down to it. I can’t count the number of colectivos that I caught at rush hour where no-one spoke, not even to let forth a porteño grumble. It makes a difference, it does. At least it made the sticky, swaying ride to the IMS a whole lot more enjoyable.
Every time I swear that after research I’m going straight back to the apartment and answering all my emails and reviewing my notes, someone texts to say that there’s a free show in Copacabana or at the IMS or a rally in Laranjeiras, and my already limited self-restraint becomes “as vain as wind,” in the words of the excellent translation of The Odyssey that I took to the beach last week. This means that blogging currently lives on very low heat on the farthest of the back burners. Nevertheless, my notebook has been filling up with things I should be sharing with the world (evidence of my boundless generosity), so I promise I will make a more concerted effort to write regularly unless Rio continues to be so incredibly seductive and distracting, which is in fact very probable.
In any case, last night was definitely noteworthy. Of all the things to do in Rio, I don’t think I’d dreamed that I would see a show by a sambista who rubbed elbows with Noel, Geraldo Pereira, Zé Keti, Orlando Silva, Sylvio Caldas, Francisco Alves, and isn’t half bad himself. It was sheer providence – some friends had come up to get lunch and see the IMS, and the music archive was putting on a show that day. They have a great series going, a show every couple of months, where they take a classic album and invite the artist to come put on a commented show where he or she sings all the tracks on that album. This time it was Roberto Silva, the “Prince of Samba,” 350 recordings later, at an absurdly sprightly 92.
I’d be lying if I said that I was intimately familiar with his repertoire, unfortunately. And when Roberto started to chat with the presenter about his career, I had a brief and unpleasant flashback to hours upon hours spent listening to interviews with sambistas in the Museu da Imagem e do Som. They’re all pretty much the same – they were working, they were discovered, and then it’s a litany of contract negotiations and record companies. He thanked God and his wife profusely, and the cavaquinho player in the band was starting to conspicuously nod off. But once the interviewer freed him up to take the mic, boredom was impossible. Just take a look and see if you believe that this is a nonagenarian:
Taken from the Forte de Copacabana, Wednesday night, after an abortive attempt to see Caetano and a completely successful attempt to drink wine on a rock. July will mark the 90th anniversary of the Revolta dos 18, the first and last time the Forte’s guns were pointed with ill intent towards Copacabana. I can think of a few hideous buildings I’d like to knock down, but they seem to have plugged up the guns with concrete. Pity.