Explore: Six Cities | Rio de Janeiro
Community Issue | Exploring Six Cities
By Alexander Winter
Published Feb 2015
As the excitement and disappointment from last year’s World Cup still reverberates through the residents of Rio; tears over the 7-1 loss against Germany are slowly drowned out by the Samba tunes of Carnival excitement and the faint approach of the upcoming 2016 Olympics. People from Rio de Janeiro —the second largest city in Brazil— proudly call themselves Cariocas, a convergence of races and world views that forms one of the most important and vivid cultural hubs in the world. The city was built on centuries of Portuguese colonialism, with intermittent interferences from France, on a tropical mountainous sea shore paradise previously inhabited by at least seven different indigenous peoples with over 20 distinguishable languages. Rio harbors a fantastic cultural heritage of architecture, mainly influenced by Portuguese, English, and French styles. The Theatro Municipal, modeled after the Parisian Opera of Garnier in 1905, is one of those architectural crown jewels. The city magnificently performs the laissez-faire Carioca way of life—reflected in Bossa Nova music—on the elaborate backdrop of pristinely aged European architecture. The scene is doused in golden sunshine under the bluest skies the world has ever measured, starring a cool bowl of blended Amazonian Açaí berries with granola and lush fruits, pão de queijo (small tapioca starch based cheese bread rolls), a can of Guaraná soda, and a warm welcoming people who enjoy their hometown pride rather than letting it go to their heads. There are nightlife opportunities throughout, like in the especially lively Lapa, where it spills into the streets with people from surrounding cities in the greater metropolitan area. There are heaps of fresh shrimp and pastéis, a Portuguised version of an Indian Samosa that is filled with cheese, meat, shrimp, and sometimes sweet guava jam and then deep fried. A night market spans at the arches of an old aqueduct, Samba clubs vibrate from the live music within, and carts clamor to the sidewalks in the incessant stream of people, meddling lime and sugar and pouring cachaça and vodka respectively into Caipirinhas or Caipivodkas. Meanwhile in the cavernous nightclubs of the city, muscle heads with shades and bottled water—on cocaine or ecstasy—float their consciousness on the waves of repetitive beats courtesy of the famous DJs of the hour. Drug trafficking is a problem especially prevalent in the city’s Favelas, community of shantytown style housing built out of necessity on the hillsides. Sewage and water infrastructure is sporadic here, while most houses have electricity. Rio’s efforts to pacify these communities with specialized police forces since 2008 is slowly taking root, including the world’s largest Favela Rocinha, which now offers festivities for Gringos to partake and tours on Moto-taxis. Some worry that an increased general access to wealth and technologies comes at the price of more blatant materialistic and competitive character traits in the population. Towering over the city stands its demure protector, Christ the Redeemer. The world’s largest Art Deco sculpture unwaveringly shares its stunning views with the visitors of the Corcovado mountain top in the Tijuca forest. The beaches of Ipanema, Leblon, and Copacabana not only offer awe inspiring sceneries with sunsets that literally get standing ovations and cheers, but also equalizing spaces for the people. Here, people come together from different background in their swimsuits, stripped of clothing that might imply status or class, and collectively experience the enjoyment of life regardless of wealth. See the 6-page photo essay on Rio de Janeiro in the Print Edition. Photos by Alexander Winter