When my baby smiles at me I go to Rio

#102. Go to Rio de Janeiro. We left Sao Paulo where the city’s highrises are crying out for a lick of paint, the pastry shops are bulging and there is enough fresh juice to make even the Breakfast Bandit blush (there is no such thing as a juice that isn’t fresh in Brazil), and travelled to the island of Ilha Bela – two hours drive and a ferry ride away. There we stayed overnight at a pousada where our hosts were more than hospitable and we spent a lot of time using hand gestures to get around our lack of Portugese. Ilha Bela is all about the beaches although there seems to be very little left of them. This doesn’t seem to put anyone off as the islanders and thousands of local tourists jam-pack every available spot of sand.

And then it was time to head for Rio – a five hour drive made into 11 hours as thousands flocked back into the city after an Easter weekend.

This city has an edge. You can feel it in the huge police presence (federal, municipal, tourist), and in the towering favelas that rise above the city, by night their winking lights all pretty, by day they are shanties hanging off the mountainsides and commanding the best views of the rich. Around the Copacabana the streets smell of homelessness, and of one too many drunk having relieved themselves on the once pristine black and white stone paving that is the trademark of Rio’s major beaches.

The morning was spent at the Corcovado – the statue of Christ the redeemer – whose outstretched arms and beatific smile command the highest point of the city overlooking a dramatic landscape of mountains and sea, of scattered islands all haphazardly arranged.

Then a walk from Copacabana beach across to Ipanema. The Copacabana feels like Durban’s marine parade before it got messed up by bad design – one long boulevard to be walked, strolled, jogged or cycled, the little beach shacks offering fresh coconut water and caiparinhas.

But no girls to inspire songs here just lots of people covered in tattoos and dressed in very little and with lots to show – it seems North America’s problem is now South America’s problem.   Rio has gone large. McDonalds is everywhere.

We joined in by having lunch at a churrascaria in Ipanema – traditionally Brazilian with mountains of sushi (not so traditional)  and Argentinian beef (OK, I am not sure where the Brazilian part comes in) until more walking was needed.

Everywhere there are people – the rich sandwiched between the poor – and you get the feeling that the city belongs to all who live in it.  In the haze of the afternoon you can warm to this city, its shapes start to become familiar, its edges less rough.

Today Brazil

#101. Head for Sao Paulo, a city that when viewed with one eye half-closed could be Joburg with its army of security guards, razor wire and fences. With both eyes its not Joburg but a city on steroids, a megalopolis of a metropolis with its population of 17 million people living mostly above the ground in high-rise buildings as far as the eye can see.

I watched a helicopter land on the building next to our hotel – it is said that this city has more private helicopters than anywhere else in the world and you would want one too if you saw the traffic — in a day more than 100 000 cars travel Avenue Paulista, the road that cuts through the heart of the citys financial district.

Yesterday we spent the morning in Ibirapuera Park – Sao Paulos green space with thousands of other people running, jogging, skateboarding, strolling and doing whay anyone would do on a beautiful warm day. We took in a free short film exhibition in the park and then headed for Liberdade, the Japanese district of Sao Paulo for lunch. The city has the largest (of course) Japanese population outside of Japan – and Liberdade is demarcated by rows of beautiful ornate Japanese street lights, lots of cosmetics emporia, great supermarkets with vegetables never seen before on home soil and of course good sushi and tourist tat.

This is a city where the rich pay R400 for a good steak at swanky restaurants in the Jardim district while the homeless rub shoulders with you and even follow you down a street yelling all sorts of things you dont understand. Its a bit like home.

But they dont sing songs about Sao Paulo, not like Rio where the Copacabana and Ipanema and all that dramatic landscape makes people want to say something. This is not a city you would want to put to music.

Black Coffee wins

#84. Head downtown for the Mercedes-Benz SA Award for Fashion Design 2009. A few Fridays ago I headed to the Seippel Gallery in End Street for the announcement of the Mercedes-Benz SA Award for Fashion Design 2009. As a kid I used to accompany my mother on buying trips for her clothing store in that part of town which then housed the city’s “schmatte” trade. A few years later I returned to End Street to my then favourite hangout, Idols, a nightclub that thinking back endlessly replayed Roadhouse Blues by the Doors. “Ah keep your eyes on the road, Your hands upon the wheel…” Continue reading