Archive for the ‘My Neighborhood’ Category

The “Beautiful Age” Theatre

June 7, 2010

Last week the city of Rio de Janeiro reopened the stunningly beautiful Theatro Municipal after more than two years of renovation work.  Built between 1906 and 1909, the theatre is one of the landmarks of downtown Rio.  It faces across the extensive Cinelândia plaza looking out at Guanabara Bay and the Sugarloaf Mountain.  On the west side of the plaza sits the stately City Council Chamber and on the east side is the broad Rio Branco Avenue with the National Library and National Museum of Fine Arts just across the street from the theatre.  Both were also built in the first decade of the twentieth century in the same architectural style, symbols of the “new” Rio de Janeiro.

Sugarloaf and Cinelândia Plaza seen from Theatro balcony

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Rio was the political, economic, and cultural capital of the nation.  The Brazilian elites consciously strived to emulate Europe, especially England and France.  During this so called belle époque (beautiful age) the elites physically transformed Rio de Janeiro much the way the Parisian elite had transformed Paris a half-century earlier.  Mayor Francisco Pereira Passos leveled sections of the city center to open wide boulevards, in particular, what today is the massive Avenida Getúlio Vargas and the street that runs perpendicular to it, the Avenida Rio Branco (known as the Avenida Central in the early twentieth century).  Many of the areas that Pereira Passos destroyed were tenements and slums in the central parts of the city and some of the displaced inhabitants migrated into the earliest favelas on Rio hillsides.

Cinelândia Plaza with Theatro Muncipal

The Theatro Municipal was built in the style of European opera houses complete with marble, chandeliers, frescoes, and gold leaf.  French and Italian designers and artisans completed much of the art work.  The restored building lacks a few finishing touches, but it is a jewel.  New gold leaf, completely reconstructed chandeliers, and restored frescoes shine and sparkle.  This belle époque opera house (with 2100 seats) also has the intimacy that is missing in so many modern facilities.  Even in the upper galleries (of the four levels), one can still feel reasonably close to the performers and the acoustics are excellent.

Exterior of the Theatro

On Friday night I attended Giuseppe Verdi’s Il Trovatore (I love Italian opera!).  As I wandered through the building admiring the renovations I wondered how different the crowd and atmosphere must have been a century earlier when the theatre opened.  Surely, the casually dressed crowd of middle-class and upper-class Brazilians looked very different than the elegantly dressed and (largely) upper-class patrons who must have attended performances in 1910.  The streets would have been filled with horses and carriages, and electric streetcars, rather than the automobiles and busses that circled the building (and the metro that runs under it).

Interior of the Theatro

I loved the performance despite the sparseness of the sets. (The director opted for striking costumes and clever placement of a large cast rather than the traditional sets.)  For me, opera is about the power of the human voice to move us emotionally, viscerally.  The performers were very good, and I went home moved.  As I stepped out of the theatre near midnight into the cool night air, the doorways of the Avenida Rio Branco and side streets had already begun to fill up with those who would spend the night sleeping under cardboard and blankets just a short distance from the gold leaf and opulence of this architectural jewel.  After three hours of the exquisite beauty of Verdi and Italian opera I was reminded that despite a century of economic growth and urbanization the social structure of Rio still looked very much as it did when the Theatro Municipal opened in 1909.


Our Lady of Peace

May 4, 2010

Every day I pass the Church of Our Lady of Peace (Nossa Senhora da Paz) located just a few blocks east of my apartment.  It was one of the first substantial buildings in Ipanema when it was completed in 1918.  A lovely cathedral with beautiful vaulting and a soaring altar, the church seems to have a steady stream of parishioners and masses.  It sits across the street from a luxuriant, one-square block park by the same name.

Nossa Senhora da Paz Church

Just outside the church, tucked away in a corner off the sidewalk, behind a wrought iron fence, is a small grotto with the image of Nossa Senhora.  On the street side of the fence is a concrete table rimmed around the top edge by a stone border.  Inside this border, the faithful place lighted candles.  I often see parishioners placing votive candles on the table and then they usually pray and, sometimes, speak to the Virgin.

The scenes bring to the fore my intense exposure to evangelical Southern Baptist worship in my youth and adolescence in East Texas.  In that hellfire and brimstone, revivalist culture I learned to believe that there was but one way to Heaven, through the acceptance of Jesus Christ as my Savior, and that salvation came through direct communication with God.  I was taught that Catholics were evil and, at best, seriously misguided.  At worst, they were hard drinking, uncouth heathens who prayed before idols, in particular, of the Virgin Mary.

When I see these devout Catholics lighting candles and praying to this image of the Virgin Mary, it instantly brings out my old prejudices, even though I long ago left behind the Christianity of my youth.  My years of anthropological training have made me a bit of a cultural relativist willing to entertain the notion that no one has a monopoly on truth, at least, no one can prove to my satisfaction they do.  I say “a bit” because I do not accept the extreme cultural relativist position that all beliefs are equally valid.  As Voltaire said long ago, “understanding is not toleration”.  I may be willing to empathize and try to understand the logic of others’ religious beliefs, but I do not automatically then accept their validity.

The devotion of Brazilians (and all Catholics) to the Virgin speaks volumes about the importance of Catholic values as the fundamental basis of Brazilian culture, a cultural logic for centuries constructed on patriarchy, hierarchy, and a deep sense of collectivity.  It is a world apart from the intensely individualistic and egalitarian ethos of evangelical Protestantism.  I was taught that every man is his own priest, and that salvation ultimately hinges on a direct and personal relationship with God.  There is no need for intermediaries such as priests, bishops, and popes.  Yet this deeply individualistic worldview also produces a mechanistic “community” of individuals rather than an organic community of the collectivity.

Ultimately, the Protestantism of my youth was radical individualism embedded in an atomized community.  Despite the inequalities and hierarchy, the Catholic worldview that has created and shaped Brazilian civilization created a community in which all were bound together, albeit in bonds that were reciprocal, but not equal.  As a child, I may have been speaking to my God directly in a personal relationship, but I was ultimately on my own.  Brazilian Catholics speak to the Virgin Mary, and other intermediaries, rather than directly to God, but they are bound together in ties of solidarity.  They may light candles to the Virgin and carry the burdens of hierarchy and inequality, but all those Protestants nurtured in my religious tradition–who speak directly to their God–do so alone.

Rain, Floods, and Favelas

April 20, 2010

Last week the rains descended on Rio.  On Monday and Tuesday, April 5-6 two months of normal rainfall (nearly 12 inches) cascaded down on the city in a period of 36 hours.  For a city located just above sea level and with hundreds of thousands of people living precariously on the stunningly beautiful hillsides, the rain created havoc and death.

Streets adjacent to Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas

As cariocas attempted to go home from work on Monday night they found themselves surrounded by rising waters that flooded major thoroughfares bringing traffic to a standstill.  The two Rebouças tunnels that connect downtown Rio with Ipanema, Leblon and the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas became parking lots for the hundreds of cars unable to exit the tunnels into the low lying intersections.  Waters sweeping down from the hillsides around the lake lifted the level of the lake over the shores and into the neighboring streets.  Many had to sleep in their cars waiting 8-10 hours before they could leave.  The main bus terminal was isolated by rising waters.  The city simply could not absorb the massive rains.  For two days, Rio de Janeiro came to a virtual standstill as the mayor urged everyone to stay home.

Flooded streets in the Jardim Botanico neighborhood

The traffic and transit problems, however, were bothersome and temporary compared to the catastrophes on the hills around the city of Rio and Niterói across Guanabara Bay.  By Wednesday evening most traffic had returned to normal as the rains ended and the flood waters slowly drained into the Atlantic Ocean.   As emergency crews struggled to reach areas affected by landslides a growing tragedy became clearer and sobering.

Mudslide in Mangueira neighborhood

It has long been a great irony of Rio that the poorest people live precariously on the hillsides with the most spectacular views of the city.  For decades the poor have built their homes up the slopes of the dozens of hills that give Rio its trademark geography.  The process accelerated in the 1970s and 1980s as local governments and populist politicians gave up on trying to remove the slums (favelas) and did little to stop their growth.  Hundreds of thousands live on these hillsides around this city of millions.  Although the constructions are solid—of brick and mortar—they are built on steep hillsides with no planning, permits, or thought given to geological stability.

Mudslide in Morro dos Prazeres

In one strikingly disastrous location in Niterói, people built a street, stores, homes, and a church on top of what had been a landfill.  With the rains last week, the entire landfill beneath these homes on the Morro do Bumba came crashing down taking everything down the hillside and killing dozens.

Where there once was a thriving street in Morro do Bumba

Although last week’s rainfall was the worst in forty years, the flooding and mudslides make it clear that the city has a herculean task ahead, not only to spend hundreds of millions on infrastructure, but also to take a long, hard look at the hillside favelas.  Thousands—if  not tens of thousands—now live on unstable ground that will continue to come crashing down after future rains.  Removing large numbers of poor people from Rio’s hills will be a very difficult political move—and one that most politicians (especially in an election year) will seek to avoid.  Finding adequate housing for the poor has never been very high on Rio’s list of priorities.  The lack of political will today, however, will only mean more tragic deaths in the future.

Happy Birthday, Rio de Janeiro!

March 2, 2010

Rio de Janeiro celebrated a birthday yesterday.  The city was officially founded on March 1, 1565. St. Sebastian is the patron of the city of the “River of January” (first seen by Europeans on January 1, 1502).

Yesterday’s celebration included a 10 meter long birthday cake and free concerts, a big change from the first birthday in 1566 when the Portuguese were engaged in a series of bloody fights with the local indigenous peoples and the French.  Estácio de Sá, recognized as the official founder of the city, was killed in these battles.  The original site of the settlement (what today is the Aterro do Flamengo) was moved inside the Bay of Guanabara for great safety from the Indians and the French.

Monument to Estácio de Sá with Sugarloaf in background

The French had tried to establish a settlement in the mid-1550s.  They were so afraid of the locals that they settled on a small island in Guanabara Bay, one without fresh water.  (Today the island is the site of the Naval School.)  We know a great deal about this failed colony on Villegagnon Island.  Two of its participants later wrote books about their experiences in “Antarctic France”.  One of them, Jean de Léry left us with the greatest account of European-Amerindian relations from Brazil in the sixteenth century.  His History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil, trans. Janet Whately (Berkeley, 1993) is a classic.  Léry spent months with the indigenous peoples because he feared his fellow Frenchmen who were bitterly divided between contentious Protestants and Catholics.  The religious feuding eventually did in the colony and opened the door for the Portuguese to establish a permanent settlement in the 1560s.  The French attacked and invaded the city on several occasions in the following centuries.

Villegagnon Island, 16th century

Those sixteenth-century French and Portuguese colonizers would, no doubt, be astonished if the were to return today.  The setting of the Bay of Guanabara and the Atlantic are still spectacular. The few hundred (thousands of?) Indians have been replaced by ten million inhabitants (including a lot of French who continue to invade the city on a regular basis).

Villegagnon Island today

St. Sebastian is known for his martyrdom at the hands of the Romans in the 3rd century A.D. when he was shot full of arrows and then beaten to death at the orders of the Emperor Diocletian.  In the colonial period in Brazil, the Brazilian masses gradually came to identify St. Sebastian with the Afro-Brazilian orixá (spirit or deity) Oxossi, the hunter and archer.  There are some dozen or so orixás in the various Afro-Brazilian religions (such as candomblé and macumba).  These African-influenced beliefs have permeated all Brazilian culture, even among the vast majority of the population who do not consider themselves adherents of the Afro-Brazilian religions.  According to these beliefs, all of us are protected by/connected to one of these orixás.  (It is somewhat like North Americans’ beliefs in astrological signs.)

St. Sebastian

So celebrate Rio de Janeiro, land of Indians, invading Europeans, and protected by a European saint (riddled with arrows) and an African hunter spirit.  What a city!

Happy Birthday, Rio de Janeiro!


The Animal Game

December 17, 2009

One of the key characters on my street is the man who sells tickets for the “animal game”.  He is one of thousands of men and women who sit each day along the sidewalks of Rio de Janeiro at pontos (points of sale) selling tickets for the oldest lottery in Brazil, the jogo do bicho (or animal game).  This is an illegal, but widely respected, lottery that the authorities (usually) choose not to bother.  Rio, like all Brazilian cities, has many legal lotteries that are very popular.  The jogo do bicho, however, has a longer history than most of the legal lotteries.

My local lottery guy

It began in the late nineteenth century, as a way for the Baron João Batista Viana Drummond to raise funds and publicity for the zoo he had created.  To make the lottery more easily understood, he used animals (ostrich, dog, alligator . . . .) instead of numbers.  Over the years, the lottery became widely played by the locals, and by the late twentieth century, it was in the hands of the so called bicheiros, or numbers bankers.  There are twenty-five different animals each assigned a set of four numbers between 1 and 100.  A bettor can place money on combinations of numbers of two, three, or four digits and one of the animals (the last two digits have to be associated with that animal).

Animals & Numbers

Today, the jogo do bicho is played by tens of thousands of cariocas (natives of Rio) on a daily basis.  (The game is played elsewhere in the country as well.)  The man in the pictures at the beginning and end of this blog entry is a vendedor (dealer) who sits in a broken chair in front of my building most days with a set of note pads and a shoebox. At times, he has someone else with him, and at other times, someone substitutes for him.  People come up, buy an animal ticket and number, and then wait for the results to be announced in the afternoon.  (The drawing is usually at 2 p.m.)  You find out the winning numbers/animals at particular locations in each neighborhood where you can redeem your ticket and receive you winnings.  I have seen these numbers posted at different locations up and down my street.  In the age of the internet, the jogo do bicho now has its own webpage, if you want to check it out, go to:

Printing up the winners

Over the last 120 years, the government has sometimes tried to suppress the game, in particular, because it is a convenient way to launder money, and because it has often attracted high powered criminals to run it.  There has been an ongoing discussion about legalizing the game.  In the 1980s and 1990s some of the richest bicheiros began to put their money into some of the famous samba schools in Rio.  In recent years, a number of the directors of the samba schools have been murdered in what were apparently struggles over control of the game.  Reputedly, about a dozen powerful “bankers” control the operation.  When one local judge in the mid-1990s cracked down on the bicheiros and finally managed to jail some of them, her life was threatened.  None of them served much time.  The recent president of the samba schools association is reputedly the most powerful of all the bankers.

In a survey I saw in the 1990s, this “illegal” lottery had the highest confidence rating of nearly any institution in Brazil.  It easily beat out the police, the courts, and the utilities companies.  I would imagine the Baron Drummond had no idea that he was creating what has become one of the quintessential Rio institutions!

Penny capitalism at work

The Gatekeepers

December 8, 2009

Now, where was I when I left off . . . .

Oh, yes, the cast of characters in my neighborhood.  This will take a few segments in the coming weeks so I can talk about the porteiro, the newsman, the bicheiro, and the trumpeter—for starters.

One of the most important people in my life in Rio is the guy who sits at a desk in the lobby at the entrance to the building, the porteiro (loosely, doorman, or what is often called the super or supervisor in New York apartment buildings).  Every apartment building in Rio has its porteiros.  In the really expensive real estate around me, these men sit in glass booths, at the entrances to their buildings, normally with some sort of gated courtyard in front of them.   They are, quite literally, the gatekeepers to life in the building.  No one goes in or out without passing by them.  Underneath most of the tall buildings around here are subterranean parking garages so the porteiros are also the gatekeepers for cars coming in and going out.  (Not the case for my building.)

Entrance to my building to left of the graffiti filled wall; apartments are on the floors above

The porteiros also serve a vital security function that has become increasingly important in Rio with its increasing crime problem.  The experienced porteiro comes to know all the inhabitants of a building, as well as their daily habits.  Anyone who is not recognizable has to identify him/herself to gain access—first to the gated courtyard or entrance, then to the building itself, usually via the elevators.  The job must be incredibly complicated socially for the porteiro in the high-rent district.  They cannot afford to offend the friends and relatives of the wealthy tenants, but they also cannot err and let someone in the building who might cause problems.  In the last decade, increasingly bolder thieves have sometimes talked their way into the porteiros and then seized them to gain access to apartments to shake down the tenants before heading off with jewels, cash, and valuables.

My building is clearly of the more modest variety with an undistinguished entrance and no gates.  One walks directly into the lobby and up to the porteiro who sits next to the elevators and stairs.  The job here must be more complicated than normal with the constant changeover of tenants.  Probably half the apartments in my eight-story building have temporary tenants, largely tourists, who come for a few days to a few months and then move on.  In short, it must be next to impossible to know with any real certainty who belongs and in the building and who does not.

After observing them for close to three months now, I have realized there are four porteiros who rotate through shifts.  One of them is a young fellow, probably in his early twenties who will barely speak to me.  Two are men probably in their forties who are friendly enough to acknowledge my coming and going with the polite “bom dia” and “boa noite”.  I have been unable to engage either of them in more than the most minimal conversation.  The fourth porteiro, Fernando, is another matter.  He is clearly the senior member of the crew and puts in the most hours.  He is also the friendliest.  More so than the others, he chats with what appear to be the long-term residents (generally an older crowd), and the tourists.

Fernando is a nordestino, that is, from the Northeastern states, the poorest region of Brazil (roughly the equivalent of our Appalachia).  He is from the tiny state of Paraíba on the Northeastern coast.  Like hundreds of thousands of others from the region, he migrated to Rio with his family forty years ago.  I am guessing he is probably in his mid-fifties.  He is very friendly and it took him a while to convince him that I was American and not English.  Go figure.

Fernando on duty

A good relationship with the porteiro is crucial to living in Brazil.  Not only does he know everything going on in the building, he knows who to talk with or where to go to fix any problems you might have.  Where can I find a good store for this or that?  How do I fix my clogged up sink?  What do I do with my plastic bottles and newspapers?  What was all that screaming and shouting in the apartment above mine last night?  Fernando is the man with all the answers.  I have probably been here longer than most of the transient tenants, but not that long yet.  I will keep working on getting to know him in the coming months.  After all, he is the gateway to so much of daily life in the neighborhood and Rio.

On the Street Where I Live

November 18, 2009

After two months in Ipanema I have begun to get to know the neighborhood so I thought I would give you a brief tour.

Map of Ipanema and Leblon

I live on the Rua Visconde de Pirajá, the main commercial street that runs the length of Ipanema (about 1.5 miles).  The street runs in an east-west direction–parallel to the beach–which is two blocks to the south.  Ipanema and the neighboring Leblon (beginning about three blocks west of my apartment) are some of the most affluent neighborhoods (bairros) in Rio.  To the east (around the point—Arpoador) is Copacabana, to the west the Two Brothers (Dois Irmãos) mountains rise up with the Vidigal favela on one side and Rocinha favela on the other.  Behind Ipanema (to the north) is a large lagoon/lake, and rising up above the lake is Corcovado mountain and Rio’s most iconic landmark—the Christ statue.

Leblon and Ipanema looking from west to east with the Lagoa to the left and Copacabana beach around the point

Looking west from Ipanema Beach to Dois Irmãos (18Nov09)

As a rule, real estate values and the “chic quotient” rise as one moves into Leblon and to its west side.  My street continues westward into Leblon as Ataúlfo de Paiva.  This long avenue from east to west is home to many upscale stores and boutiques.  Once you get into Leblon, think M Street in Georgetown (DC) or Westwood in Los Angeles.  The streets on either side of me, especially to the north, are largely residential areas dominated by high-rise apartment buildings, although the occasional old home (built before the 1950s) survives.

My block is primarily high-rise apartment buildings with stores and retail outlets on the street level.  Just across the street I have a small supermarket—Zona Sul.

Zona Sul supermarket

One block to the west is my favorite local bookstore, Livraria da Travessa, which has a very nice café on the second level.  Both stay open until midnight allowing me to come over and browse books, read, and have sandwich or a cappuchino later in the evening.

My favorite bookstore - Livraria da Travessa

One of my favorite spots is a block and half down the street to the east, Polis Sucos (Juice City).  This is a very typical “juice bar” a la Rio.  These places are everywhere and they mix up an astonishing variety of fresh juices and smoothies in minutes.  I am addicted to a thick smoothie made with açaí, a berry from a variety of palm tree.  Brazilians love this fruit.  It is reputed to have health benefits, but I just love the grapelike flavor.  I have to pace myself when I eat this purple concoction with a spoon to avoid “brain freeze”!

My favorite juice bar

Polis Sucos is on a very busy intersection.  I like to sit on the edge of the planter box that surrounds a tree in front of the store.  If I look to the south I can see the beach two blocks away.  If I look to the north, I am staring up at Corcovado Mountain and the Christ statue.  Not a bad seat.  I spend most of my on that spot sipping my juice and watching the people go by.  In my next post I will introduce you to some of the cast of characters in my neighborhood.

Corcovado Mountain & Christ Statue

The Night the Lights Went Out in Brazil

November 15, 2009

At approximately 10:20 p.m. last Tuesday night, the power suddenly went out in my apartment.  Thinking it was something local, I looked out my back window only to discover a city of ten million inhabitants in nearly complete darkness.  Within a few minutes, I could see flashlights and candles appearing in a few of the windows of the high-rise apartment building surrounding me.  When the power did not come back on within a few minutes I could hear rowdy and playful shouts coming from the bars on the street below.  I don’t think the lack of light slowed down the drinking or the singing. . . .

Copacabana in the dark2

Copacabana in the Dark

As it turns out, this was an enormous power blackout (apagão in Portuguese) that spread across most of Brazil—affecting 18 of country’s 26 states and some 90 million people for about three hours.  (In comparison, the blackout on the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada in August 2003 affected about 55 million people and lasted for several days in some areas.)  Brazilian government officials were quick to blame bad weather as the culprit although few Brazilians seem to accept this explanation.  I have to say, that the government explanations have not been very convincing and the Minister of Energy just seems to want to act as if nothing happened.  Officially, several transmission lines short-circuited in the state of São Paulo causing a cascading effect that rippled across the country, in particular, shutting down the massive Itaipú Dam complex on the Brazilian-Paraguayan border.  At the moment, Itaipú generates more electrical power than any dam in the world, and nearly all of Paraguay’s power.  More than 80% of Brazil’s electrical power is hydroelectric.

Brazil Blackouts

São Paulo in the Dark

Despite the massive power failure, the country seems to have survived fairly well.  There was no surge in crime, no looting, and hospitals seem to have managed to take care of the most vulnerable patients.  In the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-Canadian blackout—apparently caused by overgrown trees around transmission lines in Ohio—former U.S. Secretary of Energy, Bill Richardson, supposedly said that the U.S. was “a superpower with a third-world electricity grid.”  Given Brazil’s experience last Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, maybe we should say that Brazil is a “third-world country with a first-world electricity grid!”

The Boy from Ipanema

September 21, 2009

My first weekend in Rio.  Time to explore Ipanema.

Map of Rio de Janeiro

Map of Rio de Janeiro

When the Portuguese first came upon Guanabara Bay in the mid-sixteenth century, they thought it was an enormous river . . . and it was January . . . so they named the small village they founded—Rio de Janeiro.  From the mid-sixteenth to the early eighteenth century, the settlement was a small village located just inside the western side of the bay (Centro on the map), to better protect it from storms, and foreign attacks.  (There are still forts on each side of the entrance to the bay.)  With the gold rush in the mountains of Minas Gerais (250 miles north) in the first half of the eighteenth century, Rio became the principal way into and out of the mining zone.  In 1763, the Portuguese made Rio the capital of their American colony, and it would remain the political capital of Brazil until the inauguration of Brasília in 1960.  By 1900, the city had a million inhabitants, it was Brazil’s political, cultural, and economic capital (but São Paulo would overtake it in size and importance by the Second World War).

The stunningly beautiful solid rock mountains that come right up to the coastline provide Rio with its trademark image.  Until the early twentieth century, they also blocked the expansion of the city southward to its Atlantic coastline.  After the government bored tunnels through the mountains—first to Copacabana, then to Ipanema—locals could begin to build beach houses in what became known as the Zona Sul (Southern Zone).  By the mid-twentieth century, this had become the most exclusive real estate in Rio with the expansion of high-rise hotels in Copacabana, and high-rise apartment buildings in both Copacabana and Ipanema.  Although Copacabana is still thriving, and is virtually one long string of tourist hotels along the beachfront, it has lost it chic ambience.  The area has seen its better days.  (I will get in trouble for saying that in print.)  Ipanema is now the more fashionable address, and Leblon, just to the west of Ipanema, is the most expensive real estate in the city.

A divided six-lane thoroughfare runs the length of both Copacabana and Ipanema filled with traffic zooming along on most days.  On Sundays, the city closes the three lanes closest to the beach, and the street becomes a mall packed with tens of thousands of walkers, runners, bicycles, and baby strollers.  Along the beach from Copacabana to Leblon are numbered lifeguard stations.  I am located at Posto 10.  Supposedly, Posto 9 is where the truly chic people congregate!  This morning, I left my apartment, walked the two blocks to Posto 10 and ran eastward down to the end of the beach (about a mile or so).  The point, known as Arpoador (Harpooner), is a rocky promontory where tourists mug for photos (with the beach in the background), and the locals check out the tourists (and sometimes free careless ones of their valuables).

As I walked back up the beach toward Posto 10 I marveled at the masses of people.  Brazilians come in all colors and shades (mainly deeply bronzed in Ipanema), and they do wear very small bathing suits.  Although the locals (known as cariocas) are famous for an obsession with looking good, everyone wears small swimsuits, regardless of the physique.

Posto 9

Posto 9

The men wear speedo swim trunks (something that would raise eyebrows in the U.S. unless the person is in a competitive swim meet), and the women wear the world’s smallest bikinis, known in Portuguese as tangas (or sometimes, as dental floss bikinis!).  Sorry, no photos of me in my speedo allowed. . . .

I just love that Brazilians are so uninhibited with their bodies, from the young and lean bodies to the overweight men and women of all ages.  Young and lean may be desirable, but any body type is accepted.

Some of the more amazing sights on the beach are the volleyball games, including footvolley (volleyball played like soccer, with no hands).  But more on that another time . . . .