Friday, January 2, 2009

Was she born in Brazil?

No, but I could certainly live here. And find a Brazilian man, and have little Brazilian babies.

Rio de Janeiro is my kind of town. There is so much to see and do. The land is gorgeous and the topography so interesting. We are on the coast so there are miles and miles of beach. But then there are so many hills and mountains and tiny little islands right off the coast. Many of the poorer neighborhoods, the favellas, are built right into the sides of those hills and mountains, right underneath Jesus. Who wouldn’t mind living somewhere where Jesus is always watching?

The food is delicious, and you can get a bite to eat practically anytime, especially late at night. There are lots of little juice and sandwich bars where you can get anything from a Provolone (Provolonay), basically a grilled cheese with a hunk of provolone in a wrap; hamburger and batatas fritas (French fries); queixo and banana (cheese and banana sandwich); bauru (steak, cheese, fried egg, lettuce, tomato sandwich) etc. There are innumerable varieties of fresh fruit juices. Fruit and veggie salads are also plentiful and delicious. Oh, and pizza and crepes and fresh meat of all varieties – chicken, beef, pork, and seafood. Everything tastes delicious. And everything is eaten with a knife and fork – I suppose the Portuguese influence.

Rio de Janeiro also seems to be breeding ground for creativity. The highlight of this afternoon was a visit to the Cidade do Samba (City of Samba), where the top 12 schools of samba all have their workshops where they construct the floats for the Carnaval parade. We got to see the 12 works in progress, and Armando got some video even though video and photos were prohibited. Supposedly, the details of the floats are top secret until the parades and should anything appear on the internet, our guide might be in big trouble.

Even though according to Jaime Cesario, our Carnaval expert, floats these days are just repeating things done in years past without any creative development, I was astonished by the ingenuity I saw. Each year, the school chooses a theme that the Carnavalesco (artistic director) develops through designing the floats and costumes that tell a story. The way in which the themes were materialized in the floats seemed so creative to me. For example, one school’s theme had to do with the theater and so each float was dedicated to a play. Another school’s theme had to do with water, so there was a float with lilly pads, another float that would have a fountain. One school’s theme was about drumming and rhythm. Each of its floats was dedicated to different types of drums and the drums were built to be extra-larger than life. The imagination it takes to not only come up with the themes and ideas, but to envision how each thing will be manifested is so unbelievable to me. It is the kind of creativity I wish for.


This morning we had our second and last ballroom samba class with Bigode. He picked right up where we left off on Tuesday, teaching us more variations on the basic samba step. He challenged us in two main ways. First, an “exercise for our minds”: he played a song and we danced “free” using any combination of the basic samba step and the many variations he taught us. More importantly, he challenged us with speed choosing music each time with a faster tempo. The very last exercise of the class consisted of us doing the basic step to a song that increased tempo as it went along. Impressed by my samba dancing, Bigode asked Armando, “Was she born in Brazil?” No, but I guess he noticed my jeito. Little did I know, the practice of dancing samba quickly with jeitu would come in handy later in the night.

At 10 pm we left our hotel and headed to the court of Sao Clemente, another school of samba. We went to their rehearsal which doubles as a Friday night social. Many schools open up their weekly Carnaval rehearsals to the public, charge a small fee, serve food and beer – and it is a popular form of weekend nightlife in the community. At Sao Clemente we witnessed the rehearsal of the bateria (drumming section), the flag carrier, and the passistas. It was incredibly exhilarating and fun to watch people samba and to dance samba to the drumming of the bateria… they were so tight and after a while the sounds reverberating through my body took over as I began to samba. I wished so much that I had my sister and best friend and my Courtney and Vanessa etc etc here to see, learn and dance samba with me. All of you would love it – and work it out!

They told me, “Amiga, Arrasou!!” (Ah ha zo) Which literally means, “Girl, You finished it!” A better translation is along the lines of when we say, “You killed it!” “You put it down!” “Fierce!”

One man from Sao Clemente invited me to parade with the passistas. Too bad my visit to Rio ends in a few more short days. This is just one example of things that have happened in the past few days in which I am not only blending in with the natives, as my mother says, but I am being adopted by them.

Now all I have to do is learn Portuguese, and passing for Brazilian will be a piece of cake.

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