The last week, Rio de Janeiro and the carnival in the metropolis were the number one topic. And not just in Brazil. The international media were following the happening at the Sugarloaf with great interest. Especially the scantily clad queens of the samba schools, whose hips move faster than quite a few Ferraris, linger in the memory of many. I visited the city at the end of January: One week before the official start of the carnival parades, the so-called “blocos de Carnaval”. A big street party of hot samba rhythms, exuberant alcohol consumption and sweaty bodies. Simply “suada”. Because carnival time is also summer time in Brazil. And many parades occur in the afternoon hours. Led by a samba band people walk, no, they dance for an hour or even longer through the streets of the city.
But let’s get back to the topic: Rio de Janeiro. I will talk about my carnival experiences in further post. It’s said that usually the rainy season begins when the carnival is finished and the late summer has begun. That may be true. But this year it was quite different.
I arrived on Saturday night, January 16, at the Aeroporto Internacional Tom Jobim. It was dark, but oppressively hot. Just like I had remembered the city. I have already visited Rio de Janeiro for five times. Or was it even six times? And every time it was extremely humid and sunny. The best conditions for beach, a siesta with beer and churrasco (the traditional Brazilian barbecue) and some relaxation. The first evening was like that. We arrived at a good friend’s apartment, took a shower and all dressed up. Well, although I had a 15 hour flight that day, I couldn’t think about going to bed. We, Thiago, my fiancé and me went to a bar nearby and enjoyed the evening with beer and meat. We were already making some plans for the next day. Our idea was it to visit the “Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Penha” in the Zona Norte. One of the greenest and likewise most dangerous districts.
But let’s be honest: Is there any municipality or bairro (the official name for a neighborhood) in Rio de Janeiro, which is not somehow dangerous? Everywhere lurk potential dangers – and especially at night time. Armed assaults don’t just occur in the sink estates, the favelas. The tourist spots such as Copacabana and Sugarloaf are also overrun by pickpockets who aren’t afraid to kill for a ten euro chain. Finally drugs, alcohol, and food must be financed somehow. But the fight against the drug cartels and the everyday violence in the favelas cost far more victims. Hundreds of fatal victims. According to the newspaper “O Globo” 114 police officers were killed on duty in 2014. The number of people who have been killed by the military police is more than 300 per year. It is often so-called “resistance resulting in death”. However, many cases create doubt that there was no resistance, just a senseless homicide. For example in the case of the ten-year Eduardo de Jesus who has been shot in the favela “Complexo do Alemão”. He was neither involved into the drug trade nor was his family criminal nor was he caught in the middle of a gunfire. He was simply executed on the street, near to his apartment. The officers are furloughed, the investigation is still going.
Near to this favela is the “Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Penha”. In the early afternoon of January 17, we went to the Catholic Church by car. It stays aloof from the city like a memorial and is just accessible by a very steep staircase with 382 steps or a very slow lift. But the view was worth all the effort. You can overlook the Ilha do Governador and the Guanabara Bay, a bay that is connected to the Atlantic Ocean and separates the two satellite cities Rio de Janeiro and Niterói.
Like most of the Brazilian churches, the “Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Penha” was built in the colonial period during the 17th century. Characteristic is the facade which is decorated with Portuguese tiles (“azulejos”). Right next to the church, there is a small prayer room where you can light up candles for deceased souls. Even a giant moth – larger than my palm – got lost there. Of course, I had to take some pictures. And the moth stared at me all the time. Somehow scary. But that wasn’t the only strange thing about this church. At least not for me as a non-Catholic. On the east side of the building, I discovered an army of small wax figures. As it turned out later, it is a benediction of the believers who had been praying exampli gratia for a healthy leg, a new heart or a child. If their prayers were heard, the body part or a child figure is placed on one of the gift tables as a symbolic impression. Strangely enough, among those gifts there were even breasts and buttocks.
During our stay at the “Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Penha” it began to rain. And the week of rain had heralded in Rio de Janeiro. Not one day passed without torrential rainfall. More than a month too early, according to the calendar. Therefore, we spent most of the time of our stay strolling through museums, relaxing in bars or escaping totally soaked to Thiago’s home.
After visiting the church we went to the Mercado Municipal in the bairro Benfica in Zona Central. It was 15:30 on a Sunday afternoon. Almost all shops were already closed. With much difficulty we could find an open restaurant with hot food. And we ate, as so often, churrasco with fries, farofa (toasted manioc flour), salada (cut vegetables) and salsa (an onion tomato sauce). After we went back to Thiago’s apartment. Because he and his girlfriend had to work the next day. So we finished our second day in Rio with beer and movies.
On January 18, the third day, we wanted to go to downtown to the Centro Cultural and visit the exhibition of abstract art. For that we had to take the metro. And of course we didn’t know where to go there. With the Thiago’s help and Google Maps we could manage to find the route. First we had to go by taxi to Shopping Nova América. From there we could take the linha to the station Cinelândia. Because the Centro Cultural is located about one kilometer far from the metro, we walked the last meters. Throughout street canyons, passing by crowds and with constant traffic noise as background noise. At least we could feel that we were really in the center of the metropolis.
Of course – and how could it be otherwise – we got lost. And what does a Brazilian do when he gets lost? He isn’t searching on his phone. He asks the next passerby for the right direction. But you can’t rely all the time on this description. I haven even already experienced that someone lied into my face and told me the wrong way. Whether out of ignorance or intension – You don’t know it. After an hour of journey time and a thirty minutes by feet, we finally reached the Centro Cultural. To my disappointment, the building was much nicer than the exhibition itself. Abstract installations and artworks by indigenous peoples and other artists were exhibited in three rooms. And I was really disappointed: Few works of art, even less installations and an ice-cold room with an experimental video presentation, which could have been used as a cooling chamber at a restaurant. Somehow the Brazilians overexaggerate the use of the air conditioning. Either it is too cold and one get a cold or there is no air conditioning and one drowns by his own sweat. After the exhibition, we went to an outdoor cafe on the Avenida Rio Branco and ate salgados. Small pastries filled with cheese, meat and other savory ingredients. They are prepared as snacks in lanchonetes or bakeries and typically eaten with sweetened coffee or heavily sweetened juice.
Arrived the subway station, it was already rush hour. We waited for a train, then the next one and another one. Finally, I had the idea that we could go back several stations and go into an emptier subway. Fortunately that worked. But at the station Glória it was extremely full again, as full that one could neither stand still nor had room to move. My fiancé and me were counting the stations until we could finally break out of this livestock transportation and go back to freedom. Nova América/Del Castillo was the station to leave the subway. We squeezed through the masses out of the subway right to the platform. The torrential rain had reinstated. We took a taxi and went back to Thiago’s apartment. And that’s how day three ended in Rio de Janeiro.