Results tagged “Rio” from Ben Burford: Ben's Brazil Bacation

Second day in Rio, part 2

We cruised through the streets of Niterói heading toward the bridge to Rio. The two ways to get from Niterói to Rio are the bridge and the ferry. It's a short hop to the terminal in Niterói, and it lets off in Rio right downtown. But then there's the bridge. We never saw any real traffic there, and when we were with Marcelo, that's the route we took. But he also managed to tell us a few horror stories about the traffic there, enough to make us totally afraid of the unseen menace.

NiteroiStreet.jpgWe were itchy to get to Copacabana and pick up our Carnaval tickets. Jean had been dealing with several brokers at one location, going back and forth from elated to bummed out to broke to thrifty. We had finally landed on seats in Sector 7, which is for the locals. The tourist sector has reserved seats, but the only ones left were right on the ground. None of us thought that would be as good, and opted for taking our chances in Sector 7, which has no reserved seats. You just got there and plopped down, kind of like at a high school football game. The brokers assured us it would be a great Carnaval experience, and the tickets cost less than tourist sector. After having been once, I can see how it might be an interesting alternative to be at ground level--but not with the tourists--definitely with the locals.

Marcelo went some mysterious way through Rio to Copacabana, occasionally pointing something out and telling us what it was. We passed a bunch of fantastic governmental buildings from the colonial period and later. They were huge, ornate, and filled with broken windows and covered with graffiti. They were right at eye level a lot of the time as we zoomed through Rio on the expressway. It broke my heart to see the waste of beauty and the destruction of same. I asked Marcelo if any of these historic treasures were being renovated for re-use. He said that a few were. At least they weren't tearing them down. Better to have them sit there and be reawakened at a later date by somebody with some vision than to be bulldozed just for the land. But I suspect there isn't a bunch of money lying around Rio to participate in THAT KIND of foolishness.

We wound through downtown Rio, weaving our way to Copacabana. Everything was closed. And I mean EVERYTHING. The metal garage-type doors were down everywhere. Each was covered with graffiti, of course, and it presented a creepy post-apocalyptic scene. Jean asked Marcelo why everything was closed for Carnaval, when it seems like the merchants could make more money when more people were in town. Marcelo replied in a tone filled with respect, humor and bewilderment, "Because they would rather be having fun." And that RIGHT THERE is the heart of the Brazilian existence. Marcelo's respect is well felt.

After ten or fifteen U-turns in various places, we arrived at the ticket place. It was still raining, and the sidewalk came right up to the street in a giant puddle. Marcelo pulled right up onto the sidewalk enough to park over the puddle for us to get out. Wow! Like an automotive Sir Walter Raleigh, he was! We all tiptoed out of the car, me especially, since I had on vented Crocs with socks (standard) and knew that the water could still rush into my shoe.

We dashed into the place, which was very cool, with no walls, only glass partitions and large curved counter at the back of the room. There were mannequins dressed in various Carnaval costumes, and pictures of the different samba schools on the walls. A couple of videos of a never-ending Carnaval (probably from last year) were going nonstop, and a staff of several good looking Brazilians was helping the clientele.

We were all elated to find that our tickets were indeed there, legit, and without strings or asterisks attached. We trooped back outside, dodging rain and puddles and piled back into the car. I had left my camera in duffel position right on Marcelo's floor. Like leaving it with a priest. At that point we had decided that we lucked into meeting the only guy we would want to usher us through life in Rio. Particularly since Daniel and Patricia weren't due to arrive till 7 a.m. the next morning. Marcelo was going to take us to Carnaval that night, then pick us back up when we called (expected to be around 4 a.m.)  I never for one minute thought anything different would happen, and it was one anxiety crossed off my list.

As we pulled off, Marcelo asked us where we wanted to go.

"Take us to see some old stuff," I said. The others didn't seem to care, and nodded in agreement.

"All right," Marcelo said, and headed toward the old part of town. On the way, all of us asked him various questions, many inane. He would respond in his patented manner each time, and seemed to know more and more every time we asked him anything. I was giddy with busting down not only first-acquaintance barriers, but having another language coach to help me with my Jones to learn fluent portuguese in three days.

We arrived at a square and parked with no difficulty. There was absolutely nobody downtown. We were right across from the Old Cathedral and next to the statue of Tiradentes, two vital pieces of not only Rio's, but Brazil's history as well.

ChurchSideview.jpgSomehow, this gorgeous Cathedral had escaped the insult of graffiti, as far as I could tell. Across the street was the Palacio Tiradentes, an old public building that was now serving as a museum. During our various excursions around Rio, Marcelo would point out several historic buildings that were now museums. I liked that.

palaciotiradentes.jpgpigeon.jpgIn front of this fantastic building was a statue of Tiradentes, Brazil's number one martyr. Marcelo gave us the lowdown. (Man! He knew a bunch about Brazilian history!) In a nutshell, during the late 1700s, Portugal was taking Brazil's gold (a true motherlode) rapidly, and using the Brazilians to mine it. When they mined less than Portugal expected, they were taxed on the difference. Tiradentes saw the heinous inequity, and plotted to overthrow the whole rotten deal and establish freedom for the people. He was betrayed by a man he believed to be a friend and compatriot. Tiradentes was arrested, hanged, then quartered, his body parts marched throughout Rio and sections of Brazil to truly quash any type of rebellion they may have had in mind. I hate people that do stuff like that.

Here's Tiradentes in his stony glory. Notice the shackles on his wrists if you can.

Another cool statue at the Palacio was kind of Mrs. Robinson-esque, if you ask me. I don't know who these characters are, but I'm sure they've got a mythical story of some kind to tell. Look how tiny, yet adult, the guy is! What gives?

WomanboystatueRio.jpgWe wandered further across the square, to where the old port was located. Marcelo explained that in the early 1900s, Rio had expanded their land mass by filling in part of the bay with old garbage and dirt, and making new real estate! This was part of an archaeological excavation that revealed the original port and structure fronting it. Elsewhere in Rio, there are remants of an ancient aqueduct that serviced the city. These pictures are particularly cool, with the old port structure juxtaposed with the modern mirror-fronted building behind it. The next picture features a local and his possessions. Was he homeless? I didn't know. Marcelo didn't volunteer any information if he had it.

We walked further down a cool alleyway next to a place where a horrible tragedy took place, according to Marcelo, but gol-durn if I can remember it! Maybe he will refresh my memory for accurate reporting. A whole family was burned up there in the 1700s, I know. And the place opened onto this cool alleyway, where we met a group from England! English-speaking Englishters! We had a brief exchange with them, before they figured out we were probably morons, and split. Notice the woman "splitting" in the photo. Her rainwear looks like something the Queen would wear. Frumpy, yet elegant, yet functional. How do they do it?

coolalleyway.jpgAfter wandering through the alley, we came upon this sculpture that I swore I had seen before. I knew it was by a famous artist! I made Jean, Pettus and Robo pose by it. Their expressions tell the tale: "He's an idiot."

TheRioRunningStatue.jpgWell, I'm NOT!  When I finally saw all my pictures, I realized that I had seen this very sculpture, or its brother, outside in Salvador at the Museum of Modern Art. HA!  I emailed Carol, who did the research necessary to find out that the artist is José Resende. The work is untitled.

runninmansalvador.jpgWe exited the series of alleys onto a stellar view of the Igreja de Candelária, one of the most exquisite churches in Rio. The first thing I noticed was the graffiti on the minarets. HOW did somebody get up there? Why were they not struck by lightning while defacing this incredible structure?

And here's Robo taking a video of the church with me bitching about the graffiti in the background.

RobovideoRio1.jpgThat boy can make a face, can't he? It's amazing the way he can contort those Nordic good looks into such great expressions. He and Pettus are both incredibly photogenic, and look like they stepped off the pages of some calendar for "Ski Stockholm" or something. The last photo shoot I did, I was playing "obnoxious car salesman sitting in hot tub talking on cell phone." Enhhh. It's a living.

We continued our trek through the historic district. We were right on "First Avenue," and Marcelo will have to clarify for me, but basically, this was the first street in Rio, or was named so because the Old Cathedral was on it. Marcelo, meu irmão! Help us here!

There were gorgeous architectural details everywhere, too many to photograph. I will say that an attitude like that does not an accurate record make. I see that though I shot over 1300 photos on this trip, I missed that many more opportunities for that many different pictures. Sigh. Look at this cool drain spout. Spouting water, of course. It was still raining.

We arrived back at the car, after a good little tour that felt like nothing more than a fun walk with Marcelo in the rain.

Driving out of Rio, I was able to capture some serious decorative graffiti. Here again, is this street art, or is it an urban nuisance? As in Salvador, was it sanctioned by the government? I hardly see how art this beautiful and complex could be produced on the sly.

Riograffitilong1.jpgOn the way back over the bridge to Niterói, I was able to snap some great shots of all the cranes and industry that lined both sides of the bridge. Rio is a huge car producer, which blew my mind. That's the good news/bad news for Brazil, I think. They are so ripe for becoming a big economic success, with resources out the ass, and a good potential labor force. But a lot of the success seems to rest on the back of the rainforest. Is it fair to deny these people the economic success we have? Is it fair to screw up the world by raping the country's vital ecologial underpinnings? I never did get Marcelo's take on all of this, but I suspect, with his love and knowledge of nature (which we discovered later), he would be opposed to wholesale pillage of the jungle.

Notice the elegant sculptural beauty of this favela. If the same spirit pervades here as it does in Salvador, these people have it made in their own way. Beautiful view all day long, Neighbors they like, trust, and who help each other, and a minimum of hassles from "the man." That is, unless the scourge of drugs and discontent sets in.

This fascinating island paradise is a school for the navy.

navalbase.jpgWe passed through the toll booths into Niterói. There were signs advertising a "fast pass" sort of thing that involved a bulk payment and then free access back and forth. Marcelo told us how he had purchased one of those once. Immediately after he bought it and tried to get through, he was stopped for a reason unknown to him, and the "guy" took his pass away and sent him on. HUH??? Marcelo had no explanation for it either.

The streets of Niterói along the water are picturesque, curvy, and often bordered by walls of some sort. We passed the "Iacht Club," I think it's spelled. But it's pronounced "yotch." Again, I need Marcelo's clarification, because it's a neat way to say "yacht."

Before long, we had skirted the beaches that once looked strange and unfamiliar to us, turned at the McDonald's onto the boulevard where we began our Rio adventure, and proceeded to turn through the median too soon. Ha! We had to do the same old U-turn gag from the day before, and we gave Marcelo some good old American shit about it.

After the traditional hairpin turns on a cobbly, rainy road, after passing the "favela" on the way that was ACTUALLY construction in progress, after revving up for the final big hill, and after the thumbs up to the "guard," we got the code right on the first try, said goodbye to Marcelo, and agreed for him to be back in a couple of hours to take us down to Paludo for dinner before Carnaval. As it was requested, it was delivered.

It hit me. Marcelo was the new Carol. I felt like some kind of adulterer.


Second day in Rio, part 3--Carnaval

Dinner was weigh cool

The Rio Holiday information had said that Niterói had several good restaurants, and that they were right down the hill from Mirante de São Francisco. It was not only correct, it was CORRECT.

We had asked Marcelo that day where we should eat before Carnaval. He indicated several good choices, briefly describing each. We decided on Paludo because it was deemed as a family restaurant with a good variety, but not too fancy, and it would not be as time-consuming as some of the more elegant choices. We told Marcelo what we had decided, and he replied with "the look" and another expression of his that I particularly loved, "Ees very good." We believed him, of course, because he wasn't just some guy trying to find us a restaurant. He was our pal, and knew what for. Besides, I had already transferred Carol's proxy to him. He was duty bound.

Paludo fronts the beach, like all the other restaurants we tried on our stay. It was a very lively scene, with scores of friendly folks milling around everywhere. Were it not for the air thick with unfamiliar words, we could have been in any cool beach town in the US. But the similarity ended there.

The schtick at Paludo is very simple. You select your meal from an incredible array of foods buffet style, and then you are charged for the weight of your plate. Cool!  And when I say "buffet style," I don't mean a metal rail, your tray, and a lineup of hairnetted women named Pearline and Maudie asking, "Serve you please?"
Not at all. The food is presented in a maze of goodness. All the offerings are under sneeze glass, and the serving tables are arranged in a serpentine fashion that offered more and more interesting choices each time you turned a corner. I suppose a very smart, thrifty, fat person could really maximize his portion if he knew the average weight of the stuff there. I would think that shrimp would be lighter than, say, beef. Don't think for a minute that I didn't consider these things. "Matzoh ball? No thanks. I think I'll have this lobster mousse."

The place was really good, elegant design for a "family" restaurant, though I did see several kids. It was on two levels, with a glass front wall, so there were beach views from the top floor, which we chose. We asked Marcelo to eat with us, but he politely declined, saying he was going to sit in the bar. We told him not to get too drunk, and he promised to behave.

Our food was delicious, and the seating was nice. I had felt better during the day, but was still feeling kinda weeeennnh. Nevertheless, I managed to eat most everything I put on my plate, and had beer and coffee. I guess that doesn't really describe somebody that feels kinda weeeennnh, and in retrospect, it might have been slight anxiety about the hurdles required for a successful Carnaval experience. I had my camera, of course. We had all decided that at the price of tickets, there probably wouldn't be any camera snatchers running around. And in a packed bleacher, no neer-do-well was gonna go anywhere fast.

While we ate, the big-screen TV on the wall next to us was playing what we decided was a Carnaval-based soap opera. I'm not kidding. This Brazilian drama was replete with über-hot bodies and slick, tanned skin, flashy costumes, and intercut with what I assume was actual footage of a past Carnaval. I still didn't totally get the concept of Rio's Carnaval, having only the crazy Salvador experience under my belt.

I may be dreaming this, but I think Marcelo sent us over a dessert, or bought our dessert or something? Maybe not. I don't know. Maybe I'm getting it mixed up with the time we had to drag him drunk out of a bar and throw him in the back with the propane tank. Or did I dream that? I didn't know what was real anymore, with the Carnaval soap opera, the acidophilus and all.

We were off to O Sambódromo (the Sambadrome)!

Unidos da Tijuca deflowers us with overstimulation

Early intelligence had said that the Sambódromo was in a sketchy part of town, and to be very careful of everything. I guess the grab-and-dash gag would be the thing to watch out for most of all when you were outside going in. Marcelo let us off right by a gate, and told us to call him when we were 30 minutes from being ready at the same place. He had given Jean his cell phone number earlier, and all ducks were in a row. Our tickets included some kind of magnetic swipe card, and something we wore around our necks to get through the various check-points to Carnaval. I had my camera in duffel position 1 and clutched to my chest like a baby as we threaded our way over mud puddles spanned by boards, through crowds of people not only in plain dress, but an extremely sweaty contingent wearing elaborate costumes in various stages of removal. Here's where the photographer with the balls gets the great shots. Not Ben Burford. "Waaaaahhhh!!! Waaaahhhh!! Noooo! Don't touch my camera!!! Waaaaahhhh!!!" Robo, meanwhile, had the temerity to take his little bitty video camera out and get a little footage. It won't happen that way next time. I'm not having missed-shot malaise ever again.

Once inside, nothing looked threatening at all, and in retrospect, it wasn't really that way outside, either, if you were in a crowd. I released my death grip on the camera and even considered getting a couple of shots before we went up. But there was nothing really interesting enough (not) to make me take that gol-durned camera out of that gol-durned duffel bag and THEN go through the other shit. I need a camera welded onto my wrist some way.

We began the trip up all the stairs to Sector 7. It was like being at Legion Field back in the day. Vendors everywhere, people milling around everywhere, concrete, steel, and stairs, stairs, and more stairs. When we reached our spot and emerged out in the open, Tijuca had just begun their show. It was a strange, yet totally familiar sight.

grandstandfeatherguy.jpgGood googly GOOT! The place was packed! And everything was wet from a recent shower. At least we weren't there for that. We surveyed the situation, and finally found a spot, of course halfway down an aisle. Pettus led, followed by Robo, Jean and then me. I was the caboose powered by a poor rendition of liçensa, a shortening of the expression for "excuse me."  Nobody seemed particularly bothered by us, and many returned my expectant smile immediately.

Somebody asked us if we wanted Tijuca flags, and of course we accepted them eagerly. All righty! We were here! There was no danger of any kind except possibly dying from overstimulation! Nothing but smiles and excited people. We had a few minutes to get acclimated before the parade got to us. Being in Sector 7, we were dead center, and right across from the judges!!! Yepper! They were going to be doing the maximum show when they were in front of US! Not that anybody behind us would get less, because everybody in every parade was so pumped they were about to explode. You could feel it physically, I swear.

Tijucapeacock1.jpgUnidos da Tijuca (referred to as Tijuca) was coming slowly from our right. The first thing we saw, besides the blue and yellow flags that we were frantically waving, was a gigantic blue and gold peacock who would furl and unfurl its wings in time to the music that I hadn't caught onto yet, blaring tastefully and pleasingly from the speakers that lined the runway. Nice, we all thought. What kind of motor would that take, Robo and I wondered. And then we discovered that the peacock's epidermis was homo sapiens, and its feathers were controlled by same. Meu Deus!


Second day in Rio, part 4--Carnaval

Once we had gotten over the shock of the peacock, we were able to settle in and really look at the stuff coming next. But first, you need a primer on Rio Carnaval.

This is the Carnaval that you've seen on TV with the near-naked, feather clad women dancing in impossibly high boots. It's also so much more. There are 12 Samba Schools. Their sole existence relies on their performance at Carnaval every year. Samba Carnaval in Rio, unlike the other side parties, citywide blocos and parades, etc., takes place over two days, with an extra "parade of champions" day featuring the finalists. The first six schools parade the first day, and the other six the next day.

Each school has a music director, a costume director, and everything else to put on an eye-popping show. They are all housed in what Marcelo told us were the "shacks," big old buildings downtown that have been repurposed for fun. Every year, the schools have a theme for the parade, in addition to theme music written especially for the performance, I think. The theme song is sung by the whole school, peppered with live percussion, and repeated for the entire time the school is on the street. There is an MC who also serves as main vocalist, driving the whole song to a fever pitch for almost an hour. All the MCs I saw were gigantic, lusty black Brazilian baritones who would put Luther Vandross to a serious test.

There are various levels of participation. You can go to your samba school all year long to perfect intricate choreography, you can take a lighter schedule and do some basic moves, you can pay for your costume, know the samba step, and promise to be in the "best-of" performance should your school get there, or you can be a hot Brazilian star. If you're there strictly to samba without any preparation, you buy your costume at one of several outlets representing the schools, show up at the Sambódromo when you're supposed to, and hit the street alongside several thousand other rabid folks with the same theme song stuck in their heads. And please don't forget the 300+ costumed percussionists that are interspersed throughout each performance for maximum force of samba beat.

I don't know how much of your costume you actually get to keep, but I suspect it's only the headgear, as evidenced by the two feather-clad guys in the last section. Or maybe the school takes them up for cleaning and safekeeping should they make it to the finals.

Meanwhile, Tijuca was bringin' it on, with an instantly memorable theme song, and the subject of "things collected." Here is a cool penguin float followed by a closeup of some of the major players in Tijuca's show.

penguins.jpgPenguinGals.jpgNotice the people hanging out of the camarotes. They're the private boxes that you can buy a regular old ticket for, or come to party with one of the several companies, etc. that rent them for the event. Also notice the furry blue bears and the closeup that follows: cutout belly and vents galore.
Next came the most fascinating, yet creepiest thing in Tijuca's arsenal: a dollhouse with myriad rooms, populated by real live dolls and real dead dolls of both sexes. Two towers of this palace were womaned by a couple of über hot Brazilian genies, and a bride wearing white (who was certainly no virgin!) did the old siren gag off the balcony for the judges. The dormer windows featured dolls in blackface that would put on and remove their masks not only in time to the music, but in a mechanical fashion that scared me. These were obviously the year-rounders, because they performed their choreography seamlessly without being able to see each other.

The dolls were ultra-creepy, like dolls tend to be.

creepydolls.jpgBut then they'd throw in this dash of Rowrrrrr with the genie girls, and it would balance out into some kind of Twin Peaks fantasy.

creepysexy.jpgThe way these parades worked is, they would intersperse the basic elements: floats, highly trained participants, lightly trained participants, percussion sections, samba steppers only, movie and TV stars in duos as flag couples, and movie and TV stars solo and in tiny costumes like they should be. There is a rule against any genital nudity, and a g-string is required for all hotties. The stars would have their own performing areas, and were like little dabs of rich chocolate on a dessert. The choreographers spaced everything perfectly. The blue bears you saw above were one-time samba steppers. The guy in the big hoop skirt was probably a part-timer, and the dolls doing the big gig in the dollhouse were surely full-timers. But what do I know, really?

Here's one of the stars of Brazilian TV for your inspection.


Second day in Rio, part 5--Carnaval

Tijuca continued their assault on the Sambódromo, and the floats just got wilder and wilder.
This little number here was a real eye-popper. The first half was a giant psychedelic mushroom with little elves rising from the top in rhythm.

elves.jpgThis was followed by two 25 foot tall, bald, topless fairies. Fantastic bodies, but glitter for hair, and slightly menacing expressions. Compare their size to the operator on the ground and the people gawking from the camarotes. On the heels of the dollhouse, this was also visually thrilling and unsettling. The giant multicolored pixies were moving up and down in time to the music as well, due to the people on the float producing sympathetic vibrations, but in other cases from a hidden operator inside. I was beginning to feel the vibe of the Rio designers, and how it compared with Carnival that I'm familiar with in Mobile and New Orleans: gaudy, wild, scary, funny, mysterious, otherworldly. But Rio had them beat, hands down. This was serious, fun and fantastic entertainment.


By now, I had sorted out the three types of Carnival that I had experienced:

  • Mobile/New Orleans: Parade in Streets. Throw Stuff. Have exotic floats and costumed riders. No music, per se. Celebrity riders and officiants in New Orleans.
  • Salvador: Parade in Streets. Throw stuff occasionally, but not as a centerpiece. T-shirts as uniform in a private parade. Incredible music, fabulous music, unbelievable music, party music: the reason for the parade.
  • Rio: Parade in confined area, though smaller festivities are held city-wide. Don't throw stuff. Floats and costumes with riders, but 50-fold the number of participants. Floats and costumes far more elaborate, and choreography a cornerstone. Music vital, but limited to one original samba theme sung continuously during the performance. The songs are written for each school, each year. Celebrities pepper each school's performance.
See? It's a little mix-and-match kind of a thing. But once again, Brazil's Carnaval was superior to Mobile/New Orleans in its orderliness, not only from the participants, but from the crowd as well. This was not a wholesale drunkathon like I pictured.

Here's a famous pair of Brazilians. I don't know who, or if they're linked or what, but each school had these power couples as an important part of their parades. Notice the Tijuca flag. This group was founded in 1931, and is one of the oldest in Rio. It is named for the Tijuca forest, which abuts Rio in a particularly great way: total forest and nature blends into the botanical gardens, and it's all within a manageable distance from the city folk.

tijucacouple.jpgThe next float was populated by sexy girls, guys in top hat and tails, and a chandelier with human candles. I believe this float represented time, or elegant furnishings, one. I don't believe I could keep up the payments on THAT kind of light fixture.

chandeliercloseup.jpg The display of butterflies was right on the heels of this float. I believe that butterfly collecting is very big in Brazil. Pictures made from their iridescent wings are commonplace in antique stores. I don't know what the modern Brazilian thinks of the hobby, but I suspect it's become un-PC by now with extinction and all.

TijucaButterflies.jpgSpeaking of extinction, next came my favorite bunch of samba steppers in the Tijuca show, and probably the whole thing: the dinosaur guys! Their bony heads and tails produced a delightful synchronized wiggling with the music that was funny and mesmerizing.

The dinosaurs in the picture above look like Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo belting out a big tune. In reality, they were probably just a couple of fun-loving Brazilians with a wife and two kids, who had a pleasant buzz. Their direct contact with the crowd was not only part of the big picture, but a neat micro-view as well. Each of the samba-stepper groups had this type: the real hams that brought a potentially homogenous group to life.

The last float was dedicated to art, and featured a gigantic Winged Victory surrounded by artists with canvases that rotated to reveal two different images. When they flipped them in unison it was dazzling. The twirly artists were flanked by statues, who were sometimes topless.

tijucastatues.jpgAll of Tijuca's blinding excess came to an end just as all the schools did: with the cleanup crew. I couldn't help but flash to the end of "Peabody's Improbable History" on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.

tijucacleaners.jpgIt was at this point when Robo paused his video camera, turned to us, and said in a tone dry as sand, "I've seen better." I thought I was gonna fall off the bleachers. But our new friends, somehow having no trouble understanding what was said, completely missed the hilarity of the understatement. They whipped around to look at Robo with faces that were very easy to read.

"No! No!" Robo protested, hands and video camera up. "I was kidding! Kee-deeeng!"
My gigantic Cheshire cat grin, with Pettus and Jean laughing in the background defused the situation instantly. Robo began to explain that we had never seen anything like this in our lives, which to our new pals must have sounded like "dilekns gop0-nslliosj lsdjpiagpj;l sgkjgjsgj"  delivered at lightning speed and covered in flop sweat.

Tijuca had moved on past Sector 7, to Sector 9, 11, 13, and finally out under the arches and into freedom--either to go home, or come back into the stands as many samba-steppers did. The next group up, beginning at the far end in about 20 minutes, was Imperatriz. A breather was required.

Second day in Rio, part 6--Carnaval


Imperatriz salutes John and his Marys

During the intermission, we had a chance to begin real conversations with the new friends who surrounded us in the stands. To begin with, they were delightfully accommodating to us when we came barging down the wet aisle to find seats. Jean's "obrigado" was the first thing that clued them in to our Americanness. Yeah, right. I'm sure Robo and Pettus' blonde hair glinting in the lights of the Sambódrome didn't tip our hand either. Unless they were mistaken as Argentinian. We're also lucky that Robo's delightful sarcasm at the end of Tijuca's performance didn't get us tarred and feathered. Though the feathers would have been beautiful.

It was a big guy about my age who had handed us the Tijuca flags. He was surrounded by friends, including his sister (I think she was). During Tijuca, we would nod excitedly to each other, me scattering belezas like fish food; Robo, Jean and Pettus beaming with international smiles. And don't think we didn't regale our new Brazilian pals with a heaping helping of "gah-lay"s, either, because our hyperpolic American slang blended in beautifully with the samba theme.

flavia.jpgThe guy's sister sitting next to me was Flávia Rios, a lawyer from Rio. She was ebullient, friendly, and made us all glad we had picked those seats. The friends she had with her were equally pleasant, but she was clearly the ringleader of fun. I tried all the Portuguese on her I had in my bag, and eventually began mixing it with Spanish, which she was more familiar with than English or my mishandling of her verbs and nouns. Around this time, one of the many vendors climbed the bleachers stepping through the crowd like he was dodging land mines. It was amazing. Their balance while holding giant coolers on their shoulders was uncanny. Then being able to park in front of their customers, cooler on a bended knee, while hardly causing a stir at all--it was more than I could take in. Flávia bought us a beer just as the massive explosion of fireworks to our east announced the arrival of Imperatriz.

These scary ladies, who all bore a striking resemblance to Wayland Flowers' partner "Madam," began the parade: a salute to King John VI of Portugal, and the Marias in his orbit: his mother, Maria the Mad Queen of Portugal; Marie Antoinette; and Maria Leopoldína, his Austrian daughter-in-law. King John fled Napoleon's nasty temper in 1808 for Portugal's colony of Brazil and set up life and Portugal's capital there. His influence on the culture and lives of Brazilians is celebrated heavily in Rio, and particularly this year as the bicentennial of the royal family's arrival. Viva a Realeza! Long live royalty! (I think). Opulence and decadence were sure to follow, all to Imperatriz' samba theme, a möbius strip of beats, extemporaneous exhortations, and the name "Maria" the only thing recognizable out of the thick mass.

imperatriztrio.jpgI  began to notice more about the parades, like the existence of a gaggle of sideline coaches and conductors. This guy could just as well be working a soccer match, with that pose.

imperatrizcoach.jpgI had a hard time figuring out who these next guys were supposed to be. Were they the King and Maria in bedclothes with the beds attached? Were those things mirrors? I had no idea. The picture looks like these folks are kind of panicking because they're tangled up or something.

troubleimperatriz.jpgI wasn't quite sure what the next two groups were. I think they were fancy men followed by fancy women. Don't tell me those costumes aren't hot as hell.

masculinity.jpgFlávia told me that the flag couple were stars in Brazil, and that most of the solo hotties were, as well. That was the first I had heard of this phenomenon, but it made sense. It also would help in the competition to have a huge star in your show. There were many elements that made up the judges' eventual score, and that was just one of them. I read that the performance of these flag-bearing couples can rack up 40 points. It didn't say out of how many total, but it sounded important nevertheless.

imperatrizflagcouple.jpgAll of the floats had poles for the riders to hold onto. When everybody starts to samba together on one of those things, the sway is rhythmic and can be rather drastic. Without the poles, they'd be flinging people into the crowd from both sides. I think it would be kind of scary to ride on one, being such a vertiginous sort.

imeratrizpoles.jpgThe next float looks like a representation of the French Revolution. Uhh. Yeah. Marie Antoinette and all.

FrenchRevolution3.jpgNext came the Brazilian hottie. She was an exotic bird on acid as she pranced her beautiful self around. The picture of the conductor and the single percussion guy looks like he's telling him not to come yet--the star was still performing in that space. I don't know, though, he could have been a star in his own right, and doing a little tambourine solo or something.

notyet2.jpgThe golden twirlers that followed were so very cool. You can't tell anything from a still picture, but when all that gold starts rotating at the same time, changing directions like birds in flight, it is mind blowing. Plus, you couldn't see their arms so well under those enormous costumes. Woo-WEE!

imperatrizgoldtwirl.jpgThe gigantic horses that followed the golden girls were impressive, to say the least. Especially the way they trotted in time to the music. Part sympathetic vibrations, yes, but was somebody moving them? I don't know if that was true in this case. This float was an eye-popper with two bigwigs on top. I would think the horses would have gotten tired from pulling not only the coach with all those people, but the house as well. The guy in the green jumpsuit looks half like a trainer and half like the guy who is in charge of scooping up giant Plaster of Paris horse patties.

imperatrizhorses.jpgDolphins and parakeets followed the horses. I didn't know what they represented, but now think they show the King's passage to Brazil and his discovery of dolphins and parakeets.

dolphinsparakeets.jpgFollowing my theory, this next group are the new types of cooks he met in Brazil, and the new foods that he found here.

And do you have these flowers in Portugal, your majesty? Don't forget the great fishing, King!

handmaidens.jpgThe favorite thing found by the King when he came to Brazil was gold. It had already caused all kinds of trouble and resulted in meanness and body parts toted through the city. I wonder if the bankers were the ones who wanted to represent gold.

goldimperatriz.jpgIt's fun trying to put my made up Brazilian history with what I think these floats are. Therefore, I will tell you that this next float represents the botanical gardens that were started by King John VI. And yes, after a quickie Google, I find that this was indeed the king that graced the city with one of the most stunning gardens in the world. But I should have known that already, because Marcelo told us all about it when we saw them in all their glory ourselves. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

The batch of foliage that followed I was not sure of. Maybe Spanish Dagger women? Did they bring these over from Portugal to Brazil?

spikygirls.jpgThe last float featured people in weird poodle puff outfits representing what I don't know. It surely was also peopled with members of the old guard, who had been with Imperatriz for years, or were important to the school. They played big parts on many floats as well, and were sprinkled throughout the performance in key places.

Whew! The cleanup crew followed, giving everybody a chance to breathe. Good Carnaval etiquette dictates that you do not sit down while they are performing in front of you. That's one Brazilian custom Jean read about that was absolutely true. We stood up the whole time and didn't even know it, due to the stratospheric level of exhilaration. And with new friends to share it all with, it was sublime. Flávia had told me during this parade that she and her friends always sit in Sector 7 with the locals. She eschews the camarotes, and told me that many of her clients have them reserved and invite her to watch from there, but she prefers it in the stands. I could dig it.

Second day in Rio, part 9--Carnaval

After all the primitive natural glory of the dinosaurs, Grande Rio shifted gears abruptly as if to say, "Shit! We forgot that this was the anniversary of the Japanese migration of 1908! Better put something in. Quick!"

Don't think they just whipped something up. This was a grand thing, complete with hot feathered woman and big-bellied scary whitefaced actor guy. Bonsai!

japangranderio.jpgGrande Rio also seemed to be flush with feathery soloists--more any any of the other three groups we saw. This next little blonde number was energetic, sassy, and looked like the girl from next door. Provided you lived somewhere in Heaven.

And just as a fine restaurant serves a small dish of sherbet as a palate cleanser between courses (and really, what the hell is THAT all about?), G.R. erased the taste of Japan quickly with this young lady. And not by Occident, either.

granderiohottie3.jpgGood thing, because hot on her heels was another incongruous, but necessary segment: the salute to the Portuguese Royal Family, due to the bicentennial status of their arrival and the love the Cariocas have for them and all.

The first two groups were incredibly adorned king and queen types, the women's headdresses culminating in a sizable ball that cantilevered over their heads. How they held these aloft I'll never know. Surely they worked out with neck weights during the year. This glamorous royalty did a fun little circle dance thing while the men toted torches, all under the glow of huge human street lamps. Could that be the energy tie-in? Did King John bring gas lamps to Rio? Anyone?   Anyone?   Marcelo?    Bueller?

The Royal opulence continued with a gigantic, beautifully embellished ball clock that came alive with a randy King and Queen who would make out on the chime of the hour. The display brought back big memories for me, since I broke a similar clock as a child. Well, not as ornate as this one, but the same principle with the balls and all. I cringe whenever I see one.

As you can see by the picture, this queen hasn't missed many meals. And I'll bet she just loves lobster!

lobsterinpots.jpgAnd we know M'Lady will love a delicious stew. But WAIT! What are these bugs? They're eating HRH's veggies? What shall we do? Call an exterminator! An exterminator who makes his poisons from herbs indigenous to the Amazon, that's who!

StewPotts.jpgWhat's with the trees, I wonder. Could this be the natural ingredient in a pesticide that's safe and wonderful? I don't know. These trees are marked with yellow ribbons like they were to be cut (or not cut). Did cutting these trees bring on the bugs? It's such a mystery. Note that there are people on stilts inside. Sorry to ruin it for you if you thought they were real.

I love the expression on the grasshopper in the lower left corner, looking around in such a panic, like "Shit! Here comes Orkin!"  And clever irony there, G.R. designers, with the canisters carried by the grasshoppers!

The next group was by far the eeriest and saddest of all the things I had seen: a herd of what I would guess were the ghosts of extinct animals, represented by a pleasant-faced furry guy that looked a lot like Spike. Under each animal's head was a human skull that obscured the face of the dancer. Only upon close inspection did these become visible. Almost like a whispering reminder to mankind that his abuse of nature will ultimately mean his own undoing.

I was also beginning to notice that Grande Rio had taken extra pains to disguise its dancers. It meant for a more startling effect, when mobs of creatures were mobile under seemingly magical power.

The shift to Amazonian themes continued with these natives. It was good to see that Grande Rio was handicapped accessible, with participants in decorated wheelchairs.

Amazonwheelchair.jpgThe twirling group that followed was stellar. The skirts undulated with the turns, and it became a blinding mass of red, orange, yellow and brown punctuated with flashes of white that would appear when the skirt would catch air and fly up.

It had been entirely too long since we had seen a solo star. Not.
But here was another one! A cat tamer of the highest caliber. Your gorgeous introduction to the double-edged beauty of the Amazon.

These cats could really samba! It was crazy cool. Even the mother was grooving with her baby in her jaws. Right behind was what I have dubbed the Amazon Monster. This gigantic creature is made up of all the life that inhabits the jungle. Part snake, part cat, part foliage, part man, surrounded by protective virgin-white birds and topped with a jaguar-headed native, he spouted smoke while turning his head to glare at each person in the Sambódrome. And he wasn't kidding, either.

Time to shake off the chills with a cute little bee girl celebrating the insect life in the jungle.

beehottie.jpgRight on her heels were a bunch of parrots that seem to have swallowed the humans that brought them to the parade.

parrotpeople.jpgThis had begun to feel like a trek into the Amazon--a journey to find the gas deposits. But the dangers are plenty. The next float was led by an army of only about one millionth of the things that can kill a person in the jungle. It was headed up by a giant leering snake that swayed back and forth as if he were looking for just the right thing to bite. NOT ME!! And NOT ROBO!! We're both scared shitless of snakes. Since childhood.

I looked over at him and he was mumbling to himself, "It's not real. It's not real. It's not real." Pettus was offering him sips of water and patting him on the back.

Once the intrepid explorer made it through the gauntlet of possible fatalities, he would be rewarded with energy. Lots of energy.

globepeople.jpgIt was another case of people gyrating inside of globes. It was very ethereal, the way the wispy costumes would shimmer and flutter. They looked like mothmen.

The crazy thing about this and so many of Grande Rio's floats was the lengths they went to to camouflage the participants. Just when you're looking at a giant bug, thinking it's a great prop, it starts to move, dance and then sing! Not this praying mantis above, but these spider guys fooled everybody. They would sit still for long periods of time, then begin to scramble furiously up and down their web, menacing everyone in sight range.

Spidermen.jpgThis lineup of beauties heralded the arrival of energy itself: the dancing guy.

energyhotties.jpgThis young man was phenomenal. He was in constant motion from the time he came into view until the time he left it. Tap dancing 16th-notes fast, he personified perpetual motion, and the crowd went apeshit for him. Us too.

dancingguy.jpgdancingguy2.jpgJean had already called Marcelo, and our 30 minute window was open. During the break before Beija-Flor, we took a few parting pictures. Flávia had told me how they were going to be in Santa Teresa the next day, and for us to come. "It will be a big party!" she said, writing the information down on another of her business cards.

I assured her we'd be there. It sounded great to me! And we would have Marcelo to translate for us providing maximum laughs.

Notice the two girls in the white body suits. They had just returned from one of the parades, this being the third year they had done it. I should have asked them more about it, but had no translator for a subject that would be possibly hard to grasp with my twelve-word vocabulary of Portuguese.

flaviaandfriends.jpg allofuscarnaval.jpgWe said our goodbyes, passed out belezas and obrigados, and began making our way out of the Sambódromo. We figured we'd miss most of the crowd not staying till the end, and were pretty much right. Only the outer areas were glutted with half-costumed participants again, sweating, beaming, drinking, shouting, dancing, singing, and glowing with satisfaction.

We reversed directions to get to the pickup point, having no problems whatsoever. Both sides of the street had been glutted with vendors of all kinds awaiting the crowds to come out. We bought several waters and stood under the viaduct, our eyes bulging at the whole sight. I had my camera in duffel position 1 the whole time, though in retrospect, it probably would have been safe. We were in a crowded area. Or is that just the point?

Marcelo pulled up just about on the dot of 30 minutes, like a father picking up the kids at the dance. We piled in, laughing, all talking at once, chugging water, and elated to see our friend. He turned to us and asked "How was it?" just as a dad would do. Except, instead of replying with "Okay" the way a jaded kid would, we all exploded with superlatives. Marcelo just smiled and nodded.

"Did you get any sleep?" we asked.

"Yes. I stayed in my car," he replied without a hint of the martyr in his voice. "I thought it would be smarter to sleep in my car than to drive back and forth to my home." Sounded smart to me. It also sounded like one hell of a guy making sure he didn't leave us all alone at the Sambódromo. Thanks, Dad, er brother, er pal. He was all of that.

The ride over the bridge to Niterói was pleasant, and we all began to unwind during that time. The only thing I remember about it was Marcelo turning through the median one block too soon, us laughing at him, him giving "the look" in the rear view mirror at the back seat group, and finally us pulling up to Mirante de São Francisco. It was around 5:00, and somebody was picking up the kids at 7:00. I hoped it was Marcelo, but Jean knew what was up. Thank God for that.

Third day in Rio--part 1

I really don't know what the scene was with breakfast. Something in the back of my mind says that we scheduled it for 10:30--too early for me, but probably too late for everybody else. When I finally got up, Daniel and Patricia were there, already on the couch watching Brazilian music videos. Pettus was downstairs making use of our pool--the only one of us who did, but I don't think she ever got in. That unused feature of the house doesn't amortize well.

pettuspool.jpgI must say, that's a very unenthusiastic expression. If I didn't know better, I'd swear that she wasn't thrilled about me taking her picture. I don't know what she was worried about. She always looks good. I, on the other hand, felt like I had been electrocuted the night before, then put in wet cement to sleep. People like me, we're the photographers.

Daniel and Patricia got to experience the full impact of our breakfast, and were suitably impressed. I'm sure they told us about their flight over to Rio, but I was in La-La Land at the time. They could have been recounting a mugging or an airport luggage SNAFU; it didn't matter. I responded with "That's nice" to everything they told us, as my eyes glazed over the chocolate cake, morphing it into one of the African hotties in the Vila Isabel parade.

We didn't want to waste any daylight, and Rio wasn't getting any smaller, so Jean began the process of booking Marcelo for the day. It still would have been easier to call him directly, but we had to do everything through Sylvia, which added time to everything.

When Marcelo arrived, we all trudged out to the car. Well, not trudged, just didn't have all that much spring in our step. Even Pettus. We didn't have any set plan for the day, which is almost a detriment in a case like this. All I knew was that I had told Flávia we'd see them in Santa Teresa the next day. Marcelo asked what we wanted to do. "Let's go to Santa Teresa," I suggested. "We met a girl last night who said they were going to play there today."

"Santa Teresa," Marcelo replied. "Ees very nice." He immediately took off, not forgetting the thumbs up to the guard.

On the way over the bridge, we marveled at all the cranes. I had noticed the day before how many there were that had been bent in half from a fatal load, appearing to be in the relaxed position until you saw the steel crumpled at the joint, the arm pointing straight down. They stood in the bay like poor old men in a nursing home.

Marcelo pointed out into the water and said, "That one is mine. I'll sell it to you." The whole off-the-wallness of the remark demanded more from me.

I indicated one of the bent ones and said, "Is that it? Good quality steel. Can't you just see the advertising guys trying to come up with an ad campaign? Well, sir, we find that Butter Soft isn't working for us as a tagline."

Then from the back, in the desert dry voice, Robo chimed in, "I can't believe it's not metal! " while giving a slight shake of the head and an emphatic half smile, like he'd just thought of a good idea--the same way he delivers all his devastating bon mots. The same way he nearly got us mobbed at Carnaval the night before with the "I've seen better" comment. He never fails to get a hearty laugh out of me, but this time, the remark went straight for my humor G spot.

Once in a blue moon, due to unknown sets of circumstances, somebody can sneak in the back door of hilarity with something that will completely take me out of body and send me into paroxysms of violent tear-inducing laughter that won't quit for several minutes. And then, like a mosquito bite, the image of the remark will pop back into my head and start me over again. It's something that has to gradually subside, or wear itself out. I can't stop it like the hiccups, and it always leaves me weak and feeling like I've just done 50 situps in two minutes. All that said, there is absolutely no other feeling like it in the world.

Of course this made Robo laugh, not boisterously, but more like an intermittent idling motor, which would make me laugh more. Marcelo just stared at us in bemusement and amusement. He had some really complex expressions in his bag.

Once we got into Rio, Marcelo showed us the ancient Carioca aqueduct, which I snapped through the windshield. It was built in the mid 1700s to bring water to Rio from the Carioca River. In the late 1800s, after the Carioca began to fail to deliver enough, other methods of getting water were used, and the aqueduct was converted into a bridge for the tram running up to Santa Teresa. The aqueduct also spanned the site of the Passeío Publico, built in the late 1700s over a lagoon that was landfilled to not only extend Rio's real estate, but also to get rid of trash and mosquito breeding ground. Marcelo had shown us part of the excavation the day before. You see how there are two levels to this thing. It was beautiful and cool as dirt!

oldaqueduct.jpg aqueduct2.jpgAin't nothing like a little graffiti on a mid-18th-century historic treasure is there? Sigh.

The streets were thick with people in various pockets all throughout Rio, even before we got to Santa Teresa. I could see what Marcelo meant about "They'd rather be having fun."

santateresa1.jpgOr making pretty pictures.


Third day in Rio--part 2, Santa Teresa

Mounting Santa Teresa

We began the climb up the mountain to Santa Teresa while Marcelo gave us a briefing. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was home to many of the swells in Rio, affording beautiful views from every angle. Like so many of the former glory neighborhoods in America, this one began to go to seed in the early 1900s (WHY??), leaving gorgeous mansions tucked in everywhere.

santateresastreet.jpgAnd just like in America, in recent years, Santa Teresa has been brought back to life in a laid back way as a home to artists and performers, who understand the value of being surrounded by both natural and man-made beauty. I'm sure the real estate is pricey now, but I'll bet during the early days of the revival, you could have had yourself one of those incredible homes for nothing. I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess that in 1975, $10 to $25,000 American would have bought you some of the finest stuff on the hill. And it was fine.

Every turn in the narrow, curvy brick road offered a new angle on fine architecture and beautiful landscaping. But it by no means gave off any vibe of being an exclusive enclave. These grand old architectural dames were there for everyone's enjoyment, and were mixed in with some downright meager dwellings and businesses. You're asking, "Where are the pictures, Ben?" Well I DON'T KNOW, so GET OFF MY BACK! We were in the car. It was hard! LEAVE ME ALONE!    Sorry.

We passed several conclaves of revelers all the way up the mountain, and Marcelo casually remarked in his matter-of-fact deadpan, "Santa Teresa. Ees very popular for bars. People come up here to drink, then they go up to see The Christ."

"Really?" I asked, not really doubting it. It's close?

"Yes, he is right above us," Marcelo replied. "But it will take a good bit of time to go up there. Better to plan another day." Indeed.

We kept driving up, crossing the tram tracks that are still in use, seeing bars, galleries, small arty shops, and a gaggle of cool looking people, all smiling, all enjoying life. I began to realize that the only way we would find Flávia and Co. would be to accidentally run into them.

securitysantateresa.jpgAt what seemed to be the summit, but wasn't by any means, we found a small street party going on in an intersection. We decided to park and check it out. The cop in the above picture was friendly, and there to assure everyone they would have a safe experience. At least that's what he looks like.

tireddaniel.jpgDaniel and Patricia had, of course, just flown in from Salvador (and BOY were their arms tired!), and they were about as fresh as we were, having been stimulated to death the night before at Carnaval. But Daniel can eat at the drop of a hat, and everybody enjoyed the baked cheese skewers that somebody was selling.

whitecheese.jpgWe took in all the participants at the gathering. Looked like a melange of cool people with fun on the brain. Nothing huge, just fun. Some kind of music and rhythm going on at the core. I noticed a bunch of little throw-on costumes that lent a real down-home tone to the whole thing. Everybody I held the camera up to responded with the secret sign and a smile.

And of course Robo honed in on my camera like a gol-durned bat finds a mosquito. It's an amazing ability, one that I also happen to share. The results are never as good for me, however.

santateresarobo.jpgI noticed a bunch of costumettes that seemed to be derived from Carnaval outfits. I would like to know exactly how much of the costume you get to keep.

Look at Robo. He cracks me up.

Notice the ubiquitous video camera in Robo's right hand. Once he figured out how to use it, he had it all the time. It was fun to walk up on him talking to himself as he narrated the scene he was shooting. It always made for a great inane exchange.

Above you see the results of Robo's shooting of my big happy self. The shirt was plenty big, I had plenty of water and beer interchangeably, and I wasn't sweating too badly. Did I mention water and beer? Plenty of both? Yes. I had to pee. I got the first "hey old man" signals as we passed under the aqueduct, and was delightfully reminded with every bumpy inch of the road up there.

There was a bar on the corner! Surely they had a bathroom. But they weren't open. WHAT? A bar not open during a street festival right outside its doors? Only in Brazil. It really didn't surprise me, as I reflect on it. So of course a sanitário was out of the question, eh?

Same story across the street at the bar there.

"Oh, that's okay," I said. "Hey Robo, take my picture with Marcelo!"

I told Marcelo that I had to pee, and asked what he thought about the old Salvador trick. He indicated that probably nobody would care. I looked around everywhere, and there wasn't a square inch that contained even the slightest nook for an old man to duck into. Especially an old man who requires more concentration and a zen-like state than to just "duck in" anywhere. It was particularly disappointing, being such a professional at the pissoir alfresco (along with my enthusiastic son Frank). "Naah," I finally said. "I'll be fine." He looked at me like he expected me to say that.

The only thing that could make me smile when I had to pee like that was a bunch of friendly Santa Teresa partiers

steresa3.jpgand charming Brazilian girls

steresagirls.jpg"Let's go," everybody said.

We got in the car, and headed down, never ceasing to marvel at the little architectural details that would pop out everywhere.

details.jpgAs we wound down, we encountered more people in larger spaces, but they were all in accommodation mode.

Further down, we passed a stellar view of a favela, which prompted Marcelo to say "You know the favelas?"

"Yes," I replied.

"They can be very dangerous. Tourists come and think it will be fun to go see them, go in and can be robbed and put out on the street somewhere. Many are owned by drugs."

"Well, I think it would be pretty presumptuous of somebody to take a tour of one just to go slumming in Brazil. These people need their dignity, too. It's not a sideshow." I don't know how much of this Marcelo understood, because I had begun talking very fast with him, his being a pal and all.

He continued, "There are people that have tours of the favelas, and pay the drug people off to bring tourists in."

"I don't think that would be cool at all," I said.

"It can be very dangerous," Marcelo replied.

"I think they're beautiful," I answered, wistfully. I also realized that my earlier ideas about a potentially idyllic life there provided drugs and discontent didn't set in now seemed quaint and naive.

favelasteresa.jpgI have since run into an interesting story by a British guy about his experience with favelas in Rio.

We ran into more beautiful graffiti as we flattened out in the city. These characters, if not licensed, could be. One thing I found out in Brazil is, they have no concept of intellectual rights. There were commercial ripoffs of American cartoons in several places. Robo had also told me horror stories of one of his companies' software being pirated openly, freely and with an ingenuity that baffled everyone.

At the bottom, the view of the hillside was interesting. Especially through a foggy window.


Third day in Rio--part 3, Sugarloaf


Big mountain. Fun ride. Great view. Ready to go eat?

"What do you want to do now?" Marcelo asked us.

"Uhhh," we all replied. "Is the Botanical Gardens open?" Jean asked.

"I don't think so," Marcelo replied. "It is still Carnaval."

"What about Sugarloaf?" I asked. I had seen the cars going up there, so figured it was open. And surely it had a bathroom.

"Ees very close," Marcelo replied, sealing the deal.

soldier.jpgWhen we pulled up in the parking lot, there was a line that stretched down the steps to the ticket booths and around the perimeter. It looked long at first, but seemed to be moving fairly rapidly. What else were we gonna do? Ride around looking for something that had a shorter line? I don't think so. We decided to gut it out.

I remember one trip Jean and I took with the boys to Magic Mountain in California. Roller coaster heaven! I was about to hyperventilate with expectation until I saw all the lines. So what did we do? Stand in each line for about 10 minutes, get antsy, then go try to find a shorter line. Which we never did. And we wasted a couple of good hours on this ridiculous maneuver. We finally settled down and stood in a few lines, and actually got to ride four big coasters that day. I hate crowds and lines. I also love theme parks. It's like crushing the shell into the pecan meat. You have to pick it all apart gradually, separating out the shell, to get any meat. Or a plate of boiled crabs. It's all a lot of work for a little pleasure.

We asked Marcelo if he wanted to come with us, but he said no, he'd stay in the car and read or go get something to eat. "Okay, we'll meet you out here when we're through, okay?" Jean was asking, as I hauled ass up the stairs to find the sanitário.

riogirl.jpg"I'll meet y'all at the end of the line," I hollered at them, noticing that Robo was coming up behind me. Inside the building I was met with various wall displays and a diorama of Rio, the bay and the various mountains that rise from it. There was a tiny little cable car mounting a tiny little Sugarloaf. Neat. There was also a gift shop, but it became a blur as I dashed past and up the stairs as fast as one like me can dash. Robo must have ridden my draft, because we appeared at the door to the sanitário simultaneously, and almost did a Three Stooges trying to get through it together.

Once we got back to the others, we saw that the line wrapped around by a memorial statue of a WWI or II Brazilian soldier. Maybe Marcelo can tell me who he is. While we were standing in the line, there was a vendor selling these little plastic bikini clad girls that you would clip on the edge of a beer can to make a handle. They were the perfect thing to bring back! I must say, though, it is a rather tacky juxtaposition with the statue.

And of course I began my photo onslaught on Daniel and Patricia with this pic in front of the stricken soldier.

dpstatue.jpgWe marveled at the people scaling the mountain behind the ticket booth. They were at least 100 feet in the air, clinging onto the face of the rock, looking like flies on a dark wall: hard to find at first. Watching them up there caused every orifice on my body to slam shut in fear. But I could hardly look away.

The line was indeed fast, and before we knew it, were up at the booth. Robo's grant had included entertainment expenses for D & P, and this somehow translated into some clusterfuck at the ticket booth that took Patricia's expertise (read "Portuguese") to sort out for us. Of course we'd also be the very ones to hold up the line after we had worked that Yoruba curse on the people in front of us. Irony is so funny!

I was a tad fluttery about the whole thing of course, with the curse going awry, and my being so terrified of unsecured heights. In a machine or building I'm usually fine, but I have a special subsection in my book of fears for this. An air gondola is neither fish nor fowl. It's a machine, but it's on a stupid two inch cable. And there are 75 people in this thing supported by this long-ass wire that runs up to one huge mountain, stops, then goes up another slacky wire to Sugarloaf, 1299 feet above sea level.

So what do I do? As the car begins to magically, impossibly, lurch up to the first mountain, I say casually to Jean, "Look honey, we're over all those trees. If the cable snaps they'll be there to break our fall."

"Stop that!" she hissed at me. Then we both started laughing nervously.

At this point, I had to ponder Robo and Pettus' desire to hang glide while we were in Rio. Neither had ever done it or anything like it, and it sounded like fun to them. They had even asked Sylvia to look into it for them. Unfortunately, with the foggy weather we were still having, it was out of the question at the time. But there went my orifices again anyway, from just thinking about it.

We got to stage one quickly, disembarked easily, and began to gawk at the view. Though cloud-studded, it was still beautiful. I seemed to take a ton of pictures of The Christ through the haze, and some of them are pretty spiffy.

christ1.jpgOn the first level, there were benches everywhere, and people were lounging around like it was a park or something. I took a shot of the group, then Robo took one of Jean and me.

benjeanlevel1.jpgIt's totally amazing how much Jean looks like her mother.

Here's another good shot of The Christ from this level

It was time to try to beat the rush to the tram up to Sugarloaf. Due to construction we had to follow a convoluted course over boards on scaffolding (fun) until we finally turned the corner to the next station. Here are a couple of cool shots of the convex mirror, the people in it, and the big mountain right behind.

mirror2.jpgIn this closeup, it looks like Robo is pissed off about something. This could be the point in the trip where his sinuses began to revolt against him. The altitude may have been punching him in the forehead.

robopissedmirror.jpgOnce we had alighted the car, we were instantly hit with the unobstructed panorama that Sugarloaf affords. These shots of the harbor were very cool. Notice how the orange roofs of the chi-chi enclave below echo the favelas. Both ends of the money spectrum with similar visual impact. EYE ROW KNEE!

boatharborview2.jpgBy this time, Daniel was hungry again. The grant included snacks, too! Robo handed him a bunch of Reais, and we walked up to the booth to order. I got a couple of agua com gaís (sparkling water), and then discovered that they had those cheese roll things! Daniel ordered that and a Coke. We all sat around, Daniel politely sharing his food, the rest of us like a bunch of dive bombers into the little paper tray. I chugged that agua com gaís pretty fast, then decided to go take another picture of The Christ ruling over Rio.

christoverrio.jpgI also spent time taking pictures of other people with their cameras. There were a bunch of Australians there, and I did shots of 3 different Aussie couples.

The others were ready to go, and sent Daniel looking for me. "We're ready to go," he said "Are you?"

"Sure. I don't think the view is gonna change."

We saw a bunch of people heading for the tram station, so we hustled as fast as we could to beat them there without looking like we were trying to beat them there. That's called "manners."

Once inside, I took this shot of the group despite their protests. They all warned me that if we missed that tram they would kill me. Amazing they can look so pleasant and yet be so threatening.

missthecar.jpgWe made the car without any trouble. But there was a counter that told how many could get on, and it was ticking madly toward the limit. And a few extra I noted, to my chagrin.

In order to divert herself, Jean began listening in on other conversations. There were enough English speakers there to have a little field day, and get her internal radio working again. She noticed a young American guy wearing an Ole Miss hat. He was with an Australian guy. Once we had gotten to the first station, she knew enough about him to say to him on the way out, "Are you from Mississippi?"

"Yes ma'am!" he said politely and enthusiastically. "How did you know?"

"Well first, your accent. And you have "Rebels" on the back of your hat. It was kind of a no-brainer."

This brought on an advanced session of the "Do You Know? Game". I believe he did know one of the Lee twins from Ole Miss, and had a bunch of friends that live in Mountain Brook that would know Frank's friends from there. Ahh. Satisfying. That's one of the beauties of being from the South. You can play "the game" for less than five minutes and have three connections. But to play it on level one of the Sugarloaf Experience was just pretty bizarre.

While they worked on the Rebel connections tapestry, I shot a couple of pictures of the gears and a beautiful hybiscus.

gears.jpgIt turns out that the guy was here in Brazil on kind of an exploration trip. He had been to Argentina looking to buy property to set up a winery/fine restaurant/lodge and hunting deal for executives and jet setters. Being from the South, he was completely familiar with the hunting part. Having money, which he obviously did, would give him an edge with clientele.

He was with an Australian guy he had met at one of the hostels he had stayed in. So he was possibly short on money. But he was used to it, you could tell. Maybe just had a pedigree and not so much money now. I don't know, but I kind of doubt it. He wielded the mantle of breeding easily, being pleasant, expansive, attentive to the girls and Patricia in particular, and willing to spend a little time with some fellow Southerners. His Aussie companion was also pleasant, but seemed completely disconnected with the conversation, especially when the young guy began to lapse into a definitive Mississippi drawl right before his eyes.

And don't think for a minute that Mama Jean wasn't trying to hook him up with Patricia. He had to promise that he would contact her if he came through Salvador on his travels before she would let him go. The thing is, I believed him when he said that he would.

hybiscus.jpgNone of us passed up the bathroom when we landed, and I got a chance to see a little more of what was in the gift shop. I'll be switched if there weren't several statues of Iemanjá on the shelf! I could tell because she was admiring herself in the mirror, and there were shells all around her. But only one who had felt her hot breath on his neck would recognize her with such clarity.

I rushed outside, only glancing at the diorama as I zoomed past. Fortunately, there was Marcelo waiting on us, to break the spell. I jumped in and took off my Crocs immediately, stuffing another water bottle into the side pockets on the door. I had quite a collection of half-drunk bottles going.

"Did you go eat?" I asked him.

"No. I read in the car," he replied.

"Well I know for sure that I'm hungry, and I'm sure the rest of them will be by the time we get back home, so let's go eat, okay? Surely y'all want to eat soon, don't you?" I asked them.

"Duh!" was the response.

"Of course, then," Marcelo said. "There are many good places."

"Well, I want one that will give me some food," I told him. "But it can't be too fancy if we're not going home to change."

"I know a place," he assured me.

I relaxed, knowing that my newly interested belly was gonna get some attention.

As we headed over the bridge to Niterói and passed one of the impotent cranes, I had a sudden revival of my earlier laughing fit. But only enough to wake me up a little. Not a full blown attack.

The way home (and yes, Mirante de São Francisco felt like home, especially now that D&P were there with us) had become familiar, and there were several ways to get there ultimately, but they were all scenic. Once you had crossed under the toll booths, the roads began to feel narrower and more random than in Rio proper. Sometimes we'd go by the Niedermeyer-designed art museum, other times not. I guess it depended on whatever mood Marcelo was in.

We drove along restaurant row, passing Paludo, and Porcão, which prompted Marcelo to remark, "There you can eat when you have time and want it to be very nice. When you eat there, it is a party." We all took note that Porcão was at the top of the food chain.

"La Verdanna," Marcelo said, as he pulled into the portico. "Ees very good. Meats brought to your table."

That was all any of us wanted to hear as we began to pile out. "You're going to eat with us, aren't you?" I asked.

"Yes, thank you," Marcelo replied.

verdanna1.jpgJean loves having that ole picture made, doesn't she?

La Verdanna was one of those places where the servers come by with skewers of all kinds of different meat. You are given a little card that has a green side reading "Sim" and a red side reading "Não". If the green side is up, the guys keep coming by.

I think Marcelo knew some people there, because they seemed to buzz around us extra. Right out of the chute they came up with sausage on a skewer, filet, filet with garlic, roasted bananas, manioc flour, lobster puffs, French fries (Daniel got some), and three or four other things. I was saying "Sim" to everything, and before long, had a plateful of stuff.

They also brought out chicken hearts stacked neatly on a skewer. They really did look like little hearts. Daniel ate half the ones in the restaurant in addition to everything else they brought by. He was a marvelous, magical eating machine!  Oddly enough, I was already starting to get a little full from the rapid onslaught of skewer-to-plate-to-mouth that hits you the second you sit down, and the thought of the coraçãoes da frango kind of reminded me of stomach surfing in Salvador. So I politely flashed a "Não."

Marcelo said "Don't forget to try the food over there," pointing to an elaborate buffet like the one at Paludo.

"Whaa??" I asked. "Is that included?"

"Yes," he said. "Ees very good."

I took his picture as a reward for this information.

marcelocu.jpgLook at that noble face! A native Niteróian, just like Sergio Mendes! What's not to love? Right in the middle of my waxing philosophic about Marcelo and his importance, he interrupted with "What about my image rights for the picture? Are you going to pay me image rights?" I responded with a big laugh, and then another picture. This time Daniel sniffed out the camera, joining the exclusive club that Robo and I are members of.

danielmarcelo.jpgLooks like one of them gol-durned Jonas Brothers, doesn't he? If he didn't have that zit, he could be a star.

This next shot is funny, especially if you know Pettus. Every now and then she gets this look, especially if Robo is hammering her with some kind of information. I never have been able to tell if she is actually taking anything in, or is just mentally going, "La la la la la la la la."

pettuslook.jpgDespite the mass of food, we all decided to share a dessert. And managed to eat it all.

dessert.jpgWe headed out, all about to bust. I obrigado'ed the shit out of everybody, and so did Jean. "It's obrigadA," I told her on the way out. "You said obrigadO."

"Yeah?" she answered.

"Well, I'm so much cooler than you."

"Yeah?" she answered.

I responded by making them line up for a picture.

outsideverdanna.jpgAnd then, just to make sure I wasn't a total idiot about my hatred of flash, one with the flash.
I am right to hate it. And so is Pettus.

verdannaflash.jpgThe valet pulled up with Marcelo's car, and we all wedged ourselves in and headed home, which was by now a familiar thing.

When we were getting out of the car, Jean asked Marcelo, "Can you take us out tomorrow?" expecting an answer of "Yes, but you must call Sylvia."

"No, I can't," Marcelo said. "I have someone else I have to pick up." Inside my head, I heard the sound of screeching brakes.

"WHAT?" I blurted out? "What do you mean 'have someone else to pick up'?"

"Yes, I'm sorry," Marcelo said.

"Well what will we do?" I pleaded.

"There are a lot of cabs, and the ferry is good to get to Rio," he said.

"We'll try that," the others said.

"Okay then," I pouted. "I hope you have a great time with your new little friends."

Marcelo laughed and said, "You will be fine. I will see you the next day."

"You better," we all said, getting the gate code right the first time and trudging in to watch Brazilian TV and plan the next day without The Man.

Sixth day in Rio, part 2--Christ the Redeemer

Getting high on Jesus

I was about to bust, I was so excited to see The Christ. Ever since I had seen him in pictures, it had been a fascination and a small obsession. This Seventh Wonder of the Modern World combined one of my biggest fears and one of my biggest loves in one awe inspiring package. Pictures taken above the statue's head looking down would bring my acrophobia to the surface every time, but in a strange comfortable way. When I first saw The Christ upon arrival in Rio, all I could do was kind of sigh, the way he overlooked everything. And, yes, he has incredible peripheral vision.

The awesomeness of huge things is another of my passions, and poor little ole Vulcan would have to stand on top of his own head twice before he would reach The Christ, who is 90 feet tall with a 90 foot hand span. The herculean efforts required for something like this make me swell with pride for mankind's attempts to be great.

We decided not to ride the tram up the mountain, but instead have Marcelo take us as far as he could, then we would board a minivan to ride to the top for a small fee. The tram looked really neat, being the train that brought the stuff to the top of Corcovado for the construction of the statue. It went through the dense foliage that hugged the mountain, and was supposed to be a great trip.

Naah. We wanted to get there fast. Upon seeing the tram and the track it took up the mountain, I was kind of sorry we didn't do it. But we were there, and of course Marcelo wasn't coming with us. He drove his car to the top of the hill to wait with the others who weren't making the trip. I'm sure he read his history and science magazines that he kept in the car. Or napped. Probably napped. The magazines were most likely props.

The drop off point was somewhere outside of Santa Teresa, which is pretty high up already. It was teeming with people, but they were kind of just milling around: some official, some not, everyone looking kind of specious. There was a cop asleep in his car while all this loading and unloading went on. We all got in the van, waiting only a couple of minutes for it to fill up with other people. The ride up to the statue was neat, with the continually curving road draped on one side with lush green foliage and perilously seductive on the other, with tiny little Rio peeking through the small trees--the only thing that would keep us from plummeting off of Corcovado should our driver lose control of the van. WHEE!!!

The feel of the urban jungle as we ascended the mountain was strange, because I knew there were hundreds of people all around us, but it appeared that we were the only ones there.

When Carol and family had been to see The Christ previously, there were a multitude of steps to mount. We were fortunate to have arrived at the modernization of holy access. The bad part was now merely a slightly healthy flight of beautiful stone stairs at the bottom which led to a plateau with a couple of elevators up to the next level.

christcrowd.jpgThe crowd was big, but not overbearing by any means. We got an elevator rather quickly. This was a weird experience, in that the cars were very narrow and twice as deep, causing us to line up in there kind of like parachute jumpers. Through the green tinted glass, we could see our ascent through the vegetation that opened on another panoramic view. It was as if the elevator had no bottom when you looked straight out the window. Slightly creepy.

Our elevator operator had blonde spikes in his hair, and the look of Johnny Rotten, but he was wearing an official Jesus elevator operator vest, so I figured he was okay. I felt sure that the same rigorous specifications had been applied to this job as those for the security guards around town. When we reached the next level, the door opened behind us, we all turned around and quickly filed out, giving the operator our various versions of "obrigado/a." Instead of telling us to "wank off" or something like that, he smiled broadly and said in stilted English, "Enjoy The Christ." Indeed.

christback.jpgGorgeous. The top tier was achieved by riding a brand spanking new escalator. Jean and I were both thankful. Well, who WOULDN'T be? At the top right under the statue, there was a throng of people milling around excitedly, everybody with cameras, many taking pictures of loved ones or companions by lying on the ground and shooting up to get The Christ in the picture looming protectively over the subject. Like the Kennemers.

robopettuschrist.jpgYeah, I lay down on the hot pavement to take this picture. I don't know where the hell Jean was, but my frying back couldn't take any more, so she didn't get the photographic blessing. The views from there were unbelievable--the horse track was a funny counterpoint to The Christ. He didn't look down AT the track, but you knew he could see them anyway.

racetrackchrist.jpgThere was so much hedonism for him to see, with the sexy beaches and all! But I didn't feel one iota of judgment. Not one. This beautiful bug climbing on Christ's granite (natch) base was so pretty and cool and kind of unlikely looking. What would a bug be doing up this high? How long did it take him to get here? Surely he was born here in one of these patches of vegetation. He looked so small and dedicated against the enormous mass of stone, like he was making his own trek of faith old style to see Jesus. May be.

jesusbug.jpgJean took a good picture of Robo and me, after which I took long shots of The Christ and more of the crowd.

christcrowdbalcony.jpgThis vertiginous shot looks like the shelf of people is fixing to crash down onto the city below. Shudder.

Simply unbelievable. Awe inspiring. And it was interesting to learn that The Christ was actually conceived in Dom Pedro II's time, with Isabel suggesting that a religious figure be erected on the newly surmounted Corcovado for all in Rio to see. She would be pleased to see the results. Those royals were all right!

We took a peek in the small chapel that was accessed by the back of Christ's granite base, but bypassed a book that enabled you to write a message to Whomever it was in charge of this type of thing, and for a small fee, could voice a specific request for health, wealth, or anything else. Hmmm. I guess the money went to a good place. I GUESS. I took one more picture of D&P, then we descended the escalators, after watching one of the guards yank a tourist off one of the granite stair rails.

danielpatriciachrist.jpgThe lower level had a concession place replete with beer, wine, sandwiches, and of course, coke, water and agua com gaís! We met a nice older couple from Oregon who was kind of traveling the world, but they weren't the only English-speakers. The place was covered with our language. It was almost weird, after being immersed in Portuguese and nothing much else.

danielchrist.jpgEven the outdoor tables in this concession area were made of granite!

Sixth day in Rio, part 3--Botanical Gardens

King John's glorious gift to Rio

The Botanical Gardens was another place I was hot to see, and we had been unable to see it before now, due to its being closed for Carnaval (or so Marcelo said. He was probably playing the grand puppetmaster to all of us by using closings and bad weather like pawns in his own diabolical game of manipulation.)

Sylvia had informed Robo and Pettus that the hang gliding was still off for the day, so there was no other place to go but the Gardens.

We pulled off of a busy downtown street onto a sandy path that led to one of the parking areas for the Gardens. I'm sure it was one Marcelo knew about, since he routinely brings tours of school kids. Not knowing this at the time, I was rather taken aback at the place we parked: lined up next to a few other cars in front of a ledge of grass.

It was very strange to suddenly be dwarfed by huge trees of such exotic variety. The instant shift from the open claustrophobia of the city directly to the secluded canopy of nature was fun. We got out of the car to discover extremely muggy air rife with mosquitoes. Jean instantly dove into the Mawmaw bag and pulled out the SUPERDEET that we were taking to the Amazon. It was smelly, oily, and if you happened to get it on your hands and into your mouth, it was gross as hell. But nothing was going to touch any of us that used it.

A couple of the trees right in front of the car had the most incredible shiny bark.

treetrunk.jpgThere was an old house to our left. I'm sure it was part of the Gardens. Looks kind of like the bayou of Louisiana, eh? Note the subtle Japanese influence on the woodwork. Very unusual. This house could have been the home of any well-heeled country Southerner.

botanicalhouse.jpg Marcelo led us up the path to the admission place. On the way, we passed this large installation of what appeared to be Matisse's dancing women. At any rate, the motif was very familiar, and gave off a vibe of unshaved legs and armpits.

dancingnudes.jpgThe policewoman at the gate doubled as money taker and shit giver, playfully harassing Marcelo and Robo on the way in. Robo made some flip comment about her gun which made me cringe, recalling the near-debacle of the "I've seen better" from Carnaval. No repercussions. Just a large, friendly black Brazilian using her authority without swagger.

There was a neat fountain on one of the paths right inside. Daniel first washed his hands in it, then drank from it once Marcelo told him it was safe. Daniel tried to lure me in, but I held firm in my refusal. I saw the face of Iemanjá in that fountain just as Scrooge had seen Marley's ghost on his doorknocker. Nu-nu-nu-nu-nooo.

DanielWater.jpgAfter he got through drinking it, he made a face at Marcelo and said, "That didn't taste so good."

Marcelo replied in his deadpan, "I said it was safe. I didn't say it was good."

I piled it on with Nelson Muntz' mocking ha-ha. One of my favorites, and the perfect punctuation mark to anything harmfully funny.

It was after 2:00, and we were hungry. Like, really hungry. So before we went and looked at anything else, we veered into a nice courtyard with a walk-up-and-order eating dispensary. And as befitting botanical gardens everywhere, the food was perfect for ladies who lunch: a lotta quiches, salads and such. I have nothing against quiche at all, I just want it served in larger quantities than it usually is. This was no exception. But as I began to order the maximum I could without having the counter ladies call the Gardens Society (probably founded by Count d'Eu) and have me escorted out, a tall, friendly waitress popped her head around the corner and told us to go sit down.

We found a table under a huge tree and were soon joined by the woman who had insisted on taking our orders. And not in a mean way. She wanted to serve us! I'm sure it was Marcelo she had her moony eyes on. It translated into a pleasant experience all the way around. Pettus took this shot of Jean and me with her camera.

ben-jean-bistro.jpg I introduced Daniel to the "even look" while we were waiting on the food. Even look? What?? The even look is an invention of mine that is so perfectly neutral that it conveys nothing. It's the very best expression to give in just about any situation if you don't know what to convey with your face. It's very hard to do, because it is usually colored with other nuances, as you can see by the illustration below. Daniel was pretty good at it for being such a novice. Like he did with the Jon Voight. I think with a little work he could be really good.

evenlook.jpgI've really let my technique slip, I can tell by looking at the pictures. The one day growth of beard doesn't look hip like it does on TV. It makes me look like somebody standing in line at a soup kitchen. I would have taken some soup at that moment, I was so hungry. Well, maybe not hot soup; possibly a nice vichyssoise.

After the delicious food (and it WAS delicious), we began the trek into the gardens. Marcelo obviously knew the place like the back of his hand, and though everything was marked, he told us what it was. We first encountered one of the royal palms. They were originally brought by King John when he began the gardens, and were at one time forbidden fruit for anyone but royalty in Brazil. The cuttings and treelings were hot property. Marcelo showed us one tree that is an actual descendant of an original palm. Cool. Even the trees here were touched with personification. One could imagine this palm making its debut in society to the accolades of thousands.

grandpalm.jpgThis place was fantastic. Laid out in a grid-like pattern, it was the most orderly, but least contrived space I could imagine. There were large areas shaded by huge trees of all kinds.

moss.jpgA large bust of King John was centered in one of the rows. The royal palms were everywhere, with the grand row behind him. You could feel the appreciation Marcelo showed as he told us about the king's part in what we were seeing there.

kingjohn.jpgA waterfall that cooled off the whole scene was visible through the wall of foliage. The canopy of green was different everywhere you went, and appeared intermittently and randomly enough to show that nature had been given her head in the landscape, but been gently guided by talented gardeners.

waterfall.jpgLook at this giant split-leaf philodendron. At least that's what I'd call it here. If I could find one this big here. Marcelo called it something else.  

spllitleaf.jpgNaturally, The Christ was visible from many place in the gardens, and was nothing short of spectacular. Once again, the royals figured in the entire vista. A powerful force.

christfromgardens.jpgWe next saw a section that featured the famous Pantanol lily pads. They look like big serving platters. Perfect. Perfectly incredible.

lillypads.jpgI couldn't pass up this butterfly, either.

gardensbutterfly.jpgMarcelo took our picture with The Christ in the background. Pretty. Then Pettus turned around and took a great picture of him with her camera.

group-under-christ.jpgmarcelo-christ.jpgThis fountain opening onto the row of royal palms was rather picturesque. It reminded me of Florida down by Silver Springs during my childhood.

fountaingrandpalms.jpgLook at the classic row of royal palms!

royalpalmsrow.jpgDuring our wanderings down one of the aisles, we came upon this hollowish tree trunk that caused me to begin channeling Jon Voight. Daniel was there with my camera. I don't know how these things happen. I was suddenly wound up. Patricia was mightily entertained. Jean looked at the whole event as if she were looking through glass. Robo felt better enough to enjoy the spectacle with Pettus. Marcelo told me I had better get off the grass.

jonvoighttree.jpgWe continued on down the path, noticing how so many of the trees had bromeliads living on them. Then we saw this tree with his tiny little pink guy. I pointed it out, telling Daniel and Patricia how all the other trees laughed at this tree when they were in the locker room. Patricia nearly split her sides. It was pretty good. Even Marcelo laughed.

bromeliadpenis.jpg"This is just so weird," Patricia said. "We NEVER talk like this at home! I mean, not that Mom and Dad don't know or say stuff, but NOT LIKE THIS. We don't just sit around the table talking about things like that."

"Well, you don't have to tell them," I said, not realizing that I would rat my own self out in this blog.

We had reached an arch that was quite beautiful and camera-ready. Being as it led out of the gardens, we turned left.

arch.jpgThis path ran along a stream, heavy with trees on the right. There were toucans flying from tall trees in the center of the park and landing on the other bank, suddenly hidden by the mass of green. Marcelo pointed them out to us at first, and seemed rather pleased that we had seen them.

arch2.jpgWe came upon another beautiful arch that led into a smaller garden. On the ground everywhere were these giant pods that were hard as wood. I picked one up. It was curved like a girl's headband, but you could see the indentations where the seeds had been. I showed it to Marcelo.

"You had better put that down. You can be arrested for picking anything up in the gardens."

I stared at him. What I saw was the quintessential even look. The fact that he had beat me at my own face made me say, "Well too bad. I'm taking it home,"  and put it in my pocket. It looked like a rigid implant.

"Do you think I can get it past customs?" I asked him.

"If you're careful, maybe," he replied.

curledpod.jpgThis batch of bamboo was nice. The carvings were actually kind of cool on there. I don't know why. We saw Daniel's name (and had seen the day before at the Jetson's house) amongst all the others. Some were unfamiliar to me, but common in Brazil. Like Faelo e Dorico or Priscila e Celia.    ?   

carvedbamboo.jpg"Get your camera ready. You will love this. Ees very good," Marcelo intoned. "The bromeliads."

"Ooh YEAH BABY!" I shouted. "I love me some bromeliads!" For good reason. They're tough. Some of them live in harmony with other plants without living off of them. They are totally beautiful and unusual in every way.

starbromeliad.jpgI love these things. They're related to Spanish moss. Well, duh, it all is.

greycurlybromeliads.jpgI got Marcelo to pose with D&P in the center of the bromeliad house. They obliged. The pictures were hilarious to begin with, but I concocted a great scenario to go with them, did my best to translate it via Babelfish, and sent them to Marcelo. I was always giving him shit about how we were gonna wrap the kids in a rug and throw them in the back of his car to see how much we could get for them. Fun!

Well, that's the gist of these pictures. What I was intending to say was: "
"See how easy it is to make friends with the kids, Ben? They won't suspect a thing until they're wrapped up in a rug and stuffed in my trunk!"

Marcelo&kids.jpgIs the picture hilarious or what? The next one says: "See how they trust me, Ben? This will be so easy!"

marcelo&kids2.jpgHe emailed me back: "You're so funny! That is like something from Stephen King!" How flattering. He cracks me up.

More bromeliads are in order! Beginning with Little Dick's little brother.

crabclawbromeliad.jpgWe went into another room with a small pond in the center and these lovely things surrounding it.

This fern was particularly fantastic. Looks so Japanese in its design. Hmm.

fern.jpgThis tangle of plant life was very prevalent in the Amazon.

tangledtree.jpgAnd look! A tree with jackfruit on it! A little baby jackfruit! At the base of the tree was the smashed, rotted jackfruit covered with ants that I mentioned in an earlier Bahian post. This was a fresh, spiny, virginal jackfruit.

jackfruit.jpgLook at this cool texture.

fanplant.jpgFan-tastic! Meanwhile, my arthritic right knee was beginning to stab me, and I heard the first drift of "getting stuck in Rio if you don't make it through the tunnel by 5:00." WHAT? I didn't want to get stuck there! I wanted to go back to Niterói and eat at Porcão.

We decided to step it up. An exhibit and excavation of an old gunpowder factory that was interesting and atmospheric diverted us. It had little working models of what the factory was like. Fun! Let's go. We don't want to be stuck here. Of course none of us were going anywhere without stopping at the sanitário adjacent to the gunpowder factory. (Odd placement if you considered methane gas flammable).

As we were bookin' it down the last aisle before the turn to our car, this cool massive rock grotto appeared on the right. Marcelo told us about it, but I wasn't paying enough attention. I was listening to my knee and to the sound of cars building up in front of the Niterói bridge. I think he said it was built by one of the Doms, either I or II. But I'm making it all up. I DID hear him say that just beyond this thing was the beginning of the Tijuca National Forest, a rare thing in that it abuts the city. Umpteen thousand species of plants and animals living RIGHT THERE. I would hope there was some kind of fence.

rockwallthing.jpgNeat, huh? Kind of Indiana Jonesy. Marcelo also told us that people make out in there. Sure. Gettin' it on wit' yo' LAY-deh, and looking up to see a giant snake of some kind that IGNORED THE FENCE around the Tijuca National Forest! Oh YEAH, I'm there.

We were kind of hauling ass by this time, me looking like an angry pirate walking the ship with a peg leg. When we got in the car, I looked at Marcelo and asked anxiously, "Did we make it? Did we make it?"

"I don't know," he said, shaking he head. "Ees very late. The traffic could be terrible. We could be in it for two hours."

"SHIT!" I hollered. "Speak up back there, y'all. What do you want to do?"

"Well," Pettus and Jean said simultaneously, both looking at the Rio book, "There's this shopping festival thing that closes in blah blah and you can get all this local blah blahblahblah. But I'm not sure if we'll make it to that, so if we don't, there's always the shopping blah blahblahblah and we could find somewhere to eat there blahblah blah."

"Well, I don't want to go shopping," I pouted. "I wanna go home." My knee was throbbing in agreement.

"Yes, having something to do here may be a good idea if the traffic is bad," Marcelo said, giving his rearview mirror glance to the girls.

SURELY he was trifling with me!
I shot him another patented look: the one I inherited from my mother that says "This ain't gonna happen." It's even heavier than the pissed off coloration of the standard even look (shown).

He responded with mock surprise topped with glee and said, "I don't think Ben wants to go shopping."

I turned to the back seat and said to Robo, "Help me here!"

"You seem to be doing fine all by yourself," he said.

I changed tone. "Y'all, please. I don't want to go shopping. My knee hurts. Let's make a break for it, okay?"

In our wonderful vascillating, willow-tree-like decision making fashion (done in a rolling car), we passed this beautiful church, or whatever it was.

bluewhitechurch.jpgMarcelo then said, "Ees the last chance to stay in Rio. After this, we are on the bridge."

"Go! Go!" I hollered. I knew I was gonna feel like the goat if we got stuck. But I still felt like Marcelo was pulling my leg. Surely he didn't want to get stuck in Rio either, being a Niteróian.

As we pulled up the ramp of no return, I shot these pictures of some more cool public art. I can't call it graffiti, especially in this case.

graffitisquintman.jpg"How's the traffic?" I asked Marcelo.

He gave me a noncommittal "Enh."

I took some neat pictures in the tunnel. "Well, I think you're woofin' me," I said. "This doesn't look bad at all."

"We'll see," said Marcelo, grasping at the last thread of his little jest.

tunnel.jpgHA! We made it through the toll bridge in record time. I brought up the taking of Marcelo's "fast pass" by the "authorities" just to "freshen up" the conversation. "So you said you'd never buy one of those again, eh?" I asked him.

We went through some new streets in Niterói, and I snapped a picture of this public art.

badart.jpg"What are you doing?" Marcelo asked, almost alarmed.

"Taking a picture of this sculpture," I said.

"That is terrible. Don't take pictures of bad art," he scolded, shaking his head. But it was too late. And he was right--it was bad, but it was still interesting.

Jean got on the cell phone to have Sylvia get us reservations at Porcão for the evening. "You will enjoy it very much," Marcelo enthused.

"Do you want to go with us?" we asked.

"No thank you. I have someone else to pick up."

"Well what would you have done if we had gotten stuck in Rio," I asked, rather petulantly.

Marcelo just gave me his version of the even look while Jean interrupted, "I guess we're all alone again tomorrow, eh?"

"You will be fine," he replied.

"You WILL take us to the airport, right?" Pettus asked him.

"Yes, of course."

We got the gate code on the first try all the while signaling hello to our guard. Experience makes for efficiency. We got inside and began our routine: computer, TV, cocktails, showers, call Sylvia to get us a tax. Which she did.

Porcão! "When you go there it is a party!"--Marcelo

It was a party! We were at a round table in the middle of a room surrounded by celebratory people and mass quantities of fantastic food -- and that was just the side selections to go with the meat, meat, meat and MORE MEAT!

I didn't bring my camera, but Jean took these with her disposable.

They seemed to anticipate our every need in the meat and sides department, discovering Pettus' affinity for chocolate on her fried banana slices. Before anyone could say anything, a waiter brought her a small white pot filled with pourable goodness. This of course got all over the tablecloth, and added to the Pollock-like nature of the whole event.

Look at the tiny little bucket of ice! So "individual" and "pampering." TAM could take a tip from these people!

porcaoblametricia.jpgSo let's blame Patricia for the mess. And also for the special attention from the waiters. Then let's ask Ben the question: "Did you get enough to eat?"

porcaobengrimace.jpgGood LOOK-IN! Nice shirt, though. Got it at the Jimmie Hale Mission: Possible store for 4 bucks. XXL Land's End, 100% cotton, flat bottom for "capri wear," beautiful blue color that sets off my eyes.

The bill here was about double that of La Verdanna. It was a lot of fun and the food was fantastic, but not double the fun or flavor. Nevertheless, it was a fabulous treat, and once again, it was right on our own personal restaurant row!

The cabs got us home quickly, and we lapsed into bloated evening wind-down mode. The next day we were going to Copacabana for sure, with Pettus and Robo hoping for a hang-gliding experience. The girls had looked at the Metro stuff, and determined that we could get a cab to the ferry, then take the Metro to the beach. They seemed confident, and with Pettus' interior compass, it seemed like a plan.

Seventh day in Rio, part 4--Last night in Rio

How could two behemoth boats find each other in a giant bay?

When the ferry pulled up, we looked at Robo and Pettus like "Well? What now?" Daniel and Patricia still hadn't arrived, but we had talked to them only a couple of minutes earlier, and they assured us that they felt sure the cabbie had finally figured out where to go THIS time. Jean and I had nothing else to do but get on the ferry and get our own tax back to the house. She called Sylvia to arrange it all, and I must say, having a concierge was pretty great.

The boat we had gotten on was a little different than the ones we had experienced before. This was a genuine piece of shit craft after what we had become used to. The seats were not even vinyl. They were "pleather," and many of them had huge gouges in them. No adjusting of the chairs on this heap. Just a rigid back and weird leg space to help you get over the fact that there were no amenities aboard. Several windows were cracked, and the life jackets were not only visible, which they hadn't been on the other boats, but seemed to scream out, "Mulheres e crianças primeiras! (Women and children first!)"

Now how bad could a boat wreck in little ole Guanabara Bay be? Hmmm. Nothing there to eat you, per se, unless it was the bacteria. And of course, you could always get cut on some kind of light bulb. And then there was the drowning thing. I began to sing what I thought was "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" to Jean, and she hushed me quick. Good thing. I have no idea what the words are. But the Edmund was just 12 miles off the shore of Lake Erie, or one of those giants up there. It seems so close. But so far.

I have a fear/fascination with being plunged into endless deep water all alone in the middle of nowhere. I don't know if this would qualify. There's no way you could have missed a life jacket on THIS boat.

We landed with no difficulty at all and gratefully got off the ferry. There was our tax, waiting on us just as Sylvia had said! I half expected it to be the Whistler, but it wasn't--although he was certainly qualified to find our house. This was some guy who knew enough English to assure Jean and me that we would get there. If he could have gotten us to the McDonald's, we could have found the rest of the way. But that was not a problem.

I had all the fixins from PMS 361 on the table when the four of them staggered in with what I could only describe as ashen faces.

"Did you bastards get the good ferry?" I hollered at them. I was mutilating some limes in the house caipirinha maker while my new one stood and watched. Jean had pointed out how stupid I would be to deflower it before I packed it, lest there be some kind of fruity skankiness factor involved.

"Oh yeah, we got the good ferry all right," sneered Pettus. "We almost got killed!"

"What in the HELL are you talklng about?" Jean and I yelled simultaneously.

"Here we were cruising along fine. Then everybody begins to notice a huge freighter coming straight at us. We were on a gnat-and-elephant collision course, and everyone on the ferry had figured that out, except apparently the captain," Robo enthused. "A bunch of people flocked to the windows and some headed out to the front deck, maybe to play human bumper or to get the best view possible before they were crushed to death. I kept hearing 'The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald' in my head."

"Me too!" I shouted. "I was just singing it to Jean a little while ago! Wih-ih-ih-ih-IERD! So what happened? You're not dead."

"Well, finally the captain, who must have worked for TAM, obtained 'situational awareness.' He shut down the engines and then reversed, but we were still drifting forward. When the freighter's bow passed, we were maybe 150 feet away. By the time its mid-section was in front of us, that was down to around 50 feet or so. And then suddenly it was clear. We started up again and kept going as if nothing had happened. Nothing but the fear."

"Well, if you had been on that piece of shit WE were on, you wouldn't have had to look for a life jacket," I said, not wanting to steal their ferry story thunder. "At least y'all are here. Where we gonna eat? We thought La Verdanna again. Known quantity, right down there, easy to get a tax to. Eh?"

"Great," they all said.

"You must tell us about your wonderful cab driver!" I gushed to D&P.

"You wouldn't have believed him," Patricia said, in a tone mixed with exasperation and wonder. "At first we thought he was trying to get more money from us, but we finally decided that he was just really, really, stupid. He was nice. Just really stupid."

"Bummer. What time do y'all wanna go to La Verdanna? Honey, are you calling Sylvia?"

Of course she was.

After showers and bracers, we were ready for the cabs, which pulled up almost the second we were ready. I wondered what Marcelo was doing. He had probably picked up a couple of real pikers, and they were sitting by the side of the road eating fish steaks and crackers. HA! As long as he was there to take us to the airport, he could eat whatever he wanted.

When we walked into the restaurant, they all seemed to remember us immediately. I wonder why? Maybe it was Daniel's zit. Who knows? Whatever it was, they seated us in a side room right next to the bar at a long table that had fun written all over it.

The waiters instantly swarmed us, and most of them we recognized from a few nights earlier. They came back to us! But really, what's not to attract them? There was Patricia. There were the two gleaming blondes who weren't Argentinian. There was a chance to see the largest purse ever brought into the city limits of Niterói. And there was my stellar, fawning Portuguese coupled with a willingness to drink anything they brought me.

As usual, Daniel sucked down all the chicken hearts, but we were all more judicious about what we took, being hip to the mistake of gluttoning out at the beginning.

Apparently, the waiters had raised their funness quotients. Word must have gotten around about Marcelo's comment about Porcão being a party. It seemed that we were jiving with the staff all night long, and were partying like it was 1999, even though we all had to get up at about 4 a.m. to leave the next day.

The Verdanna crew was effusive in their warm goodbyes to us, and we reciprocated in kind. I have compared the food, service, ambience and everything else that goes with a great dining experience, and I can safely say that US dollar for US dollar, that is the best food value I've ever had in my life. There. I'll stand on a limb and say it again.

The pair-o-tax that Sylvia or whoever it was had gotten, were right there to whisk us (cars and riders groaning) up the hill to Mirante de São Francisco to settle down, gather up our stuff from all over the house, inventory all consumables, pour a bunch of cachaça in used agua com gáis bottles to take home, and begin the torture of packing for the Amazon, remembering that we may only be able to bring ONE suitcase. HORROR upon HORRORS.

All I cared about was the  safety of my flea market goods and caipirinha maker. All else was replaceable except for my camera, ipod and flash cards, and they weren't gonna be crushed or leaked on. It was accomplished easier than I thought, and I was able to flop down on the bed at what I thought was a decent hour, while Jean did all the REAL packing.

Then that GOL-DURNED BLACKBERRY began its chirpy dirge at some ungodly hour.

We got up, dragging like hell, me dreading every future second of air travel and all that encompassed it. We trudged upstairs after my leaving our suitcases in the hall for Robson and crew, remembering to itemize our gratuities in writing. As if to validate the whole event, there was Robson's cute wife standing there with him. He introduced her to us and she gave us a sweetly obsequious greeting. I felt like a turd about the whole thing. It seemed the whole house was filled with people doing stuff for only us, whether they wanted to or not.

goodbye-patricia.jpg I took a beautiful picture of Patricia before photographing several sheets from the Mirante house manual. Jean informed me that there was some discrepancy in what she was getting from two sources about the number of free airport transfers we had. I wish I had taken a picture of the drug section.

All of us had to witness that even when we first arrived, there was no sunscreen in the "pay-as-you-use" amenities basket on the first floor. We didn't want to "pay" the 10 bucks for something we hadn't "used." That type of thing can get really complicated. I could imagine a house full of 14 people all drinking the liquor in PMS 361 and being presented with a huge, possibly specious tab at the end. I suppose the best way to keep track of that would be to keep the empties like caterers do.

mirante-rules.jpgOnce all that was completed and endured, we got outside and there was Marcelo along with his assistant car, being as we couldn't get all six of us and our luggage in his regular vehicle. It was great to see him, and kinda sad at the same time. We had all gotten really attached to Marcelo, and it was completely obvious how he had enriched our trip to Rio like no one else could have. He and Carol were truly perfect counterparts.

We all piled in the appropriate vehicles, me in the front with Marcelo, waved goodbye to the guard and the beautiful house, and zoomed down the curvy road that would lead us to the airport and beyond.

When we arrived at the airport, I let Jean and Robo take care of gratuitizing Marcelo. I was mainly interested in getting his email address so I could send him some pictures. It was the first time I had seen the word "lavoyer." We all gave him giant American hugs (except Robo, who's not much of a hugger) and I told him I'd be in touch. I wasn't kidding. Now he's on the hook to help me authenticate some of this tome.

The airport. I began to shudder involuntarily.
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