Returning to Rio and drawing a close to my trip
16.06.2009 20 °C
Blinkin' 'eck and bloody Nora and where's me cup o' tea. I'm back in England, in case you hadn't noticed. I seem to be all in one piece, so I can run you through my last week and get this blog all wrapped up.
PRACA QUINZE MUSIC FESTIVAL
The weekend I jumped on a bus from Paraty back to Rio I caught the music festival at Praca XV, an outdoor concert venue in the Lapa district. The samba legend Beth Carvalho was the main act. I didn't make it to the Tom Ze gig, as he was playing just a bit too far out of town. I did think it was cool though that the entrance fee to see him play was five Reis, about £1.80, plus a kilogram of food for the poor. I returned to Praca XV on Sunday for the festival closer where I saw Pedro Luis e Parade, a psychadelic rock band, and Lulu Santos, who I found a bit commercial and less impressive. It was all worth rushing back to Rio for. You could see a complete cross section of society there, from breakdancing street children to college kids to old samba ladies (like Beth Carvalho).
I allowed myself some time during my last week to chill on Ipanema beach. Actually it isn't exactly a place to 'chill'. Rio is a city on the beach and Ipanema is very much a beach on the city. You can sunbathe and close your eyes but you still hear people shouting and trying to sell you things and the traffic not far off. I kind of like that though. It's an exciting place to hang out. Great waves too; the current sucks you in and spits you out.
The Metropolitan Cathedral, designed by Oscar Niemeyer (who will crop up again later in this blog), looks like a grimy concrete cone from the outside. But from inside Its stained glass windows are awe-inspiring and sometimes, as when I entered, organ music completely fills the space.
Niteroi is a city just across a bridge from Rio. It's less renowned as a place to visit, being mostly residential, but it makes a decent daytrip. Its worth it just for the ferry ride over, providing fantastic views of Sugar Loaf mountain and Christ the Redeemer as you look back towards Rio. The main draw of Niteroi for many tourists, myself included, is the Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by Oscar Niermeyer. His other well known commissions, beside the Metropolitan Cathedral, include the most prominent buildings in Brasilia. Rio was the capital of Brazil until the 60s, when the government decided to build a whole entire new city out in the desert, hence Brasilia. A friend from Rio told me this was to segregate the seat of power from the general population. This seems cynical, but quite probable. In Buenos Aires, for example, protest and popular descent is possible partly because the general population live so close to the government. If Brazilians wanted to bother or disrupt their government they'd have to make a lot more effort. Even if the foundations of Brasilia are ethically dubious, Niermeyer's designs make up an impressive legacy and he's loved as a national icon all over Brazil.
I should mention there's some art in the Neimeyer art gallery, funnily enough. Its mostly modernist concrete art. The Brazilians were very good at that during the fifties and sixties. Perhaps more interesting is the concrete poetry that coincided, focusing on how words looked on the page, arranging them in patterns and shapes that illuminated something of the content.
Having seen the gallery and walked along the shore, we picked the right time to take the ferry back to Rio. Another gorgeous sunset.
BOSSA NOVA GEEK POINTS
Here I am in front of the Garota de Ipanema restaurant, where Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes composed the song The Girl from Ipanema. The 'girl' on whom that song is based is still alive, now in her sixties. Her daughter is a famous model and there was recently a bit of controversy when both mother and daughter posed for a cheeky magazine shoot. You go girl.
On my last full day in South America, which was also International Busking Day according to the BBC, I met up with some people from the Rio couchsurfing community for an afternoon of jazz. The jazz club we visited was The Maze, near the top of a favela in Catete. The views from here were brilliant. The club itself was a feast for the eyes too. The owner, Bob Nadkarni, is an English ex-pat who worked as a sculptor on Stanley Kubrick's Space Odyssey: 2001. He has paintings hanging all around the club, which put me in mind of Francis Bacon with a De Kooning colour pallette, and just a sprinkling of Spirit of Jazz. Probably. He was a great guy to talk to with plenty of anecdotes. I wish I'd discovered this place earlier. I spent a lot of time there that day, and could quite happily have rented one of the rooms there seeing as they've recently made it a boarding house too. After leaving late afternoon we went for coconut and cachaca based cocktails at a friend's house and then out for a few drinks in Lapa. We started early and finished early. I was back at my hostel around 11pm. I had the opportunity to go out again to a Brazilian funk party, but I felt sated. I'd had a perfect last day and didn't want to risk spoiling it by drinking to fall down.
BACK TO BLIGHTY
My journey back home went nice and smoothly. After numerous twenty-something hour bus journeys, seventeen hours of flying didn't seem like such a big deal. I shared a taxi to the airport with a guy and two girls from Sao Paolo. During the ride an argument seemed to errupt between the Paulistas and the driver. The word 'gringo' came up several times. 'Gringo' isn't necessarily a derogatory term - it's just what they call us - but this still made me feel a little uneasy. Eventually it calmed down and the Paulista guy tapped me on the shoulder. 'We were discussing the price. He was going to charge us twenty Reis, but for you the foreigner price of fourty Ries. We don't think that's right, so now you just pay the same as us.' As a traveller in Brazil the people who go out of their way to be nice to you like this more than make up for the ones who see you as a walking bag of money. I enjoyed the flight back, feeling much more relaxed than I did flying the other way. I struggled to remember what my expectations had been.
And so here I am with a cup of tea, with lots to get on with but no strict plans over the next few days other than to drink a few cups more. I feel I've got what I wanted out of the last two months. I'm happy I did everything at my own pace. Even though initially I had expected to cover more than two countries I do feel like that was enough. Brazil is a really big place. I got a good sense of this travelling everywhere by bus. I'd love to go back someday and see the north of Brazil, Salvador and the Amazon etc. and also Sao Paolo. Regarding Argentina I'm glad I got to have got to know Buenos Aires so well, but I'd be curious to see other areas like Mendoza or Salta that are apparently completely different. Then there's Bolivia and Peru and Columbia and the rest of the world in fact. All pleasant far off dreams for another day. Right now its just good to be back home again.
THANKS, GRACIAS AND OBRIGADO
However much of my travel ramblings you've followed, thank you. If you like you can see my art, performance and writing blog at mpembrey.wordpress.com. I intend to update there more regularly in the future, especially following my move to Brighton in September, when I'll be starting an MA in Sequential Design and Illustration. You can 'subscribe' or 'follow' my blog and receive email updates when a new entry appears. Send me your blog links too if you have them. I like blogs. An especially big gracias to Brian Yule, who was a most excellent host and compadre in Buenos Aires. I owe you a bottle of wine when we next meet senor, though I know I'll struggle to find you one good enough after you've been spoiled by that Argentinian stuff. A big hey/hola/ola to all friends made along the journey who have helped to make the journey: Kirsty, Mary, Sue Lynn, Monica, Rafi, Torsten, Christina, Julie, Hugo, Christian, Gabriela, Chris, Eva, Jason, Blanka, Nick, Jane, Joanna, Emma, Cornelia, Remi, Marcus, Larissa, Owen... I've met some excellent people with whom I am sure I will keep in touch. Keep travelling and having fun wherever you are.