Part 3 of a 4-part series on my year-end jaunt through the Promised Land, aka Brazil.
Slightly sore from having crammed seven people, plus driver, into an overpriced taxicab from Copacabana to our truck parked uptown the night before, we stretched out at the beach in Barra for January 1. All day, January 1: we got there before noon and it was dark when we left the beach. Got some good dancing in, too (observe, Exhibits 1, 2, and 3 from our in-house paparazzo…guess which one’s me!).
Now, if you’ve read this interview of me at Travellious (wink, nudge), you’d know that one of my most memorable meals was having sushi in São Paulo and sipping on guaraná soda (a fruity, almost ginger ale-ish flavor made from an energetic berry which grows in the Amazon…or at least, the original formula was made from that berry), while my girl Sade was playing over the sound system. Well, the night of January 1, we went to a sushi place in Rio and damn it if they weren’t playing Janet Jackson. I mean, my man rollin’ up the salmon-rice-and-seaweed was jammin’ to the Janet. album. I told y’all Brazil was the lick. And yes, I had the guaraná.
The next day, I let the crew handle themselves on their own while I made some fundraising calls to the United States. I had a serious cash flow problem and was needing something like an advance on the next paycheck. It was also Roberto’s last day of enjoyment in Brazil, as we were heading back to Sampa the next morning and he back to Colombia that evening, so they went hang-gliding over the beach while I caught up on some much-needed sleep. Sounds boring, I know, but as I’ve said before, I usually travel solo, and groups can be a lil too much. I hit the pool and the gym before heading into Ipanema for some reeeallly cheap postcards to take back as gifts (I said there was a cash flow problem*) and then to meet the group and the Colombian couple for dinner and samba at a downtown hotspot called Rio Scenarium.
Historic downtown Rio looks more French Quarter than City of God, with its packed sidewalk bars and its tipsy revelers draped over second-floor balustrades like clinging ivy. The thumps and plinks of competing drums and guitars emanated from each locale, serenaded by its own in-house samba band. As should have been indicated by the interminable line extending from the front door and guarded by a troop of besuited black men (I don’t think there’s a brother over six feet tall in Brazil who isn’t a bouncer), Rio Scenarium was the main attraction of the neighborhood. The three-story warehouse-turned-dinner-and-dance hall sat lording over Rua do Lavradio like a dowager madame running a plush brothel: red velvet and fringe and cut-glass decorated the interiors, along with watercolor landscapes, oil portraits of society ladies, black-and-white prints of 1940s Brazilian pinup girls, scores of antique clocks, radios, and other random antique doodads. The mixture of heat and history and color and sound conjured up the energy of New Orleans, Havana, Kingston, Cartagena, of course Rio, and all the other tropical port cities in the hemisphere all at once, and at only 9pm, it was evident that our rather large group of seven would be standing for most of the night.
Photo by Overmundo.
Three bands played live samba that evening and the dancefloor bounced with a good cross-section of ages, if not economic levels. The crowd was clearly upscale Cariocas (as folk from Rio are called) and a smattering of foreigners, and most of the brown in the place was on stage, but watching older couples or groups of middle-aged women having a girls’ night out getting their samba on was refreshing. And as the rhythm picked up, the drummers kicked out more energy, and the crowd swelled, Roberto and I got lost on the dance floor, dancing alternately with the tall and tan hotties our own age, as well as with some of the older ladies whose step might no longer have as much pep, but who were determined to be out there stepping anyway. At one point, as the entire place was singing along to an upbeat tune that I had never heard before, the woman I had been dancing with asked me, in Portuguese, why I wasn’t singing. I responded that I wasn’t Brazilian and didn’t know the song. After a moment of vocal disbelief, she said, in Portuguese, “Well, you’re here now, and you can samba, so…you’re Brazilian to me.” I’m sure I blushed.
Finally, at the end of the night (at least, before we left, soaked, wilted, beat, and ever-so-lightly toasted), the band played a samba with a refrain that everyone, including the non-Portuguese-talkin’ furreners, could wave their hands in the air and sing along with:
La laaa la
La la la LAAA, la laaa la
La la la LAAA, la laaa la
La la la laaa, la laaa…
And that, capped off by some sweet Carioca Goodbyes (see “Brazilian Hello” in previous posts), was our last night in Rio.
*Part of this cash flow problem was caused because I had to buy a new pair of frames for my glasses. One night, at the club, tryna look sexy, I slipped the glasses into my jeans pocket and lost one of the arms. Somewhere. In the club. And new, plastic, rectangular frames in Brazil ranged in upwards of US$100 every place I checked. And I’m cheap enough to check a lot of places first.