Monthly Archives: February 2015

Carnaval RIO

Carnaval in Rio is one of the biggest and most famous parties in the world. But nowadays the hip tourists prefer Salvador and many Cariocas leave the city to celebrate Carnaval in a more relaxed atmosphere. The mais attraction in Rio has traditionally been the parade of the samba schools in the custom built Samb?dromo. More informal parades in the various neighborhoods are now promoted to compete with Salvador. All the normal hotspots in the city heat up even more during the four days of Carnaval.

The big parade is not a chaotic sequence of scarcely clad mulatas as the TV-coverage in Europe might suggest, but a highly formalized and extremely well prepared sporting event. Each year 14 samba schools fight for the title of best parade. Every aspect is judged: from costumes to drumming.

The schools choose a theme (enredo) for that years parade. This theme is used in the text of the samba in the costumes and in the floats. The themes vary hugely. In 2005 the winner Beija-Flor represented the Jesuit presence in Brazil. While my personal favorite Imperatriz worked with the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen, helped by a financial injection of the Danish government. Other schools where sponsored by Pertrobras and Nestl?. It probably won?t be long before the whole parade has been turned into a giant commercial.

he parade starts with a Commiss?o de frente. This used to be some elderly school members waving to the crowd. In the last years they have evolved into choreographed dance spectacles with swans (Imperatriz ) or Roman soldiers (Beija Flor 2005). They are folowed by groups of people dressed in the same costume (this is called an ala) and up to eight floats. The drum section and singers usually close the parade. All together a school parades with up to 5.000 people.

This means that each night over 30.000 people are parading, watched by 60.000 crowd. Both groups mix on their way to the Samb?dromo. In the Metro you already see a fair sample of the costumes on display that night. The samba is rehearsed one last time, to make sure everybody can sing along. Around the Samb?dromo there is an even bigger frenzy: scalpers selling tickets at inflated prices, spectators looking for their section, and paraderd looking for their school. Mixed with street vendors that are always present if more than 10 people gather.

Each school has a few destaques that wear the most elaborate costumes or nothing but a bit of paint, and get the best spots on the floats. To become a destaque you don?t just have to be beautiful and able to samba but also famous. And if you’re famous enough the other demands are dropped. As is shown by the presence and rapturous reception of 63 year old actress Suzana Vieira. Naomi Campbell on the other hand wasn?t recognized and paraded as just an other beautiful mulata.

If a school delivers a great parade, all the elements mentioned above blend together in a sea of color, movement, music and dance. And the public feels part of the parade as well, like you can feel part of a great rock concert. After 80 minutes the show is over, and there is no possiblity of an encore. You just have to wait for the next school and hope that it is just as good.

The 14 best schools (Grupo Especial) parade on sunday and monday of the Carnaval weekend. With seven schools a night and 80 minutes per school, the program lasts until the following morning. On monday the last school Beija-Flor paraded in the sun, due to delays caused by Portela. By then the public had already proclaimed Imperatriz their favorite. The various newspaper each have their own trophy. But the all important official winner gets elected on wednesday. In a live television broadcast, much like the Eurovision Songcontest voting, 40 jurors give their marks from 1 till 10. In practice the majority of the votes vary between 9,5 and 10. The 2005 winner Beija-Flor just missed 0.6. Unidados da Tijuca followed on 0.1 point. The six best school parade again on saturday in the Champion?s parade.

Reveillon in Rio

Carnaval is almost surpassed by Reveillon (New Years Eve) as Rio`s biggest party. All neighborhoods have their own firework show, but by far the grandest and most popular is in Copacabana. Each year about two million people gather on the beach to see the fireworks and the various concerts. All hotels have special parties costing one minimum monthly wage or more (R$300). Virtually all apartments with a beach view host a party. Reportedly some people just keep their apartment for this one night of the year. Cruiseships are anchored in the bay. Everybody wants to be in Copa on this night!

R?veillon is also an important event in the Candombl? calendar. Flowers are tossed into the sea to pay hommage to Iemanj?, the mother of the water. Many people are dressed in white hoping this will bring them peace, love and prosperity in the new year. Some are more interested in money (yellow), love (pink), passion (red) or tranquility (blue). And many just wear what they are always wearing.

For many of Rio?s poor R?veillon is an opportunity to make some money. Selling beer, softdrinks, water or anything that sprays like champagne. After everybody has gone they are looking for lost valuables on the beach.

Although there are shows of Brazilian top artists (Alcione, Bar?o Vermelho) everybody is waiting for midnight. This year the fireworks show was organized by an Argentinian company. After the first few minutes, there was so much smoke that much of the rest of the show was invisible. The company claims this was due to the lack of wind and high humidity. Authorities are not sure about this, and an official enquiry will be held. Some nationalistic Brazilians will believe the Argentinians did it on purpose. After the smoke had lifted there were more shows . On all three stages the night was closed with a show of one of the major Samba Schools. To show that there is no rivalry between Rio’s two major events.

To get 2 million people together in such a short period of time is a logistical nightmare. The return is even worse, because everybody wants to return after the fireworks. To manage this feat the whole neighborhood is closed for private cars after 18:00. The Subway sells special tickest for a specific time period, and actually gets sold out. Even so the roads are overcrowded with taxis and busses after midnight and progress is at walking pace.

Feliz Natal (Merry Christmas)

Brazilians are like little children who can`t wait for their birthday to start and wake up their parrents in the midle of the night to receive their presents. They start celebrating Christmas at the earliest opportunity, the stroke of midnight of the 24th. The champagne is opened, and you can finally attack the food that has been lined up in the corner of the room all night long. It`s buffet style. There is turkey, but the sidedishes are more Brazilian, bolinhas de bacalhau (snacks made of dried codfish) farofa (fried manioc flour) rice and various mayonaise based sallads.

Christmas is also the time to give presents to your loved ones, although no present were exchanged at the party where I was. The shops are very crowded in the weep preceeding Christmas and this year they stayed open the whole night the day before Christmas. It was an eperiment, but it will probably be repeated. One the most popular presents are mobile phones, although they are out if reach as a present for the ordinary Brazilian.

A party in Brazil is impossible without music. Among the young Cariocas Hip Hop is the most popular music style. So there was plenty of that. Brazilian music is deemed boring, the only exception being made for Funk. Maybe even more necesarry is beer. And if a Brazilian talks about beer, he usually uses the word cold in the same sentence. Their obsession with freezing cold beer makes them frown on the English habit of drinking lukewarm beer as the ultimate excentricity.

vicario navidad

European Christmas by necessity is an exclusively inside affair. In Brazil it`s more comfortable to sit on the front porch. So although it also starts out as a family affair, it`s easier to mingle with neighbours and passerbys. When you feel tired you go to bed, the party ends when the last person goes to bed.

The next day it takes a while before everybody is awake again. There is still plenty of food from the night before, so the only thing needed for breakfast is coffee. And then it is time for more beer and music. It was a beautiful day, so you could sit outside the whole day. When you feel hungry you eat some more of the food. You won`t feel thirsty, because there is always a bottle of beer going around.

clinica vicario navidad

It`s all very relaxed, and there is no fixed timetable or obligation to join. At the same time no Brazilian can imagine that you would prefer your own company to the company of friends at any time. Doing so would make you an outsider, and only in European welfare states this is a riskless choice.

Quem tem boca……

Quem tem boca vai at? Roma is a Portuguese exprssion that means you can get everywhere (or ar least to Rome) by asking. Rome isn?t very hard to reach, because all roads are leading there, but this is not a Portuguese expression. The expression sums up the main difference between the way I?m travelling here in Brazil and how I travelled in India.

India is a very safe country and armed robberies are almost unheard of. But they have different ways to part a tourist from his money: commission. Any question is an opportunity to make a little extra money. Where?s the bus station? is interpreted as Don?t you know someone who has a shop in the general direction of the bus station. If you don?t make very clear you?re not in for this, a simple taxi ride might lead to a full afternoon of shopping. Hotels you want to go to are closed, burned down or fully booked. But the cab driver knows just the right place for you. The only safe questions are questions like: Is this the bus to Delhi?, if you?re already boarding the bus.

An other trick is to grossly inflate the prices. Since everything is ridiculously cheap, most tourists won?t even notice it anayway. Under these circumstances the Lonely Planet is more likely to get you where you want as your mouth.

All the stories about crime and corruption in Brazil, might lead you to believe that no Brazilian can be trusted, but this would be very unfair. Almost all Brazilians are very helpful, friendly and honest. I haven’t experienced any overcharging or short changing. Copacabana is swarmed by hawkers who sell football shirts, maps of Brazil and number plates (!?). A simple nod or no is enough to discourage them. No spectacular chases on the boulevard and the sand.

People are always willing to point you in the right direction, and if you look particularly lost, they might even take you there. Not once have I been taken to a shop on the way there. So just learn Portuguese, and you don?t need to use maps any more.

Travessia dos Fortes

To sun and samba Rio wants to add sport. They did?t make it to the shortlist for the 2012 Olympics, probably because of the violence. But in 2007 they are hosting an other important event: The Pan-American games. As a warm up, and to show the world they can organize big sporting events, a series of events is scheduled. The first of these is the Travessia dos Fortes. A 3.8 km swim from the Copacabana Fort to the Fort of Leme at the other side of the bay. Or put in a other way a swim along the full length of the most famous beach on earth.

The race was held for the fourth time and did have a record number of participants of 4.300. Including Brazilian olympic swimmers Luiz Lima and Monique Ferreira. If 4.000 people, incluidng children can do it, it shouldn?t be a problem for me. Yet it seemed quite hard. I swim regularly, but never in the sea, and never this kind of distance. I only realised there was an other complicating factor, the cold water, when I arrived and saw people putting vaseline on their body. I was told that the water is between 14 and 18 degrees and not the comfortable swimming pool 30 degrees. Wet suits are only allowed for those over 60.

The first part was very crowded and it was impossible to get into your stroke. Soon things got more relaxed and you could really start to swim. The water was cold indeed, but there were almost no waves. In the open sea it is difficult to get a sense of direction, so you just follow the swimmers in front of you, hoping they are taking a straight line to the finish. Progress was marked by the Copacabana hotels. By the time I reached the Copacabana Palace Hotel my hands were freezing. At Le Meridien I knew I would make it, and even found some strength for a last push.

Luiz Lima won the mens race for the third time in a row in 41 minutes 58 seconds. I finished almost an hour later. And altough it was a hot day found the Leme beach full of people trembling from the cold. A rare sight in Rio. The organization was prepared and provided hot-chocolate, and for the worst cases, comfortable towels.

Rio hopes that the Aquatic Marathon will become part of the Olympic and Pan-American program. They will have one facility ready for their next olympic bid. And one that won?t be easy to beat , for its beauty, by any other city.

Surprising Brazil

Everybody has a set of knowledge and expectations about each country in the world. With a country like Benin it doesn?t go much further than ?Africa, isnt?t it??. Brazil is in the blessed circumstance that people all over the world have positive feelings about it. As is shown by the number of people who wear Brazil shirts nowadays. When you get to know a country some of your expectations are met, some are not, and you learn new things you never even thought about. The following things surprised me most:

Brazil?s size
Of course I knew that Brazil is a big country, but I didn?t know it?s even bigger than Australia. The sheer size first dawned on me when halfway through my flight to Rio de Janeiro I was already flying over Brazil. Or maybe even before that when I prepared my trip and even Sao Paolo which seems a neighboring city on the map turned out to be six hours by bus.

It rains a lot
One of the first associations almost everybody has with Brazil is sun. And there are many beautiful days. But all these trees don?t grow on sun alone, they need water as well, so it rains a lot. Showers that last various days are not uncommon in Rio and the south of the country.

Empty football stadiums
Football is popular and probably the favorite topic of conversation among men. With 4 clubs in Rio (Flamengo, Vasco da Gama, Botafogo, Fluminense) there?s plenty of room for discussion. All 4 clubs are struggling to stay in the highest division and games are played before empty stadiums. Some games in the huge Maracan? stadium just attract 3.000 spectators.

No spicy food
Although the climate resembles Thailand, Brazilian food does not. For flavoring they just use salt, pepper and garlic. They like salty food like bacon, but it?s never spicy.

Sweating Santa Claus
The first time I saw Christmas decorations in a shop, I thought it was a joke or a mistake. It took me a while to realize that although it was 30 degrees Celsius, it was November, and Brazil a catholic country. So the decoration was completely in order. Yet for me Christmas is still associated with at least the possibility of snow and not with a barbecue on the beach.

No English spoken
Speaking English won?t get you very far in Brazil. They tell me that English is taught in school, but I have never seen much evidence of that. Brazilians can?t pick up English from radio and TV either, because both are almost exclusively in Portuguese, including the music. Even simple things like place names can lead to confusion due to the peculiarities of Portuguese pronunciation.

Van Who?
Almost everywhere in the world the mention of Holland produces the same almost Pavlovian reaction :?Ah Holland, Cruyff, Gullit, Van Basten?. In football crazy Brazil you would expect this to happen as well, but until now it didn?t happen once. Brazil?s superiority complex doesn?t allow room for foreign players.

Smelly Gringo?s
Some Brazilians have heard rumors, they find very hard to believe, that Americans and Europeans just take one shower a day. It takes some convincing before they believe that in a place that?s not a natural sauna, this is enough not to be smelly.

Brazilian TV

Brazilian TV equals TV Globo equals telenovelas. There are other channels as well, and Globo does have other programs, but the equation isn?t to far from the truth.

TV Globo has accomplished a monopoly of the mind by being the first and having the best broadcast facilities. Cable is not very common in Brazil so almost everybody gets his signal from the air. Globo is always loud and clear. Moreover Brazilians don?t use the pre-set stations, they just search the band for the available stations. TV Globo is always the first. This makes TV Globo the fourth largest commercial network in the world.

The program of a typical day is:

14:30 Vale a Pena ver de Nova: Worth seeing again, popular novelas from the past get a second change.
15:30 American Film: Dubbed of course
17:15 Malha?ao: A highschool novela with and for the young Brazilians. This one is already running for 10 years.
17:45 Caboclo: An other novela
18:40 Local news
19:00 Come?ar de Novo: The seven o?clock novela. Usually more humorous as the others
20:00 National news
20:50 Senhora do Destino: The current 8 o?clock novela

The schedule looks exactly like this six days a week on sundays there?s a news-show that lasts the whole evening. After 10 o?clock the program varies. Football sometimes changes the schedule, but kick-off is usually scheduled after the end of the 8 o?clock soap.

There is one important difference between telenovelas and soaps as we know them. Telenovelas only run for a limited time. The standard is 180 shows, but this can be stretched or curtailed if necessary. So every month or two, after a dramatic finale, one of the novelas is changed for a totally new show. Actors can get promoted to a bigger part, or to a more important soap. The pinacle being the 8 o?clock soap.

The novela phenomenon isn?t restricted to TV. In the papers you can read the plot for the whole week. Highlights are announced and stars and writers talk about the upcoming and past events. Altough everybody already knows what is going to happen beforehand, this only seems to add to the popularity. The scene in which Maria do Carma beats up the woman who robbed her child after birth was announced two weeks earlier. Yet almost 60% of all Brazilians were watching it, when it finally went on air.

With this huge popularity novelas are more than just entertainment. They also serve as a way to comment on current affairs and shape the thoughts about subjects like gays, the role of women and fidelity. As such they take the role of talkshows which play a minor part in Brazil.

TV Globo is a commercial network and they use every trick available to maximize earnings. Twenty minutes of the national news are taken up by commercials. The same applies to other programs, but between two shows there never is a commercial break. Product placements in novelas are common and sometimes very succesful. TV presenters tell how much better X tastes when you use brand Y. Sport commentators use any spare time to talk about various products.

Telenovelas are one thing all Brazilians share. The rich who are living the novela life, the urban poor who can see it from closeby everyday and the people in the interior who wouldn?t have a clue this lifestyle existed without the novelas. As such TV Globo is one of the keys to Brazil?s national identity.

My Apartment

Brazil is the same as Europe but with a different twist. If you want to rent an apartment, you read the classifieds in the paper (O Globo and O Dia are the best) and you contact real estate agencies. Just remember that one room means one bedroom and a living room. The same goes for two, three and more rooms. A conjugado is big room with bathroom and usually a kitchen attached.

If you are a foreigner and only want to stay for a limited time in a furnished apartment it?s a little different. In the tourist neighbourhoods of Leme, Copacabana and Ipanema you will be approached in the street by people who have apartments for rent. In other neighbourhoods flats are usually not furnished and you have to sort out all the taxes, charges and bills you have to pay. That?s how I ended up in a conjugado in Leme (250 euros a month until the start of the tourist season).

The Copacabana area is one of the most densely populated in the world with 250.000 people living on 4 sq km. With this density half the world population would neatly fit into Holland. Yet when I open my window I only hear the sound of birds and occasionally the barking of dogs from the ………….. favela. Oops there?s the F-word that scares people all over the world. From my window I see hill that?s too steep for regular housing, but perfect for a favela. By no means a Rocinha and I didn?t hear any gunshots yet, so don?t worry.

What?s a Rio apartment like? For one it doesn?t have any form of heating and the only form of \”hot\” water is an electric shower like you see everywhere in Brazil. In this climate you don?t need any of this. Apparently you need a doorman 24 hours a day seven days a week, because every building has one (well there are various people of course). He opens the door and when your hands are full he pushes the button of the elevator for you.

An other thing that runs 24-7 is Brazilian TV. One of the few things I share with my favela neighbours. Next time I will write more about this.

Rio on My Mind

The sea, beaches and mountains make Rio a beautiful city. The Carioca?s make it a friendly city. Twelve million inhabitants make it a vibrant city. All this combines makes it the ?cidade maravilhosa?.

One year will give me the time to explore it all. From Fla-Flu in the Maraca?a stadium to Jorge Arag?o in the Canecao and carnival in the Sambadrome. Here I will tell everything that makes this experiences different from what I?m used to. But also what daily life is like for a temporary carioca.

If you wonder what life is like for a Brazilian student or how to find an apartment in Rio. I hope I can tell you soon. What?s the difference between a Rio gym and one in Amsterdam? And where should you go to party with the Carioca?s. All this and more you can find here in the near future.

So come and check every week, to see what happened to me.