Stuck in Traffic

Author’s note:

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I’m an improbable carioca (local term for a citizen of Rio de Janeiro). I can sunburn in 15 minutes flat, for one thing. But bear with me.

I’m a junior at Princeton, studying Spanish, Portuguese, Latin American Studies and Brazilian Studies. Over the course of my first two years in college I fell in love with Rio from afar through scratchy samba recordings and in 2011, I finally found my way to the city for a semester abroad. It was hyperbolic – the city both was and wasn’t what I’d dreamed, and I spent a lot of my six months chasing after the ghosts of my favourite writers and musicians.

I had to go home for Christmas, but on my way to study in Argentina, I managed to make a pit stop for Carnaval. The Carnaval of the tourist brochures – the samba schools – is only a tiny fraction of the carioca celebration; from January to March there are over 500 street parties (official and unofficial) called blocos. If you get the chance, come see for yourself: they prove that samba’s not a spectator sport.

I wrote something every day while I was in Rio, trying to leave a record of my time there. This is a kind of diary, so read with caution.

Less than a month left. No time to waste. Stuck na hora do rush: Centro, 18:30. Bus crawling down Rio Branco so slowly you begin to suspect that the driver has just let his foot off the brake and is letting gravity pull us all the way to the sea, it’s the jeito carioca and saves gas to boot. Air conditioning blasting with a vengeful uselessness now that the rain’s cooled everything down. Watching the crowds surge opportunistically across the massive intersections. A multitude of cariocas crossing a street never ceases to marvel. Besuited high-heeled short-skirted jeans-clad havaiana-sporting cane-swinging bag-toting T-shirted all marching at a half-trot across the street, defying taxistas and motoristas alike, and is that a perky-tailed dog bouncing along in their midst? The light from the golden hour warming the façade of the Biblioteca Nacional and the tendinhas of the Cinelândia occupiers and the graffiti on Pereira Passos’ lovely landscape. Oversized red bows and fluffy carpets of fake snow outside the shopping malls. Palmeiras. The azulejos all grimy and loose and radiant. And then the aterro, the green of Flamengo, the toy boats and their reflections anchored off Botafogo, monumental azure clouds and the light behind Cristo parece mentira de tão linda, parece Photoshop, não é justo. Copacabana with its lojinhas já iluminadas, and hoje é dia de jogo you remember, spotting the curbside congregations taking their Skol communion. A bizarre feeling of possessiveness, vontade de stride Manifest Destiny style from lagoa to praia which is admittedly not nearly as grand as the span from Atlantic to Pacific, you don’t need a railroad to cross it, but you also have to admit it’s a whole lot prettier. Get home and throw your things in a corner and get yourself to the beach, because this is another sunset you sure as hell don’t want to miss.

Flora's Rio diary was hosted by the Rio-based culture magazine Piauí, who has kindly allowed us to republish a selection of her posts here on Litro.

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