Published: August 28th 2007February 23rd 2007 The infectiousness of abuse
Welcome to the Favela
This old man is visibly enjoying his daily(?) hour of fame.
On the back of a motorbike we are curving up the mainroad of one of Rio's infamous favela neighbourhoods. In my ears still sounds the mocking voice of this big black fellow with rasta look singing "Do not be a gringo, be a local, do not be a gringo..." (The motto of our tour operator) while I observe with amazement one of our tour members taking one-handedly a dozen pictures per second without looking through the viewfinder of his Nikon D2 at all. As I need both hands to hold myself on the bike and still have not seen anything worth risking our camera or my own health to take a picture of amazement was the predominant feeling about our companions behavior. But soon it turns into anger and disgust as we witness him thrushing his huge camera into peoples faces clicking nonstop without looking at his many victims. His shameless behavior only heightens our uneasiness about this very popular but not undisputed tour. We had booked with a recommended tour company who promised small groups and offered a walking tour rather than jeep-sightseeing. In this way we hoped to minimize the zoo-feeling which you expect of
Mocidade samba shool
Depicting a cold and mechanical future.
a tour which aims at people watching. Instead, we now find ourselves in a group of seventeen with only one guide and on top of that we have this photocrazy Russian in our group who seems to mistake his camera for a weapon. After spending fifteen minutes in an artists gallery and another ten minutes in a small store (to bandy some extra cash about was part of the companies strategy) we don't set eyes on our guide again untill the very end of the tour when he yells at us to hurry up because one of the seventeen customers had to catch an evening flight. So much about the informative part of the tour.
As far as we could see Rios favelas weren't as paltry as what we had experienced elsewhere. It is more the explosive proximity of rich and poor and the fact that they are controlled by the mafia rather than legal authorities which explains their fame. Our safety seemed to be well paid for and that meant that for once in Rio you were asked to bring your camera with you. Well, you didn't have to ask our Russian friend twice. What he was right about,
though, was that the favelas winding alleyways were the perfect background for those very photogenic people. And, let's face it: To get some pictures had also been one of our main reason for taking this tour. Sighing, we tried to bring some friendliness into our fellows camera war and while he scared up his prey to shoot it, we aimed at taking those people's picture. The liveliness, patience and humor of the favelas inhabitants left quite an impression on me and as much as I thought the guide unprofessional and the tour ambivalent I still cannot not recommend it. We had a very good two hours.
Back in the car our guide was angry because we were late, angry because I reproached him for not sticking to his promised group size and demanding more money than the day before on the phone. Before we got kicked out of the tour van 40 minutes walking distance from our hostel I asked our camera soldier if he didn't think it to be the right of every human being to say "no" to being photographed - "Well, there is so much abuse in the world, anyway", he replied. - True, and who cares
From Império Serrano samba school.
about a little more? The fugaciousness of beauty
Rio's carneval is not much more than a big show in a big arena. What is happening on the streets resembles a streetparade rather than a carneval but is in a way less special than Europe's streetparades as Rio is full of lightly dressed people most days of the year anyway. There are street-happenings on all carneval days but they are not that big and quite spread over the city, so it is very much possible to visit Rio during carneval and not even realise what is on. As for indoor events - well as far as I can see, balls are balls and parties are parties, maybe a bit more exclusive and expensive to get in. So, the real carneval of Rio is happening in the sambadrome. It is just a show, but the biggest, most lavish show you can imagine. During two nights a dozen samba schools are dancing to their chosen song and presenting their chosen theme, trying to outperform the other competitors in fantasy, luxury and style. An evening in the sambadrome is an unforgettable experience. What we first considered to be the six wagons of six
Estácio de Sá samba school
samba schools turned out to belong to just one. Every single piece in its own right a work of art: a golden temple with hundreds of buddhas; a fury lion, thirty feet high, roaring and turning his head; castles, churches, ships and monsters. The wagons are built most extravagantly but they only form the structure to what is the biggest show event in the world. Thousands and thousands of dancers, each as richly draped as their temples and castles accumulate to a firework of color and beauty, which is unseen anywhere else in the world. The wagons' size is limited by the media bridge from where their pictures are sent out to the world - but the effort, cost and creativity behind the work is not. Castles, churches, ships and monsters - constructed most extravagantly and affectionately, but built only to last one single hour. Beauty as commodity. Proudly admired, filmed and celebrated. But the next morning when the show is over, castles, churches, ships and monsters are ripped apart, nothing more now than recycling material. How can we describe Rio's carneval spirit? Is this the true love of beauty - a love which so fully and completely accepts its
fugaciousness? Or is it an egocentric and self-indulgent spirit which bursts open during this event, zeitgeist of consumption and abundance - not able to engage itself for longer than a fleeting moment before it turnes its head and looks for something new to satisfy its sensual pleasure?
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Sip a Caipirinha or two at one of the beaches.
Say hello to the friendly people in the Rocinha favela.
Witness the carneval parade in the sambadrome.
- Our route: Foz do Iguaçu - Rio de Janeiro
- That was bad: Our hostel manager tried to make every dollar he could in the name of carneval. Lucky for him that his staff was making up for it.
- Recommended guest house: Youth Hostel in Foz do Iguaçu. Nice little hostel with a green backyard for camping. Kitchen, swimmingpool and internet.
- Visa: Free on arrival.
- Money saver tip 1: Visit the champions parade the weekend after carneval to get a taste of it all without having to pay through your nose.
- Money saver tip 2: If you want to visit the sambadrome for the real thing go late (after the show started) and pick up a ticket from a hawker. There should be plenty and they are much cheaper than if you buy in advance. Three or four hours of showtime might be enough for you.
- We paid for a meal: 3-4 Reales (cooking for ourselves).
- Price for a caipirinhal at Ipanema Beach: 5 Reales.
There are more photos below