Rio – Oh wow!
George, Ian and I traveled from Salvador, Bahia to Rio in a Greyhound Bus. The trip took 28 hours. We left Thursday, July 27 at 10 AM and arrived in Rio on Friday, July 28 at about 2 PM after a fascinating (at first) and later grueling trip in which I sat, innards churning, over the rear wheel. We passed some sugar cane, later cactus, isolated farms and even adobe homes shaped like igloos. Passing through Minas Gerais at night we were offered very cheaply priced precious stones by street vendors. Sheepskins dyed and pure were priced at about $4 each.
The following upbeat letter and another one to Anita was written lying on Copacabana Beach on Saturday facing Sugarloaf Mountain while George and Ian chatted with some attractive, bikini clad, women during which time George got his pants stolen and had to go back to our hotel in his bathing trunks, a no-no on public transport in Rio in those days. Wonder, given the fleshy excesses of Rio’s mardi gras, if these ancient strictures still apply… We laughed at ol’ George in his comic predicament, despite our great concern and sympathy. Guys do that.
I had a contact in the Inhaúma area of Rio whose name and address were given to me by fellow Trinidad volunteer, Joyce Kunelius. I took a taxi to her home. The contact was a woman in her twenties whose parents were well-to-do German immigrants. I will call her Astrid. I was invited to dinner and found the conversation, politely in English due to my limited brasilero and non-existent German, fascinating. The interplay at the table between the father and his two daughters made me realize how proud his children were to be Brasilian. It was very pleasant.
The next evening Astrid picked me up at the Hotel Florida on Rua Ferreira Viana. I paid under two bucks for my room in the annex. The Hotel Florida is now about 150 times that! Astrid drove me to what she called a macumba ritual. She used what is now considered, and I think was considered then, a pejorative term, that meant witchcraft. Nowadays, ancient religions get a bit more respect. I know that Christianity encouraged humans to exploit nature – a major flaw that has permitted an abysmal ruination of our precious biosphere.
Spiritism is the accepted name now for the group of religions practised by people of African decent but also by some catholics and protestants who share a belief in the Orixas, the African deities. These deities were brought to America in the hearts and minds of the desperate human cargo aboard the slave ships that came from West Africa. Brasil’s Spiritist religions, diluted with Catholicism and all sorts of other influences, are related to the purer, more powerful Vodoun practiced in Haiti. Wade Davis, one of my favorite writers, had a very close encounter with Vodoun. Sent down to Haiti by Harvard University to identify the mysterious organic chemistry that enables zombies to be created, Davis described his beguiling experience with the Vodoun religion beautifully in his book, The Serpent and the Rainbow.
We stood respectfully at the side of a large ceremonial room and watched the ritual for a beguiling 45 minutes, at which point a large group of obvious tourists came in. My guide said, ” Lets go. Nothing more will happen now.” I did not experience, nor did I witness, any possession that evening. Maybe I was lucky…
My “Macumba” notes:
Mostly Negro, but all colours. Songs with African rhythms and Portuguese words. Women’s dress: white skirts mostly, white blouses, each with many strands of beads, rosary-like. Ten crinolines under the skirt. Mens’ dress: white shirts and pants; not as heavily beaded as the women. Priest: blesses and prostrates; single bead strand. The master of the ceremony: mauve, silk shirt, heavily beaded.
The people danced, sang and chanted. (I can’t remember what instruments were used but there must have been drums. Perhaps only drums.)
Altar: Statues of Christ and Mary at head with a dove in between. Beads. Below: statues of saints, kings, one witch doctor, Roman centurion on a horse. Altar table draped in pink.
Up front: chair – pink arms and seat. Black back – silver R.
Background: blue, cloudy, moon, shooting stars in white, sun with face and a red corona.
I fell in love with Rio and let George and Ian go on ahead on their South America adventure while I got “lost” in its attractive charms. I had finished my two years in Trinidad and the limits on my time spent in South America were only financial. They had another year to go: George in Trinidad and Ian in Jamaica.
Among other things, I took in a game of futebol at the illustrious Maracana Stadium in Rio, built for the 1950 World Cup. Watched two local teams play in what was then one of, if not the world’s largest soccer stadium in terms of bum capacity. Over 100 000 seats way back then (It is estimated that almost 200 000 people watched the 1950 World Cup final from the stands at Maracana). Maybe I even saw Pelé play; who knows? I wasn’t a soccer fan at the time but became one during the time between 1969 and 1972 when I lived in Cheshire, England. I remember watching Brasil defeat England in the 1970 World Cup with some close English friends and realized that, under that smooth, courteous civility the English can harbour a healthy dollop of racism that comes to the surface, even among devout Christians, at times of “crisis.”
And how about 2014? I would love to go down for the 2014 World Cup, just to soak up the Rio atmosphere again. Tickets to a game would be nice, but not necessary, and I’m not holding my breath.
I wandered around the various waterfront areas of Rio – Ipanema, Botafogo, Flamengo – and saw soccer being played with gusto on the beach.
I met a lovely, bright, brasileña teacher from Brasilia while overlooking Rio under the magnificent, massive, outstretched, welcoming, reinforced concrete arms of Christ the Redeemer on the mountain called Hunchback. You will know it as Corcovado, dedicated in 1931 and recently promoted to one of the New Seven Wonders Of The World. The next day I took V to see the movie The Umbrellas Of Cherbourg.
Letter: The Hotel Florida, August 3:
In the first few pages of the following letter written to my father, Louis, on August 3, I talk (yawn) about plans for courses to take (since I was thinking about a career switch to Marine Biology or Geology) and needed to take some night courses to get me in. The last pages, however, betray excitement about my anticipated visit to the Macumba ritual and describe my helpful friend, Astrid.
Sunday, August 6, Rio de Janeiro
Met V, a teacher on holiday from Brasilia. We went to a few sights together and exchanged addresses. We also took in a movie together – The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.
Am restless tonight but am staying home. Can’t concentrate on Zhivago.
Went to Mass this afternoon. Felt slightly religious for a change.
The trip alone should be all right, though I felt lonely yesterday. Temperature very cool – the ol’ nose is as cold as a puppy’s. Can just imagine Montevideo.
Perhaps I’ll review some Spanish tonight.