Monday, December 27, 2010

Pão de Açúcar

The Complexo do Pão de Açúcar (Sugarloaf Complex) is a collection of monolithic morros of quartz and granite situated on a peninsula at the mouth of Guanabara Bay. Passengers take two cable cars to reach the summit—the first ascends 215 meters to a peaceful landing and collection of cafés on Morro da Urca, and the second rises to the peak of Pão de Açúcar, 395 meters above the sea.

O teleférico
Pão de Açúcar
Below, the winding coastline of the Bay of Guanabara
Bairro da Urca
Enseada de Botafogo
Ilha de Cotunduba
Jackfruit tree and, gazing over the city in the distance, Cristo Redentor

Sunday, December 26, 2010

As Praias

Public beaches are remarkably democratic; open to all, they host interesting cross-sections of society that, especially for a curious foreign tourist, make for great people-watching.

Praia de Ipanema

Democratic doesn't necessarily imply unsegregated, though; a unique phenomenon on Rio's beaches is the existence of social boundaries defined by postos that subdivide the beach into areas as diverse as the city itself. 

Here's an excerpt from the Lonely Planet city guide about the sections:
Posto 9, right off Rua Vinícius de Moraes, is Garota de Ipanema, which is where Rio's most lithe and tanned bodies tend to migrate. The area is also known as the Cemetério dos Elefantes because of the handful of old leftists, hippies and artists who sometimes hang out there. In front of Rua Farme de Amoedo the beach is known as the gay section, while posto 8 further up is mostly the domain of favela kids. Arpoador, between Ipanema and Copacabana, is Rio's most popular surf spot. Leblon attracts a broad mix of single Cariocas, as well as families from the neighborhood. Posto 10 is for sport lovers, with ongoing volleyball, soccer and frescobal games. There's also Baixo Bebê, between posts 11 and 12, where affluent parents with children migrate. 
Posto 10

Lonely Planet certainly wasn't wrong about posto 10 being a hangout for sport lovers—the post overlooks a series of volleyball nets and other sporting areas—but the sport lover zone designation could be extended to the entire city; Rio is the most fitness-oriented (and, consequently, the most in-shape) cities I have ever seen. Toned joggers weave along the beaches among swimmers, surfistas and, of course, futebolistas*.

Beach tennis

*Seriously, U.S. universities should just come to Brazil for recruiting: whether it's favela kids on the beach or upper-class enthusiasts in Leblon, the level of talent exhibited by even casual amateur soccer players here is incredible.

A popular soccer-inspired beach sport here is futevôlei, a sport created in 1965 on Copacabana Beach that combines aspects of soccer and beach volleyball. Think volleyball on steroids without hands—it's as if Brazilians found futebol too easy for them and thus invented a sport that would present an actual challenge. The skill of the players below had my family and me gawking (along with a handful of Scandinavian tourists).

On an non-athletic note, one of the best aspects of Brazilian beaches is the abundance of small shops selling everything from coconut water to beach chairs. These vendors will often deliver your order, say a fresh caipirinha, straight to your spot on the sand.

Juice stand
Cerveja kegs
Blankets for sale
A minha água de coco

Em conclusão, as praias do Brasil não são muito democráticas, mas todos os que vão curtem o sol, a beleza do mar e o ambiente bom.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Feliz Natal

Mother remarked that we've never been to a country this undecorated for the holiday season, and she's right. In many commercial districts around the world, impressive tree decorations and shimmering LED lights have become a central element of the winter streetscape. But here in Rio, apart from a few store displays and some lights strung up in the city's department stores (known as shoppings), even the main downtown boulevards and shopping districts are almost entirely free of snowflakes and evergreens. After all, December here means 80 degree weather and the beginning of summer.

Inspired by this northern- and southern hemisphere holiday season dichotomy, below is my random list of "You know you're in Brazil when..."

1. Orchids thrive year-round on trees along the street.

Who needs evergreens in December when there are orchids and palm trees?

2. There are juice bars on every block.

Abacaxi, açaí, acerola, banana, laranja, limão, mamão, manga, morango e mais

3. Garage doors are made of tropical hardwoods.

Really random, I know. But I am weird and pay attention to these things.

4. Yes, the picture you see below is of a shop selling meat on one side, Havaianas on the other side.

No additional comments necessary

5. Futebol is a national religion.

Even the anti-underage drinking campaign posters reference penalty cards.

Friday, December 24, 2010


We started at Praça General Osório, on the eastern edge of Ipanema, and made our way west along Rua Visconde de Pirajá, the central thoroughfare running through the neighborhood.

Street scene

Three blocks later, we arrived at Praça Nossa Senhora da Paz:

Praça NS da Paz
Monument to Pinheiro Machado, an important figure who fought for the
establishment and consolidation of the Republic
Cariocas playing bocce

On the street, água de coco (the second best-selling juice in Brazil after orange juice):

Fresh coconut water: R$2

Continuing west:

Galeria de Arte Ipanema

We then crossed the Jardim de Alah, the dividing line between Ipanema and Leblon, for dinner at Espaço Brasa Leblon, a spacious churrascaria on Av. Afrânio de Melo Franco.

Canal do Jardim de Alah
Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped by a nearby supermarket to pick up some snacks. Some of you may know that I have a minor obsession with grocery stores, especially in foreign countries. Honestly, I believe that one can learn a lot of interesting things—how different and, simultaneously, how similar we all are—by observing the food-purchasing priorities of different cultures. (I may or may not have once spent five hours in a Carrefour in Barcelona reading/translating the labels on every type of olive oil in the store.)

The Zona Sul supermarket we visited in Leblon was no exception: particularly outstanding was an entire half-aisle shrine to bacalhau, the dried, salted codfish popular in Portugal and many of her former colonies. And, of course, the enormous fruit section:

Below, an entire aisle dedicated to several varieties of my favorite fruit, the mango:

They continued further in a second aisle. I didn't even know this many varieties existed.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Amerikanischer Kulturimperialismus

Walking around Rio de Janeiro, I am struck by the lack of what Herr Niesz often referred to last semester as amerikanischer Kulturimperialismus; even in the most international or touristy areas of the city, there are very few Starbucks, McDonald's or other icons of American culture-imperialism.

I'm cognizant of the irony of the fact that I've come to expect (though not to frequent) such franchises when traveling abroad, especially in the downtown areas of major cities like Rio. I used to balk at the offensive incongruity of Starbucks franchises in locations such as the Forbidden City or Insadong, but, sadly, I've gradually become desensitized to such scenes and, in fact, in many metropolises, such franchises seem to blend into the urban landscape.

Which factors, do you think, explain the dearth of foreign brands in Rio? How has the city managed to resist the seemingly unstoppable globalization of fast food and fast fashion? After all, Brazil—the "B" in BRIC—has long been an international country influenced by numerous foreign cultures.

I imagine that one contributing reason could be the relative economic isolation of the military dictatorship in the not too distant past. Another explanation could be the foreign corporation-unfriendly import substitution model followed by Brazil (and many other Latin American economies) for several decades during the last century. I've also noticed that there seems to be very little need for foreign franchises, particularly in the fast food industry. Juice stands and lanchonetes, which can be found on every block, provide an abundance of cheap and delicious offerings; even in upscale Leblon, pão de queijo and a glass of freshly squeezed papaya juice will only set you back about eight reais.

Below are the only two signs trumpeting American fast food brands that I've seen all week:

Dear Rio, for the sake of Cariocas and visitors alike, please don't give in to Americanização. I'll take açaí and coconut water over syrupy lattes any day.


The twin neighborhoods bairros of Leblon and Ipanema are home to tree-lined streets full of open-air restaurants, colorful boutiques and multistory galerias (shopping centers). Bordered by a lagoon to the north and the famous praia of Ipanema to the south, this upscale area is a favored address for Rio's young and wealthy and commands some of the highest land prices in Latin America.

Meu irmão e eu, searching to satisfy a sushi* craving

*Brazil boasts an impressive number of top-notch sushi restaurants due to the large population of Japanese immigrants and their descendants, particularly in São Paulo. (We ended up choosing Nik Sushi, a quiet spot on Rua Garcia D'Ávila.)

Street signs in Leblon
Av. Ataúlfo de Paiva

After lunch, we had cafézinhos at Armazém do Café, a traditional coffee house on Rua Rita Ludolf. Here's a picture of the irmão:

Ele fala português também!

...followed by an exploration of some of the boutiques on Av. Ataúlfo de Paiva.

Pai e mãe

We then refueled with juices and foccacia sandwiches at Juice Company, a stylish two-story juice lounge serving over 60 different juice concoctions.

O irmão outra vez

And finally, just two blocks to the south, the praia and the Atlantic Ocean:

Wednesday, December 22, 2010


I spent the afternoon today in Botafogo, a charming beachfront neighborhood between the hills of Mundo Novo and Morro de São João. The beach is sheltered from the Atlantic Ocean by the peninsula of Urca and Pão de Açúcar. (Incidentally, I'm starting to realize that practically every neighborhood in Rio seems to border both the sea and the hills.)

Caught a glimpse of Rio's clean and efficient Metrô while saving on taxi fare

Named after Portuguese settler João Pereira de Souza Botafogo, the district rose to prominence after the construction of a royal villa here during the late 1800s for Carlota Joaquina, the wife of Dom João VI. With royalty established in the area, arriving aristocrats built stately mansions, many of which still stand as theaters and schools, giving Botafogo the nickname "bairro das escolas." The neighborhood is also home to nearly 20 foreign consulates—including those of Portugal, Germany, Spain, Norway, Argentina and China—which overlook Av. das Naçoes Unidas and the praia (beach) of Botafogo.

To the west, a cathedral, a cluster of schools and, in the background, Cristo Redentor

Refueled at a local juice stand with lemonade and a bowl of açaí. Brazilian juice stands—which sell a variety of fresh-squeezed juices as well as snacks such as açaí and salgados—are a national institution and are ubiquitous throughout the city.

I now know the Portuguese names of at least a dozen tropical fruits.

Botafogo is also home to an impressive number of multinational corporate offices:

Centro Empresarial houses offices of Samsung, Ernst & Young, Mitsubishi
and Statoil, among many others

My primary motivation for visiting Botafogo, though, was not the tourist attractions but rather a scheduled meeting with the Fundação Getúlio Vargas (Getúlio Vargas Foundation), a leading Brazilian institute of higher education, academic research center and, according to Foreign Policy, one of the top five "policymaker think tanks" in the world.

I had the opportunity to have lunch with Dr. Álvaro Cyrino, deputy dean of the Escola Brasileira de Administração Pública e de Empresas. During our subsequent interview, Dr. Cyrino, an academic expert and adviser to numerous corporations, talked about the future of innovation in the Brazilian economy. Keep an eye out for his insight in the spring issue of Business Sphere magazine!

Fundação Getúlio Vargas

Cristo Redentor

One of the new seven wonders of the world, Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) is Brazil's largest monument and most widely recognized landmark. Located at the peak of Corcovado in Tijuca National Park, the 1145 ton, 39 meter-tall Christ statue towers over the city, greeting the sunrise to the east with outstretched arms.

Here's a close-up:

Cristo Redentor

And the stunning vistas from the top:

East - Pão de Açúcar, Botafogo Cove, Atlantic Ocean
North - Guanabara Bay, Ponte Presidente Costa e Silva, Niterói
South - Lagoa, Ipanema, Morro dos Cabritos
Southwest - Leblon, Jockey Club, more mountains, more ocean

É incrível, não?