Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Bom Dia

So when I posted a picture of Ipanema at the end of my last post and claimed that it was taken from my hotel room, I wasn’t being dishonest, but I admittedly neglected to present the complete view. In the interest of full disclosure, below are two pictures I took this morning: the first facing northeast from the balcony, similar to yesterday’s image and complete with a partial view of the resort grounds and private beach; and the second of a favela (shantytown)* on a hill to the northwest.

Praia de Ipanema

*Despite its oceanfront location, this particular favela (Vidigal), while not particularly notorious, represents the urban poverty that plagues certain neighborhoods in Rio and other Brazilian cities.

Favela do Vidigal

Brazil is a land of stark and even jarring contrasts that, at least for me, makes it one of the most interesting places in the world. Consider for a moment what images or stereotypes this country evokes for you. There’s Ronaldo (pronounced "Honaldu", by the way) and futebol maniacs and World Cup victories. The Amazon and powdery beaches. Cidade de Deus. Gisele Bündchen. Samba and Carnaval. Drug trafficking and gang wars. Hollywood in Copacabana and caipirinha-sipping tourists. Bossa nova.

Indeed, by nearly any measure, Brazil is an enormously diverse country. First of all, it is large, spanning three time zones, with an area greater than that of the contiguous United States, and containing half the population of South America (making Portuguese rather than Spanish the most commonly spoken language on the continent). The terrain, which borders every South American country except Chile and Ecuador, varies from the South Atlantic coast to rainforests to the central plateau to pampas in the South. And demographically, Brazil is a true melting pot of Portuguese settlers, native indígenas, Africans and a flood of European immigrants that made Brazil the third largest recipient of immigrants in the western hemisphere (after the U.S. and Argentina). Particularly notable are the concentrations of German descendants in the southern region as well as the largest population of Japanese outside Japan, primarily in São Paulo.

There is socioeconomic diversity, too, and in some regions, glaring inequality. On one side of the dividing line is the well-established wealth of Bovespa and Petrobas; on the other side—not uncommonly on the opposite face of the same hills—are overcrowded favela communities that often lack property rights as well as power and clean water.

I'm not planning to thoroughly investigate life in the favelas during my short stay in Rio this winter/summer, but perhaps against my better judgment, I also do not plan to spend much time lounging in the hotel gardens, either. By exploring different parts of the city and not shying away from less touristy neighborhoods, I hope to gain a somewhat balanced perspective on Rio beyond the tourist hotspots.

That said, I will probably spend several evenings people-watching and trying to soak in some sun on the beach—in fact, the thought of returning to New England in mid-January just convinced me to add Ipanema to this evening's itinerary. 

Lots of beaches