Archive for the ‘brasil’ Tag

Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro

With a local guide, I took a tour of the neighborhood Santa Marta, a densely populated, narrow strip of houses that crawl up a hillside in Rio de Janeiro, rising above the upper middle class neighborhood of Botafogo. This is one of Rio’s many favelas, in a city where class differences and economic inequality are in plain sight, and make for a tense atmosphere throughout the city. Santa Marta has been slowly integrated into the city’s infrastructure, facilitated by the construction of a funicular line that made getting to the upper levels of the neighborhood much easier.  I recommend this for any visitor to Rio interested in learning about the city beyond the beaches and tourist sites, go with a local guide, and preferably in a small group. The tours typically start near the bottom of the funicular and start with the ride up to the top, slowly winding back down to the base.

The neighborhood was brought to the world’s attention during the filming of Michael Jackson’s video for his song ” They Don’t Care About Us”. Residents still speak fondly about Jackson, and I met one shop owner who proudly remembered her role as an extra in the video. While the attention to the neighborhood faded, it was one of the first favelas to be ‘pacified’, and it looks like some areas are showing marked improvement, with shops, restaurants, and community centers setting up near the base. A recent paint job carried out by residents has turned this into a pretty photogenic site, but again it’s cosmetic. Still, parts are still in bad repair, life can be especially miserable after a heavy rain, and many obstacles remain for residents of the neighborhood.

Tribute to Michael Jackson

Sewer repair by city workers

What’s Brazil without a nice splash of colors?

The colorful and the chaotic

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Sao Paulo, September 2016

A flashback to a year ago, when I took advantage of Brazil’s visa waiver during the summer months of 2016, and made a trip to South America. . .

I had the chance to explore the major cities of Rio de Janeiro, Brasilia, and Sao Paulo, each of them with their own distinctive personality. Rio has its famous beaches with big city flair and tension, Brasilia is world-famous for the Niemeyer design and its successes and failures as an urban environment, and then there’s Sao Paulo. It’s exactly what you would expect of a metropolitan area of more than 20 million people, in a country defined by people coming from all corners of the world. It’s drab, and you can’t really tell which direction you’re looking, since there are skyscrapers extending forever everywhere you look. That’s probably the defining feature of Sao Paulo, lots of concrete. The city is not pretty, but it works and works and works. The center is a frenetic place much like New York or Tokyo, unflinchingly commercial, with horrendous traffic, too busy to be unsafe, with a population proud of the chaos. Rio this isn’t.

The endless Sao Paulo cityscape

About a mile from the center is the financial and commercial heart of Brazil, Avenida Paulista. It’s the city’s showcase, a clean, wide boulevard lined with innovative skyscrapers and high end shops. On Sundays it’s closed off to traffic, and turns into an informal stage and catwalk, with bands playing concerts, rollerbladers, families out for a walk, Mormon missionaries, political protests, and an endless circus of personalities. The city does take a day off on occasion.

Oscar Niemeyer’s Edificio Copan (1952-1966), now draped in this ugly blue covering after pieces of the building started falling off

Pickup football game, downtown Sao Paulo

Sunday on Avenida Paulista, with its distinctive skyscrapers

Protest against President Michel Temer. I visited shortly after the impeachment and removal of Dilma Rousseff from office.

To really explore would take a lifetime, just like the other megacities I’ve visited. But I really liked what I saw, and hope to see the city more in depth next time I get to visit.

 

 

Brasilia, September 2016

This is of course Brazil’s capital, built in the center of the country, but the middle of nowhere, in a relatively short span in the 1950s, and officially inaugurated in 1960. The plan is obvious from the air as you approach the airport, shaped like a bird, or a drawn bow and arrow, with a spine of government structures spanning about a mile, and numerous structures designed by Oscar Niemeyer. It was recognized with World Heritage status in 1987.

It’s a decent, but long day trip from Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro, with frequent and reasonably priced flights. I was based in Rio, and it’s advisable to use a departure from the centrally located Santos Dumont Airport (SDU), instead of the much further Galeao Airport (GIG). I picked a 6 AM departure from SDU, a quick and inexpensive taxi ride, but ended up returning to GIG, which made for a rather long, 90 minute return bus trip to my hotel in Copacabana. It’s a 90 minute flight over a pretty barren landscape that gives you an appreciation for the task involved in building a new federal capital from scratch sixty years ago, and sprouting a city of now 3 million inhabitants.

There’s a bus that stops just outside the terminal in Brasilia, which will drop you off at the major sites downtown. It’s a 20 minute ride, and I got off at the Tres Poderes (three powers), which is surrounded by Niemeyer’s signature buildings. This fairly small area is home to Brazil’s version of the Capitol, the White House, and the Supreme Court, all within about 500 m or each other. They’re also the best structures in town. I took the free tour of Congress, which was impressive, it’s the building with the skyscraper in the middle and the two domes. The interior is also very nice, with a cool collection of mid-century furniture and art and a sophisticated feel. Nearby is the presidential palace, the supreme court, and the foreign ministry. Behind it is a cluster of 1980s structures by Niemeyer, which are crumbling.

National Congress building

National Congress building (1960)

Itamaraty Palace (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Itamaraty Palace, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1970)

I walked west, about a mile towards the cathedral. It’s not that large, and a pretty cheerful space, with a gleaming white interior and lots of stained glass. I liked it, while the building next door, the museum, was a crumbling UFO. Way further afield, another mile away, is the Santuario Dom Bosco, completed in 1970, which is pretty unexceptional from the outside, but is a winner inside, bathed in light shining through blue and purple stained glass.

Interior, Brasilia Cathedral

Interior, Brasilia Cathedral (1970)

Interior, Don Bosco Chapel

Interior, Don Bosco Chapel (1970)

Niemeyer’s buildings elicit a visceral response. You can’t doubt the imagination that went into them, but I get this feeling that he forgot the human scale in Brasilia. It’s a bold plan on paper or in a model, but doesn’t quite work in reality. Now overall, the city comes across as being pretty sterile, with little pedestrian traffic, few places to sit and enjoy the view, and vast exposed empty spaces that are hard to maintain. Despite some very nice religious structures scattered around the city, it’s reminiscent of some of the places in the old Eastern Bloc that I’ve been to, like Chisinau. The main axis is a bit like Washington’s Mall, but with much less character, less vegetation, and really grim buildings and ministries lining the road. It’s also a very pedestrian-unfriendly city, the address system is nearly impossible for a first-time visitor to decipher, and the main social centers seem to be shopping malls. I took lunch in a mall food court after nearly starving, dodging a few six lane highways, and creepy stretches of concrete jungle to find an unmarked Brutalist structure that actually had people inside.

The living areas are way in the periphery, with a large slum on the western outskirts, while the original 1950s / 1960s living quarters are in generally good shape and wealthy areas, with a few of them carefully preserving Niemeyer’s intentions. Interspersed between the apartment buildings (located in these so-called Superquadras or superblocks) are lots of greenery and a small commercial zone every few blocks. It’s hard to imagine these really getting lots of street life, but they seem to have a decent selection of restaurants and markets. Downtown there’s very little in terms of services.

Restored apartment building

Restored apartment building

Typical  neighborhood commercial stretch

Typical neighborhood commercial stretch

A word about safety, since this is on the minds of most visitors to Brazil- Brasilia is quite safe, I didn’t worry about carrying my DSLR around and taking lots of photographs, unlike in Rio and Sao Paulo.