Brazil Observations

by Howard Besser

It seems that most people here don't bother to get married. I've met a slew of people who have been living together and have kids together (some teenaged), yet have never bothered to get married. When I asked, people told me that the parents don't have a problem with that, and that even though this is a Catholic country, things like official marriage aren't important.

Instead of XMass Eve being so quiet that "not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse", it's much more like our New Years Eve. People party starting around 10 PM, then firecrackers go off at midnight, then people sit down to eat dinner. We were the first ones to leave after dinner (around 3 AM), and the streets were packed with partying people on the way home.

At about 10 PM one evening, we went to a holiday party for the Funda*ion Oscar Niemeyer. It was at Casas das Canoas, one of the houses that he had designed, in a forest on a hill on the outskirts of Rio. It was a highly modernist house, and like Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater, it was sculpted to the creek and terrain surrounding it. Niemeyer's granddaughter and great-grandson were there. Then, around midnight, we left this party to go to a birthday party for someone who works at the National Archives.

People here seem to do late-nights as a rule. Frequently I would go home from an event at 3 AM, and I would be leaving earlier than most people. And even pre-teens would stay at events that late!

People in Rio wear clothes that show a lot of skin. Also, they appear to be really into not just showing their bodies, but into fashion as well (even more so than in LA). I even saw fashionably-dressed police! And women's shoes (what you see on the street and on billboards) are typically very high-heeled or platform sandals -- so high that I'm amazed that they can walk in them!

The diet here is heavy on meats, and light on vegetables. Though you can find lots of great tropical fruits (particularly at open-air markets), the number of other fruits or green vegetables is minimal. And they have huge American-style supermarkets, as well as buffet-style restaurants that specialize in dozens of types of barbecued meats (churascarias).

About half my time here, the weather has been unbearably hot, in the upper 90s or above, with high humidity. And it doesn't cool down at night. So I was hoping for the rain that would cool things down. But as they say, be careful for what you wish for because it might come true. When the rains came, they were torrential, and flooded our porch (because they were too quick and heavy to go down the drain). And just as I managed to siphon off some of the inches of water from the porch, the living room roof started leaking (and for several days we had to re-arrange furniture and fill the room with buckets to catch the water). And though the rain brought welcome relief, I don't know what's worse: living in a flood zone, or sweltering heat!

Television news in Brazil is flashy like American television, and shows much more skin.  The news broadcasts seem on a par with American network TV, but they don't seem to believe in transitions (switching between on-location reporters and in-studio talent are really abrupt, and you would never hear anything like "back to you, Chet").  Maybe it's because it's Christmas time, but the networks seem to be trying to build cults around their stable of personalities.  Each network repeatedly airs commercials showing the stars of their various programs all mingling together at one or more parties.  At least one of the networks (Globo, which seems to have the slickest network as well as owning a major newspaper) has billboards all around town featuring the stars of several of their programs mingling together.

New Years Eve at Copacabana beach in Rio is a huge celebration, maybe even bigger than Times Square in NYC.  It's more like a late-night US July 4th, complete with a huge (but only 15 minutes) display of fireworks.  About 2 million people showed up, lining the beach and parading up and down the (closed to traffic) 6-lane boulevard adjacent to it.  All of Copacabana is closed to traffic (except buses and taxis) from midnight on, and it's really hard to get to.  (Even the metro requires that you buy time-specific tickets way in advance.)  Most people I know tried to find someone in the area, and would go over to their apartment and hang out until just before midnight, then go to see the fireworks (which start at midnight), hang out on the beach for an hour or two, then go back to the apartment together to eat dinner around 2 AM.  An hour or two before midnight, people built hundreds of voodoo-like offerings to the sea gods, each set of offerings on the sand circled by candles.  At midnight the fireworks started.  Everyone complained at how small and far away they were compared to previous years (but they were huge by US standards); because someone had been injured by fireworks last year, they exploded them over the water instead of over peoples' heads on the beach. After the fireworks, thousands of people walked into the water to place flowers in the sea, asking the sea goddes Iemenja for good luck in the new year.

end of year, 2001