Beat Diaspora: Beats, Buses, Bricks

an omnivorous take on music of the beat-based variety and the urban spaces that nurture it

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A Fortnight In: Rio -- Riotous

Rio is riotous. It grows everywhere. Flora erupts out of every crevice, and likewise people. The favelas, thanks to Rio's jarring juxtaposition of topography, are always proximal. Even if the social reality means that rich and poor, flatlander ("da asfalta") and hill-dweller ("do morro"), are worlds apart, they never are spatially, which makes the inequity all that much harder to ignore. A quick drive through town, especially via highway, and you'll spot the familiar outcropping of corrugated roof buildings, the daring architecture of making-do. From the incredible vantage points of the city's landmarks, Corcovador (site of the famous statue of Cristo Redentor, which I felt obliged to snap) and Pao de A├žucar (Sugarloaf Mountain), it's easy to get mesmerized by the beaches, the ocean, Maracana, and the upward thrust of the city's lateral sprawl. But pay closer attention and you'll spot 20-35% (estimates vary) of the city's population precariously nestled on every spare hillside (even on the way up to Corcovar, where the train passes Morro do Ingles, Englishman's Hill).

A asfalta, too, is fascinating, a vibrant display of creativity in what is clearly a city with a hands-off government, at least when it comes to zoning (policing is another matter). Lanchonetes (snack bar counters) dot nearly every corner, even in posh neighborhoods. Street vendors well set up a table anywhere they like, from the sidewalk along the entrance to PUC-Rio, where I'm currently taking classes, to an absurdly long line outside of a club, offering partygoers the chance to drink outside and save a few bucks.

The buses, in particular, are a marvel to behold. Used to the monopoly of the MBTA, I was shocked that Metro Rio has competitors. Hell, in my neighborhood, where the actual subway doesn't even reach, Metro Rio hardly accounts for 5% of the buses I see. Instead, it's a flurry of different companies & prices, the number stew of bus routes, a placard in the window with a quick run-down of neighborhood stops. At certain times of day on Avenida Adaulfo de Paiva, which runs right below my window, there are far more buses than cars. And then there are the vans, which pull up alongside any cluster of people (actual bus stops, while extant, are by no means necessary -- simply hailing a bus as you would a taxi is typical), slide open the door, shout out a list of destinations, load any takers, and keep moving. Red lights, I might add, are merely a suggestion.

Riotous. Policeman carrying assault rifles and wearing flak jackets. Nothing like an AR-15 to wake you from an early morning daze.

Riotous. At night I stroll the praia de Leblon, populated after the beachgoers leave by runners & lovers. As late as ten, I've seen a girl's soccer camp in full swing. Returning to my host's apartment, the favela Vidigal looms large, ablaze with lights and looking for all the world like it will slide off into the ocean.

Riotous. I sleep with the windows open, city sounds I know & love punctuated by staccato bursts. Firecrackers or gunshots? I can't yet tell the difference.

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