”Opinions are like a$$&*^%s. Everybody’s got one and everyone thinks everyone else’s stinks’‘.
It has been nearly 10 years since I made Rio de Janeiro my home, and I think a little reflection of sorts and a few commemorative words are in order. Having said that I must take a pause as I am fully aware that the subject I’ve picked pins me against a nearly insurmountable task. A few words, no matter how elaborate they might be, hardly do justice to something as complex as the city of Rio de Janeiro. As a man gets older, with a startling clarity he begins to realize that certain things stubbornly defy definitions and refuse, no matter how hard one tries, to fall into ”fair and square” categories. Rio de Janeiro qualifies perfectly for the nomination of unclassifiable .
Long has gone the time when I could-without careful forethought-rattle off yet another common generality we hear so often about R.J. Truth be known Rio is, and always has been, a city of extreme opposites. Rich and poor. Beautiful and ugly. Generous and selfish. Benign and cruel. Futile business it is trying to attach any adjunct to this place without its antonym immediately springing up in mind. None of the labels aptly sum up the spirit of the land that seems to have ingested a few centuries worth of Native Indian, European, African and Asian cultures. How can I or anyone else make a recognizable pattern out of this muddle ? Should one even try ?
For starters, the popular image of ”Marvelous City” , as it is known, is not untrue. Everything here is unlike anything else you’ve seen before; everything breathes exuberance. ”Everything [in Rio] is something”, as Marge Simpson put it . Buckets of ink have been spilled on behalf of Brazilian stunningly beautiful nature, warmth of the people, their obsession with football and Carnival, the bizarre world of favela , police brutality, rotten government, poverty etc etc.But what does this all mean to a gringo like me ?
”Brazil is not for beginners” they love to repeat here , and on numerous occasions these words proved to be true, as time and again I’ve tasted on my own skin how impulsive and temperamental Rio can be. It takes a great deal of experience, tremendous adaptability, idealism, and faith in the common future if one wishes to walk on the edge of life – a mode of existence so many, who inhabit ”the jungle” , are engaged in on a daily basis. But now, after almost 10 years, I must admit, I feel at home here and am comfortable with our very own incomprehensible mess. Almost comfortable. Almost…
I have not always had this snug feeling of coziness though. [ actually it is unwise to give in to complacency in Rio. The price can be very dear for letting one's guard down.] There have been unpleasant detours and obstacles along the way. Now and then life has given me a few painful kicks and slaps as I struggled to learn the stern lessons she was kindly bestowing upon me. There were times I felt heart-broken and wished to turn around and go back to my old stomping grounds in Montreal, Canada. God sees it is not easy, if not impossible, to give carte blanche or turn a blind eye to everything that constitutes Rio de Janeiro. Only the rich can afford to buy their way around the city’s bitter reality. Not my case really. I’ve never belonged to the privileged moneyed class, nor have I ever wanted to be among them except for the purposes of relieving them from the burden of their money But it seems I’m digressing a little. And just as I feared – I have written a lot and said very little.
I guess what I love most about Rio – and this is my own very private opinion – is its overabundant vitality of life. And the infinite variety and intensity (if not insanity) of it. There is something for everyone here . This city belches forth life. And death comes on the heels of it . Nothing spurs a person more to action than the proximity of an impending danger. Not everyone’s cup of tea to be sure, at least not a life most of us would seek. Life it is nonetheless, it has worked for me somehow, though I do not recommend it to the faint of heart . This is perhaps what ”walking the edge” is . I feel it when taking a city bus piloted by our psycho-suicidal, under-payed bus drivers. And when cruising down the hill of Alto da Boa Vista on my bike dodging the traffic ; when going on week-end runs with ”the mean boys” from local MC; when sun rises on an early morning on an empty beach, and the ocean gently crashes against the shore… The list goes on. But, but, but… But the hour is growing late and I must fortify myself with a much needed shut eye. Before I wrap it up, let me just tell you this – Don’t take my word for it, come and visit Rio de Janeiro and see for yourself what it is all about. For all it’s worth, it wont be dull, I promise.