June 02, 2008

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sandcastles and Shoelaces

hoSo I finally made it to Brazil. After hundreds of "Why did you forget Brazil?" emails over the years, I am now getting "What took you so long to come to Brazil?" emails, which are about 20% less annoying.

And I fear the rift will not be fully healed by this visit, as I have not "absorbed the whole culture of Brazil." In fact, by only visiting the two largest cities, I may have made things worse.

For what it's worth, I would like to shift the blame to the Brazilian Embassy and the various hoops one must jump through to acquire a visa, which delayed my trip by two weeks. And I'm sure they would pass that blame on to the US State Department with a hearty "They started it!" And I imagine the US State Department would pass the blame on to the countless, nameless "evildoers" who are no doubt lurking in Brazil.

Arrived in Rio to not-so-great weather.

It took 90 minutes to get to my hotel.

Caught up on sleep.

The next morning, I wandered off through the city in search of shoelaces, as mine had frayed past the threshold of wearability.

Checked out the beaches. Copacabana is very nice. Ipanema is absolutely stunning.

Ipanema wins the prize for best city beach I've seen anywhere in the world. Of course, with the urban qualifier removed, things get a lot more competitive. I doubt I will ever find a beach more perfect than L'Union on the island of La Digue in the Seychelles. I didn't have my camera when I was there, as it had just been eaten by a whale shark, but I'm sure I can dig something up. Help me Flickr!

Anse_patate__la_digue__seychelles

Seychelles_3

Good luck beating that.

Someone painted this dog yellow. I know not why.

The beaches in Rio are dotted with sandcastles to wow passers by. Here's a tip: don't photograph them. If you do, you will be approached by guys who hang out on the periphery demanding payment. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure they have nothing to do with the creation of said tourist magnets.

Having no change, I apologized and kept on walking. The guy kept pace with me and tried to sell me some pot, cocaine, women. My pace quickened, so he put his arm around my shoulder and forcibly tried to hold me in place. This created a wonderful opportunity for his partner to sweep in and take my stuff. Knowing this was a looming probability, I raised my voice considerably and let the guy know I wasn't going to be an easy fleecing. I had broad daylight and about 50 pounds of body mass on my side. He disappeared pretty quickly.

This experience neatly sums up the warnings I got about Rio; it's really beautiful, but watch your back.

Anyway, don't take pictures of the sandcastles.

As if the beaches weren't enough, Rio also has a spectacular lagoon just a short walk inland.

Now that is some fine real estate.

There's that Jesus thing up top. I didn't take a closer look at it, as giant concrete Jesi don't interest me much.

Building those retaining braces must've been a HUGE pain in the ass.

Intimately situated amidst the steep jungle mountains that roll right up to the coast, Rio really is an astonishingly picturesque city. I can't think of an easy comparison to any other place I've seen.

I ducked into every single pharmacy on this long odyssey and not one of them sold shoelaces. "Cordones" is the word in Spanish. In Portuguese it's "cordões." Not much different, but no one seemed to know what I was talking about when I asked in Spanish.

Finally, shortly before returning to my hotel, I stumbled upon shoelace man hanging out on a street corner.

Mission accomplished.

Back at the hotel, I had enough time to relace my shoes, and then it was time to meet up with Goncalues, my bodyguard for the event. They call them "watchers" in Rio, which is a term I'm much more comfortable with.

I was supposed to get someone who spoke English, but apparently that guy called in sick, so I got Goncalues instead. He understood my Spanish though, so we got by okay.

They say Portuguese can usually understand Spanish pretty well, but Spanish-speakers have a real tough time with Portuguese. That works out in my favor.

Goncalues is a cop who does security when he's off-duty. I felt really self-conscious about the whole idea of hiring someone. I've never had to do it before, and I was worried I'd come off as the frightened American who's afraid to walk around by himself and thinks he's more famous than he is. But I was totally on my own for the Rio event and we'd gotten a creepy email in the days leading up to it. After doing some alarming research, it seemed advisable.

Having Goncalues around meant that I could focus on having a good time. I knew someone was keeping an eye on things and I didn't have to worry.

Goncalues and I showed up at Ipanema beach a few minutes before the specified time, close to sunset. We had 80 people say they'd be coming to dance, but it was really awkward for a while, because right up to the time we specified in the invite, it was still just the two of us waiting on the beach. No one showed up.

There wasn't much to do besides watching sexy guys play voleyball in their underpants.

I asked Goncalues if Brazilians were typically late. He nodded in the affirmative. A few people showed up right around then, and sure enough about 20 minutes after we were supposed to start dancing, we had a decent-sized group.

We never got anywhere near 80. I'm told Rionians (making that name up) don't like to go out on the rare occasions when the weather is less than perfect, and the folks who did show up were mighty pissed that their city was going to be commemorated on a cold, overcast, slightly rainy afternoon.

But what can you do?

Another problem was that, as I mentioned, I was on my own. That meant I had to hand out all the release forms, take all the photos, and match all the forms to the photos by myself. To make matters worse, Brazil has some weird law that required people to fill in their tax ID number. A lot of the younger folks didn't know their numbers by heart, so they had to go fishing through their wallets. The process took a really long time and the sun was setting and every time we were almost finished, four more stragglers would show up and I'd have to do it all over again.

But we sorted it all out eventually and danced through the last glimmer of sunlight.

Afterwards, as usual, I got a couple drinks with whomever was willing to invite me. Goncalues took me back to the hotel and I paid him every last bit of cash I had on me. I very nearly had to short him, which is probably never a good thing to do to a bodyguard.

The next day I flew out to Sao Paulo, the last of the world's really really really huge cities that I hadn't yet been to. I was picked up at the airport by Ricardo, a tech journalist for a local paper. We did an interview over lunch at a neighborhood community center. I forget the name of what these places are called. It's sort of like a YMCA, but with reading rooms and movie rooms and sports facilities and a cafeteria. The crazy thing is that Sao Paulians (also making that one up) actually use it. They don't just sit at home watching Tivo like we do.

Stride's PR firm, Ketchum, actually has an office in Sao Paulo. Foreseeing a large turnout, I asked them for help and they were able to send a couple people to manage all the sign-ups for me. This turned out to be a life saver, as I'd forgotten to bring my own camera for taking headshots. They had a back-up.

We danced at the Monument of Independance, which some locals found to be a puzzling . The turnout was decidedly geekier, and evidently proud to be so.

They weren't nearly as deterred by the equally crumby weather. We had about 60 people. Liberated from sign-up duty, I was able to flutter about and mingle.

I hung out a bit with Regis, the last guy in that pile of photos, and his family after the event. His name doesn't sound anything like that Philbin guy. It's more like rej-ee.

We went to the national history museum nearby and talked about getting a coffee, but I had to head back to Rio.

Sao Paulo and Rio both have domestic airports inside the cities and pretty much every flight in both airports goes from one city to the other. Planes leave about every half hour. It's like a subway.

So that was Brazil.

...the comments below are going to be filled with laments over how little of Brazil I saw -- how shamefully incomplete my visit was. I doubt there's much I can do about that, but here are some words of discouragement:

- I've been to over 40 countries in the last year or so. I've done a lot of things. I'm kind of worn out right now.

- I did not come for the purpose of experiencing all there is to experience in Brazil, nor do I leave feeling that I have done so. I am working on a project, and I served the needs of that project in the best way I know how.

- I did not choose my destinations in Brazil. As with the rest of the world, where I went was determined by where the people were who wanted to dance with me.

- I will come again someday when I'm not in a hurry and actually see this country properly.

- Last and most important: whatever your gripe may be, trust me, I've already heard it.

Anyway, I'm heading home soon. I've only got one last dancing event to do before I finish this video. But first, we've gotta record music in LA.