Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Saddest Pleasure

Flying into Rio de Janeiro on a beautiful day

The Saddest Pleasure: A Journey on Two Rivers by Moritz Thomsen was a memoir travelogue I was reading during my travel to Brazil. The book came into my hands at a particularly propitious time from a friend who travels a great deal and thought I could use the book as an inspiration.

I soon discovered I had come to Rio about the same age as Thomsen, who visited the city in the Seventies. His life and viewpoints were similar to my own. Soon enough I began to write a modest travel blog in the same style as his wonderful travel classic.

Tomsen refers to his title as the state of paradox, of being in two worlds at the same time, arriving and leaving, always conflicted by the joy of arrival and sadness beyond words of departure. Or I guess that is what he had in mind. But it seems right to me. Because that's how I felt. 

I devised Temporary Carioca while sitting on the beach. The early notes were hard to read, having spilled a beer on them while sampling tasty beach edibles under an umbrella at Ipanema. If I got too hot I was mere steps away from diving into body-temperature waves asking me to play. 

No question I was under the allure of the Brasilian gods, and now upon reflection I see the moments I describe in my six months of posts as truly  divined. Looking back, I am grateful to myself for the wisdom to write these posts.

With this last post I will move on to my new blog Michael Shandrick. 

So, I will now end Temporary Carioca until I once again am under the spell of a beach in Rio.

Thank you for reading,
Michael Shandrick

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Girl From Ipanema Lives On

My favorite music growing up in Colorado was bossa nova. I listened to a lot of Sergio Mendez, Astrid Gilberto and Stan Getz, and of course this one, The Girl from Ipanema.

Performed by Frank Sinatra and Antonio (Tom) Jobin, the legendary song writer who wrote it in a nearby night spot, it remains a classic among their many collaborations. 

I never get tired of hearing Girl because it captured my young spirit in a way that country or folk music never could. And then one day -- some decades later -- I'd actually spend a lot of time at Ipanema itself humming the tune. I feel that I was rewarded in some way for persisting in what seemed like a far-fetched dream.

The Girl from Ipanema exists in song, memory and definitely in reality.

 "Yes, I would give my heart gladly but each day when she walks to the sea she looks straight ahead and not at me. Tall, tan, young and lovely the Girl from Ipanema goes walking and when she passes I smile but she doesn't see..."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Why Are Brazilians Always So Sad?

I wish I had so much more than words to describe saudade. A painter with a brush and canvas may do better. In Temporary Carioca I fought to describe the remarkable range of emotions I had never felt before, yet continue to feel after my six months there. Among those, there is one emotion I can’t get a handle on, saudade.

My first instance of saudade is the time when I heard the wheels lift off the tarmac and thump up underneath the body of the plane. I was startled that I was no longer attached to earth or Rio as the rest of Brazil fell away into the night. I could not turn back. I was now headed toward a distant place that would never recognize me as the same man who had left

I have tried to describe saudade and the best I can come up with is that this Portuguese word confirms a deep emotional state of nostalgic longing for something or someone that one was fond of and which is now lost. The word often carries a fatalist tone; it acknowledges that the object of longing might really never return or be obtained.

Saudade remains a vague and constant desire for something that represents a turning towards the past, or in my case, rarely towards the future. A stronger form of saudade may be felt towards a lost lover as a deep longing or yearning for a relationship which no longer exists.

Saudade may have prompted this writer to begin this blog, even as I was flush with all the amazing things I was to see every day. For I knew that someday I would be far away wishing I had written everything down.

Surely other writers have found themselves in Rio re-energized and re-made after having lost their way in the world only to feel saudade under the weight of knowing they would have to leave it someday.

Temporay Carioca is and was a recollection of places and events that once brought excitement, pleasure and well-being. Even thinking about these events can sometimes trigger the senses and take me back once again to the present, but only for an instant. Often, however, I am reminded these moments keep us locked in a past that no longer exists.  

Perhaps I was just an  intruder in Rio, foolishly in love with something that remains foreign and overwhelming while making me feel at home at the same time.

Perhaps I was just another in-between eccentric who may have endowed Rio de Janeiro with images I’ve collected but never the truth. Perhaps this is saudade.

Cabralia, Bahai

photo by Delma Godoy

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Encounter Over Rio

I clearly remember the night of April 25, 2010. I had finished the dishes and put away the food. It was nearly 11:00.  I went out on the veranda of a house in Jardim Botanica, as I did on most warm nights to breathe in the cooler air. The stars and planets seem much closer in Rio. The heavenly sight always stirred me in a way as to make me sleepy. On that particular night the moon was 93% full gibbeous and huge lights shone over Christo's base and washed across the Corcavado. 

But on this night, two red lights blinked against the clear black sky. The brightness of the lights were much the same in scale and distance as Venus. They were high above and I had to crane my neck. They were certainly not aircraft. They were stationary, not darting around or zooming here and there.  But they blinked.

Below these lights I saw a new array of blinking white lights going in a circle under the initial blinking red lights. Then they began to whirl around like a sparkler in a fireworks display. I called to my girlfriend to come out to the  veranda. She had lived in the house for nearly 30 years and often star watched from here. She confirmed what I was seeing and she broke out laughing and calling her friends on the phone. 

Just then the lights began to criss-cross and turn more rapidly in a circle. This was followed by three more blue\white lights appearing below the red lights. The earlier white lights now blinked furiously. Then this display was followed by stationary white lights appearing one …two…three…four…five….all the way down to nine… at the end of a chain. The entire formation was in a straight line and neither moved laterally nor vertically. By now it was evident we were watching something beyond human.
We stood on the veranda breathless and enchanted, in awe and aware of something marvelous. We dared not take our eyes away. At 11:10, the white light on the very bottom of the cosmic neckless went dark. Then one by one each of the white lights slowly went dark from bottom to top. The white circling fireworks stopped. Each of The  rapidly blinking red and white lights went out, and finally only two, the original red lights remained. Then they, too, went dark.

Then it was over. 

Later we scoured the Internet to see if there were any other sightings around Rio -- and there are hundreds of new sitings each week in Brazil -- but nothing similar to what we had encountered. We looked for news reports. We had seen something inexplicable, and the impact was eerie. We needed confirmation.

Over the next week there was a meteor shower from the Pleiades but this display was feckless, distant and cold compared to what we had seen.

Ironically, it was on April 25 that Stephen Hawking’s documentary on alien life appeared on television. He discounted the idea that we will one day make contact with aliens. He said that a superior life form would simply not recognize us as anything but inferior life forms. Or worse, they might think we were a food source.

Also, that day,Arthur C. Clark was quoted as saying that making contact with aliens would be made more difficult for us because their advanced technology would be so superior that we could not possibly perceive their advanced technology as anything  "indistinguishable from magic".

And magic it was.

This video was taken in 2012 in Brazil and bears a sriking resemblance to our siting.

Monday, April 9, 2012


Crespucolo was introduced to me at the beach. The word is used as a term describing the time after sunset and just before twilight. It is a time when the sun leaves the day to the evening. The sky reflects its light on the plazas, porticos and the still waters off the beach. And so much more.

 I also like to think of crespucolo as an attitude that is singularly carioca. The concept itself is something learned over a lifetime. It is like a persistent errant trickster who flaunts the rules and someone who cannot keep promises. 

There are people who are ardent watchers of crespucolo. They watch it unfold and yield its secret across a pallet rich in yellow, gold and pink purple sky, with a flash of indigo and red for the Carnaval effect. Each scene is a unique brush stroke within a delicate touch. There is nothing habitual or learned or sponsored.There is never any hurry.

I watch and wrap my feet in the sand, still warm. I let a cold wave wash the feet that brought me here. I start to leave and am told I am going too soon. I am pulled back by a hand. She shakes her head and tells me it would be a pity to leave so early. I would miss the final act and the encore. It is never the same.

There is something to be said about the waiting in anticipation and pausing for a final glimpse of the day. True to its promise I was surprised. I allowed myself to enjoy the significance of being a watcher, and now I am a temporary member of a club of people who strive to bring richer values to the canvas of life.

The scene continues to play out through the stages. I hear secondary sounds emerging from the night. I long for another moment like the last, but it is gone. I will come back someday with a strong sense that I have been away too long.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Perfect Storm Threatens to Kill A Lagoon in Rio

At the beginning of autumn in the southern hemisphere, I walk with minha querida hand in hand around the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas in Zona Sul. The Lagoa is a constant source of inspiration since my arrival. Its mirror-like calm offers solitude amongst so much noise. The placid water stills the frenzy of the cars crowding the streets. 

Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas

When the Portuguese arrived in the late 1500s, the local Tamoios called the lagoa Piraguá (motionless water). Later, the Portuguese landowners attempted to farm sugar cane on its banks with help from the tribes. Legend tells us that the farmers insisted on converting the natives to Christianity and making the natives wear clothing. They preferred not to and left. In any event, the farms never took root.

In the 1600s the lagoon earned its present name with the marriage of a local bride to a cavalry officer, Rodrigo de Freitas. Presumably the dashing young captain walked hand in hand with his intended on moonlit nights.

 photo by Delma Godoy 
gassa e logoa

Today, the lagoon serves as a focal point and forms the nexus of several rivers flowing from surrounding underground rivers fed from giant waterfalls in the hills. From the lagoon water spills out past Ipanema to the open sea.

On all sides of its 8k circumference, the lagoon supports a vast recreational community in one of the most densely packed cities on the planet. Each day thousands of runners, walkers, bikers and those on a promenade use every inch of the space. There are private nautical clubs, sports courts and an array of cafes, along with a busy heliport. Since Christmas 1995, a monumental illuminated Christmas tree floats across the mirror d'água, drawing thousands of spectators each night during Christmas.

What many paintings and tourist photographs do not capture is the severe stagnation and pollution below the water line. 

This is a longstanding problem. In 1922, it took the Centenary of the Independence to stir enough local interest to renew the lagoon and solve the problem. Inevitably, the lagoon was rebuilt but then it became severely polluted once again over the decades of government negligence. In the 1960s  a favela grew up along its banks until a fire destroyed it.  Developers moved in with landfill and began to build new luxury apartments and roads.

More construction is set to take place now that the lagoon is expected to become a jewel in the crown during the Summer Games in 2016. This is good news for the private clubs that have established themselves on the lagoon, including the Flamengo Club, the Brazilian Jockey Club, the Garden of Alah and the Naval Club on the island of the Piraquê.

Though a fisherman's colony barely survives near the edges - creating an illusion that all is well in the water -  the lagoon is a victim of chronic toxic waste.

Soon after Carnaval 2010, the lagoon began to smell badly. Days later, scores of boats appeared on the water with city workers pulling out 500-800 tons of dead fish. Early reports from the wildlife managers of the lagoon suggested that too much seaweed had robbed the water of oxygen during a period of high temperatures.

After this event, the water of the lagoon overrode its banks during the Easter floods, killing more fish and waterfowl. The lagoon could not revive itself. Nature had been overcome by seepage from old pipes pushing more contaminants into the sludge of the lagoon. The private clubs, restaurants and concessionaires have all contributed by dumping pesticides and other chemicals to keep their grasses and bushes green and bugs at a distance from humans. All it took, perhaps, was a record four degree rise in temperatures over the summer to set off the chain reaction.

The question to ponder for many who frequent the lagoon today: Would you let your child swim in the same water that killed thousands of fish? Would you eat a fish from the lagoon? If not, why should a bird expect to survive here?

 photo by Delma Godoy  

As I walk around the lagoon I see fewer waterfowl lining the docks. There are fewer flights of ducks and hawks. Only the scavenger birds fly now.  If you hear the call of a heron, count yourself lucky. When the fish and birds are gone, you are the only one left on the food chain.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Touch of Brazilian Magic

Throughout my stay in Rio I found that there was rarely a day I did not see or hear a futbol being kicked somewhere. All too often I could hear players yelling from a nearby club where balls bounced heavily on a concrete wall next to our bedroom.

Occasionally on the street I would run across a ball that had been kicked over a fence from a nearby sandlot. Wearing sandals I took my time kicking it back. At 40 Celsius I was contented to retrieve balls. Sometimes a ball found its way through a crowd at Ipanema beach, arriving at my feet, enticing the soccer player within to show his stuff. “Come on, man.” Instead I put a foot to the ball and made a simple pass to a dozen or more young people who had a lifetime of show-stopping heroics ahead of them.

Wayward soccer balls have always had a way of finding me, then urging me to come back to the sport if only for a moment of reflected glory. I had kicked makeshift balls made of rubber and clothing strung together, playing on a makeshift field near a village on the way to Mt. Everest in Nepal. Once I found a game in Guatemala City when a team needed a player to even a side. In Mexico at high elevation I played a portion of a game before the altitude got to me and they made me a referee for the rest of the game. In England I played games on a village road well into the night with two brothers keen to have someone to play with. As a youth in Colorado, decades before soccer became popular, I kicked a ball against walls and fences as a way of seeking equanimity in a turbulent world of my own making.

One night while walking along a beach in Cabraglia in the state of Bahai, I came across a game being played on a worn tennis court. The players wore old tennis shoes and some played barefoot, yet their skills were well advanced at a tender age. Then extraordinarily an errant ball flew into the air and bounced well out of bounds and came to a stop on the sand, confronting me. Giant waves from the Atlantic crashed not a few meters away in the last light of day. This particular ball dared me to take it ---skillfully. The young men were watching. I knew that local custom demands that when a ball arrives it is imperative to control it with style. Wearing sandals I flipped the ball on my right foot. Then I put the ball to my left foot and guided the ball back along the pavement, bringing it back to the eager players anxious to get on with their game.

I coveted the moments. This was no ordinary ball. It was the sum of all those feet that had touched it over its time. I passed on my inside left foot to their coach standing on the sideline 20 meters away. He nodded as he guided the ball effortlessly from his foot, up his leg as if it were on a string, bounced it on his knee and in mid-air, shot it flying back to the young men. The show was as much for me as for the players. 

With a respectful glint in our eyes two old warriors shared a touch of Brazilian magic with the future, the present and the past.

 Photo by Delma Godoy

Along a beach in Cabraglia