Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Living in Rio Part 2

Riding Orangina in Urca
Jeff and I have been living in Rio for almost three weeks now.  We’ve joined a gym; taken the Metro (safe, easy and clean); eaten at our neighborhood restaurants; enjoyed the live music in sidewalk cafés; watched beach soccer (futebol) games where the skill levels of the barefoot players are mind boggling; been very impressed with the large number of small, elegantly coiffed neighborhood dogs we meet on the street; had friends over for dinner and generally started to feel quite at home.  We are looking forward to a visit later this week from my sister and her husband.

Sunday was an important day in Brazil – it was Election Day and a critical one for the country with the presidential race in the forefront.  The candidates present very different views of the future.  The result?  We, along with every Brazilian, will have to wait – there will be a runoff election (second round) on October 26 between the top two vote getters, leftist incumbent Dilma Rousseff and the right centrist Aécio Neves.  Although we expected to see some late campaigning – or at least a few trucks cruising down Avenida Atlantica with loud speakers blaring and flags flying – it was a peaceful day in our neck of the woods.  To be fair, we saw more than the usual municipal police and some federal guards along the beaches and in the public places.  But they too seemed to be enjoying the warm sunny day, as they watched families and friends bike, skateboard, walk, run and play in the good weather.  In the morning, there was more activity along our street than on a regular Sunday as people went to and from their voting.  There is a small fine in Brazil if you don’t vote, so turnouts are high.  I wonder if such a system might improve the embarrassingly low turnouts in the USA.  But regardless, everyone we saw, and we were in many parts of the city throughout the day, appeared to be out and about enjoying the fine weather.  None of this is to assume contentment – the runoff election is on everyone’s mind.  It will be hotly contested over the next three weeks.  Although we are only visitors in Brazil, both my husband and I are very interested to see how it plays out. 

Pão de Açúcar cable car landing peeks over Urca
On a more trivial note, Jeff and I spent Election Day continuing our exploration of Rio by orange bike.  During our bike ride I named my rented “steed” Orangina.  I rode Orangina for more than three hours and it seemed appropriate to give the bike a name.  I use the word steed since these bikes are not the light carbon, custom fit road bikes that Jeff and I have the privilege of owning and riding in Seattle.  These bikes are workhorses, big steel clunkers with sturdy tires and robust frames that bump over curbs and potholes like storm troopers. On Sunday, our goal was to bike from Copacabana out to an older section of Rio, Flamengo, where more separated bike lanes border large open parks and smaller but equally beautiful beaches.  The bike lanes in Rio continue to impress me.  They are easy to find, all painted red and at many intersections, include bike specific traffic lights that cars and buses seem to heed.  We followed the trail under the tunnel that leads from Copacabana to the next neighborhood, Botafogo and turned off into Urca – the adjacent neighborhood, famous for the cable cars that take you up to the top of the giant rock Pão de Açúcar or Sugar Loaf.  Urca is a smaller residential neighborhood of mostly older houses and a series of small sandy coves full of brightly painted boats.  Bougainvillea and oleander bloom over the high walls and pretty gardens that line the streets.  There was a festive feel in the air – was this normal for Sunday or was it perhaps the relief of the election finally happening?  The sidewalks were full of people walking and talking.  A few fishermen were trying their luck, casting off the seawall that edges the bay.  Sailboats flew over the water and the iconic cable cars of Pão de Açúcar passed in the distance high overhead. 
Christo overlooks Rio
From the road where we cycled we could see Corcovado with the famous art deco statue of Christo, Christ the Redeemer, stretching his arms out over the city.  I am not in the slightest bit religious but the sight of Christo overlooking the city is wonderful – perhaps because it is a surprise in so many parts of the city to look up and catch a glimpse of this enduring symbol – sort of like suddenly catching sight of the Eiffel Tower in Paris or even the top of the Space Needle in my own home city of Seattle.  Somehow these sightings are both comforting and compelling.  Oh yes I think to myself, I am in Rio, or Paris, or Seattle.  It makes me happy and I suspect such sightings are equally confirming to many people.  We continued our bike ride out to Flamengo, then reversed direction, going back under the tunnel and finally pedaled to the end of Leblon and back to Copacabana.  We were tired and returned Orangina and her pal to one of the Rio Bike stands.  A walk along the beach, jumping the waves at water’s edge took us home to our local bar.  Once seated, we listened to the guitarist, drank ice cold chopp (draft beer) and watched in awe as several young men jumped off the steep rock cliffs into the surf.

On Monday morning my neighborhood hosted a small farmers market in the nearby praça.  The stands were full of colorful fruits and vegetables, artisanal cheese, fresh farm eggs and many other delicious wares.  Two stands were selling an amazing selection of fresh seafood and another was full of local organic chicken.  The diversity and quality of the goods was impressive.  I filled my shopping bag with many tasty looking items.  I am excited that this street market or feira as it is called, comes to my neighborhood every Monday.  For sure I’ll be back next week.  Rio continues to charm us – it is a wonderful place to visit and living here for a few weeks makes our experience all that much better.

The best radicchio ever...

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