A very civlized country

Brazil is a very civilized country. Example number one: if you order several beers, they bring them to you in an ice bucket. Proof number two: if you only order one large beer, they give you one of those individual coolers that European restuarants save for wine. Just saying.

It’s also a very social country. If you order a large beer (60 cl), they ask you how many glasses you wants. The assumption being, of course, that you’ll share it with friends. Never have I felt so Swedish as when I ordered a large beer (it’s just 60 cl!), with one glas. I was at the Carioca de Gema, a great bar/club in the Lapa district, and the band played samba, and I happily refilled my tiny beer glas, and I marveled at the naive thought that the beer would ever get a chance to get warm.

And then my eyes met those of a dark haired beauty across the dance floor. But that, as they say, is another story. Suffice it to say that she taught me all I know about samba and that we’ll always have Rio.

The stairs of a crazy artist

One of my favourite parts of the tour was Selaron steps, made by the Chilean artist Jorge Selarón. They run from Joaquim Silva street and Pinto ;artins street, straddling the Lapa and the Santa Teresa neighbourhoods, and they are beautiful.

All in all, there are 215 steps measuring 125 metres, covered in over 2000 tiles collected from more than 60 countries around the world. And it all started with a painter who didn’t like the stairs outside his house. He began renovating them in 1990, choosing fragments of blue, green and yellow tiles – the colours of the Brazilian flag. At first it was only a sideproject to his main artistic work as a painter, but it won’t surprise anyone who knows artists to hear that it soon developed into an obsession. Constantly out of money, he started selling paintings to fund his work, not unlike other addictions, and scavenged construction sites and urban waste on the streets of Rio for more tiles. In later years, most tiles were donated by visitors from around the world. Selarón himself considered the work as “never complete” and claimed that “this crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death.”

On January 10, 2013, at the age of 65, Jorge Selarón was found dead on those stairs. By then, they were world famous.

A proposal before lunch

I won’t bore you with longwinded descriptions of the magnificent view from Sugarloaf Mountains, or even the cute monkeys or sloths that I saw, or how taken I was by Christ the Redeemer. I’ll just say that the statue of Christ was a difficult tourist attraction to navigate. There was all the usual tourists taking selfies and so on of course, with the notable difference that these tourists were mimicing the outstretched arms of Christ. If Carina had been with me, I, too, would have stood there on the staircase preventing anyone from coming or going. As it was, Paul was satisfied with taking a photo of me just looking up at the statue.

Which brings me to Paul, a charming gentleman who kindly proposed to me before lunch. “Do you speak English? Good! Stay close to me. We’re going to be together all day”, he said on our way up to see Christ. He’s name was Paul, or, as the guide called him, “Mister Paul” (“Mister Paul! Mister Paul! I’ve found you the perfect seat”), and usually he prefered cruises. He tried to go on at least two a year. Rio was more of a bonus trip. His wife died five years ago, and his daughters think he’s getting too old to travel so much, but he doesn’t agree. His helicoptre trip is booked for Friday.

I had wandered around the Christ statue for some time when he found me again. “I’ve been looking for you”, he said, perhaps a tad reproachfully. “I was going to offer to take your picture.” Which he did, and then I returned the favour, as soon as I had figured out how his camera worked. He had a real, digital one, and he kindly offered to send me a usb-memory with the photos he planned to take in Rio. He made a video after all his trips, and if I “had a new telly, you could watch the photos there.” Usually he added music as well.

It was while we were regrouping over coffee (I made the mistake again of ordering it with milk, but Paul kindly stated that he liked it. “It’s not coffee, mind you, but it’s quite good”) that he proposed. The conversation went something like this:
Mister Paul: “Are you married?”
Me: “No.”
Him: “But you will be?”
Me: “Who knows? I guess it depends on wheterh or not I meet the right person.”
Him: “You’ve met me! And I’m free!”

He also kindly forgave me for visiting Ireland several years ago without seeing him. After all, I could always come back. “You know what I’ve been thinking?” he said at the end of the trip. “Instead of us just meeting like this in Rio, we could go somewehere together! You don’t even have to come to Ireland. It could be anywhere!” Personally he prefered cruises, since they took care of everything so you didn’t have to worry about your flight or luggage or anything really. “Harrow-free, I call them.” But he was quite prepared to be flexible.

So now we’re having a beer together tomorrow at Copacabana beach. He works fast, does Paul.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen, and the trip from Sao Paulo to Rio on a clear, cloudless day is without a doubt my most beautiful flight. In Rio, you get dramatic mountains, perfect beaches, the ocean and an urban environment all in one glance. In every glance, actually. And often enough Jesus.

Rio is also the only city I visited where natives, when you tell them you’re staying in one of two of the most touristy areas possible, reply: “oh, good” and look relieved. No one has suggested that I venture out to find the “real” or “authentic” Rio. When I checked in at the hotel, I received information about when breakfast was served, the password for wi-fi and advice on how to avoid getting robbed.

It’s also over a hundred days since Marielle Franco was killed in an execution-style murder, and no suspected has yet been arrested.

The road between Santos and Sao Paulo

Going from Santos to Sao Paulo you drive steadily upwards, surrounded on both sides by beautiful hills and valleys. I guess technically the road goes up a mountain, but it feels more like driving through them. It’s not one of those winding small roads that cling to the side of a mountain, which in my view makes it even better. I love a good highway, and especially a high way going through the hills and mountain tops. Eventually you’ll find yourself looking down at the fog, which feels very much like looking down on clouds when you fly.

The road back was even more beautiful. It was dark by then, so the only thing visible was the lights from Santos in the distance, and darkness that I knew were either mountains or ocean. In the car, Ana and Zé were talking about Coehlo, and I was listening to Eilen Jewell singing Worried mind, and I thought about all the strange roads and decisions and co-incidences and luck that led me to this point in time, enjoying a Brazilian highway together with a bookseller from Santos and a Portuguese writer and a brave and faithful guide.

There are so many lives to live out there, so many stories you’ll never tell and language you’ll never learn how to speak, people you haven’t met yet and perhaps never will, and right then that thought was inspiring instead of depressing. But it’s also a mystery, that I’ve stayed in the same city in the same country all these years, when there are so many great adventures out there yet to be experienced.