by Ekaterina Nikolaeva
My plane landed in Rio de Janeiro at night, and as I was flying from Sao Paulo, the aircraft made the famous curve over the Guanabara Bay, offering a breathtaking view of the city on its way to the centrally located Santos Dumont Airport. As I gazed out of the plane window, eager to get my first impression of cidade maravilhosa, or the “marvelous city”, as Brazilians call it – I saw millions of sparkling lights, which heavily contrasted the vast darkness of the Atlantic Ocean.
However, in that moment I knew that my mind was not free of stereotypes about Brazil — both the good — and the not-so-flattering: beaches, bossa nova, excessive love of football and soap operas, high crime rates, and above all, the Brazilians themselves — cheerfully samba-ing through their tough, yet happy lives. All these images are united in Rio de Janeiro.
From a bird’s-eye view, one could hardly avoid falling in love with Rio, but it wasn’t until I was on the ground that I started to question its “marvelousness”. I found myself in the middle of the crowded city-jungle, enveloped in the tropical heat, noise and the fear of never seeing my purse again. The discrepancy between the real Rio, and media-formulated images was astonishing. But reality is what counts, and so I decided to put aside my first judgments about Rio and to devote my time to exploring its personality – replete with striking contrasts.
The first useful lesson I learned from cariocas (Rio’s residents) was simple: in all situations, remain relaxed. This is the only way to truly enjoy the Rio lifestyle, though. Indeed, one can witness tanned cariocas spending weekends on shining sandy beaches, sipping coconut water or playing beach volleyball, and at night, Rio’s famous bohemian district, Lapa, offers party-lovers a large variety of venues for dancing, listening to traditional samba music or simply having a few caipirinhas (Brazil’s national cocktail).
People in Rio know how to celebrate life, but it would be imprudent attribute constant tranquility and laziness to all Brazilians; their lives do not resemble a careless carnival. An average carioca does not live in such prestigious coastal districts as Copacabana, Flamengo or Leblon. He or she, when commuting to work or school, has to spend long hours on city buses and trains, which tend to unpredictably break down in the middle of their routes or get stuck in traffic jams. Despite the vague sense of time and punctuality, Rio’s natives are hard working. Placing little hope on social policies, they tend to rely on their own abilities to acquire decent education and work. Resentment toward the current government persists, but the recent mass protests have not changed much. Rio has turned into a construction site for the upcoming FIFA World Cup, and natives note disingenuously that the infrastructure of the city is still underdeveloped for this world-class event.
By the end of my month-long stay in Rio de Janeiro, I’d started to better understand the life philosophy of its residents. They face the inconveniencies of a crowded metropolis. They criticize the government and municipal authorities and mercilessly point out the disadvantages of their native city. Between the words of criticism, however, I saw their endless love toward Rio, its cultural richness and its unforgettable nature. I gave this marvelous city the chance to conquer my heart, and it did not disappoint me. Heading back to Vienna, I was left with numerous bright impressions and memories of Rio de Janeiro. Moreover, I felt the desire to go back and to experience more of this city’s inharmonious beauty.