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Brazil

Day 50: Rio de Janeiro

 
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Tasting jabuticaba with Fábio at the fruit and flower market in Laranjeiras.
Michael Palin - BrazilThe throng of people, the insistent thumping of a drum and accordion one-man band and the consumption of fresh-made cheese pastries washed down with a cane juice and lime chaser has rendered me a little weary and I gladly take up the invitation to drop in on a young couple who are friends of Fábio.

Marcelo, in his thirties I should think, is a graphic designer, and his wife Carol produces interactive visual displays for exhibition spaces. They have two young daughters and a fine view from the eleventh floor of a well-kept 1930s apartment block. They look like the perfect modern Brazilian family, but when I ask them about the way the country's going, with the economy expanding by leaps and bounds in a way that makes us at home green with envy, I don't get the answers I expected.

Everything in Rio is expensive. Their rent has gone up sixty percent in the last year. Foreign buyers are snapping up property, hoping to make a killing when the World Cup comes to Rio in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. Marcelo and Carol bemoan the dire state of public education in Brazil, echoing what I'd heard up in Salvador. Both their daughters are in private school, which is also expensive. Boom, it seems, can be as cruel as bust, if you're not among the fortunate few. But all is not gloomy. The children love Fábio and his books and his tricks and he makes a very good passion fruit caipirinha, which we drink on the balcony. Only as we're about to leave do I get the hint of another anxiety. I'm admiring the extent of thick, green forest which climbs up a steep, rather impressive mountain side close by them when Marcelo points out a structure at the very top of a V-shaped pass. That's the favela, he tells me, it's reached the top of the hill behind them and their fear, everyone's fear in this pleasantly affluent neighbourhood, is that it will spill over the top and spread down towards them.

Fábio takes me downtown where the big modern office blocks have sprung up. On the way we stop to see something very much older, and no less impressive, the Arcos da Lapa, the Lapa Arches. They carry an aqueduct built back in the sixteenth century to bring water from the slopes of Santa Teresa into the centre of Rio. It was all constructed by Indian slave labour. According to Fábio the indigenous Indians were accomplished builders and engineers, but they were hopeless agriculturalists. Only the women worked the fields. So when the sugar plantations needed intensive hard labour it had to be brought in from Africa.

We end the day at the house Fábio shares with his mother and his new Czech wife Sabina. He shows me his latest paintings, lovely bright evocations of the good life of Rio. The only thing I'd quibble about is that in Fábio's paintings the sun is always shining. Tonight, as we look out from the balcony nursing jabuticaba caipirinhas, a thick, grey drizzle is falling all around us and the Cidade Maravilhosa is like Rotherham in November.
 
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At home with Fábio's friends Marcelo and Carol and their two children.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 50: Rio de Janeiro
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Rio de Janeiro
  • Book page no: 208

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