Sunday, September 28, 2008

Tchau, Santa Teresa

Cariocas pride themselves on their “most honest approximation” of Montmartre, the neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Unlike the more touristy beach neighborhoods of Copacabana and Ipanema, Santa Teresa lacks sand and is perched just above the city’s gritty historic center. Rio’s “bohemian” (no, those quotes are not ironic—more on that later) music scene, Lapa, is within spitting distance of the street car’s trek across the remains of the city’s aqueducts dating from the mid 1700s. The street car, known as a bonde, rides the narrow aqueducts for only a short time before it arrives in the lower streets of Santa Teresa. The iconic, yellow bonde (only about 60cents, cheap!) offers the mostly Brazilian and European tourists a delightful respite from first world rules and regulations regarding personal safety. While traversing the aqueduct, French limbs and Brazilian heads protrude from the bonde’s every orifice just one too sweaty palm away from a deadly drop into a pool of vomit and urine marinating in Lapa’s “bohemian” streets. Your fearless faux carioca felt obliged to ride the boards at least once on one of her several visits to the neighborhood. She found it remarkable that more people aren’t dashed to the ground. It would seem that fear is a powerful glue.

After crossing the aqueduct, the bonde begins its ascent up the hill where children jump on and off the moving vehicle. On one trip, the faux carioca seemed to be the only person to notice that there were children making sport of holding onto the lower bits of the bonde and dragging their flip-flopped feet on the street. While your delicate adventurer has enjoyed her share of idiotic pastimes, she failed to see what was so entertaining about being dragged beside a relatively slow-moving streetcar. Fortunately the children had the decency not to inconvenience the other riders by getting themselves crushed beneath the clattering metal wheels.

Santa Teresa itself is made quaint by its steep hills, meandering cobbled streets, and lovely colonial architecture. There is not much in the way of commerce here, but there are a surprising number of restaurants for such a residential neighborhood. Cuisine ranges from indigenous to Asian fusion to regional Brazilian. A tight budget meant dining in Santa Teresa was not usually an option, though the prices seemed reasonable for the average American who can afford to fly down to Rio. A generous Mexican stranger with the company credit card treated the faux carioca and two other companions to lunch one afternoon in Santa Teresa. Unfortunately one of your gentle traveler’s less gracious, omnivorous companions failed to humor the faux carioca’s unwillingness to eat pork. This person—an uncouth twit, really, but probably a decent human being—devoured most of the fish leaving yours truly with little to eat. At least the balcony view outside of the washroom was lovely.

Of course what you really want to know is if Santa Teresa is Rio’s answer to Paris’ Montmartre of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Perhaps. There are hills, some churches (though no Sacré Coeur), and artists seem to live there. There do not appear to be bars on every corner and only a few coffee shops that are on the bourgeois side of things. Speaking of bourgeois, this seems like a fine time to mention that Santa Teresa is one of those neighborhoods considered “dangerous” by many Zona Sul (Ipanema, Leblon, Copacabana) residents. Perhaps it was simple ignorance, but this is one neighborhood in Rio where the faux carioca felt supremely comfortable. It struck her as familiar with its odd assortment of people and vaguely abandoned aspect on weekday afternoons. Of the few shops that do exist in Santa Teresa is a clothing boutique called Favela Hype ( The shop has a pink VW bug parked out front and sells original designs for women constructed by nearby favela (translation: slum) residents. Many of the clothes (often in pink and black) include elaborate embellishments, screenprinting, and have an ironic cute sensibility—as you might have already guessed from the brand name.

But back to the task at hand.

Is Santa Teresa Rio’s “most honest approximation” of Montmartre? Well, of course we only remember the greats who came out of Montmartre, don’t we? We don’t recall that Montmartre was likely teeming with hacks and no-talent drunks in addition to its more famous hunchbacked, limping little people (was there more than one?). In early July, Santa Teresa hosted its 18th annual Open Doors event during which 43 “ateliers” and 12 museums and cultural centers exhibited a range of work. Most of it bad. While some event attendees were clearly interested in seeing art, many were there to eat street food and have a drink or two. And why not? Much of the art, we must repeat, was remarkably bad. Boring crafty stuff, ugly paintings, well-constructed rugs in disruptive (not in a good way) colors. Among the better work was a collection of charcoal and ink abstract drawings by a recent Vietnamese immigrant. Interestingly, there appears to be a small clothing-as-art movement. Most of the garments were screen printed T-shirts, embroidered T-shirts, bedazzled T-shirts, painted T-shirts, handbags and totes—nothing terribly remarkable that one couldn’t find among the DIY crowd in the U.S.

Bless them all for trying, but the Open Doors were not nearly as inspiring as the faux carioca had hoped they would be. Rents, however, seem to be cheap and the neighborhood is quaint . . .
This is the final entry (for now) of Waxing Brazilian. There is a possibility that your faux carioca will return to Rio for further research. If she does, she will renew her life line to the gentle readers.

For now, you must content yourselves with a new blog on dress:

Sunday, July 27, 2008

St. Lose Blues: Wake up and smell the yeast!

Dedicated American beer swillers may have heard about the recent sale of Anheuser-Busch to the international beer giant InBev. In a human interest story (“Anger and Dismay at the Sale of a City Treasure”, New York Times 7/16/2008) that took readers to the heart of the USA (also affectionately referred to as “flyover” country by coastal snore meisters), a reporter spoke with St. Louis blue-collar workers concerned about the future of their jobs. People expressed a sense of betrayal over the St.Louis-based company’s promise not to sell the brewery and reflected upon the imminent demise of days when a laborer could achieve the American Dream with hard work and company loyalty. Now St. Louisans must face the bitter reality that Detroiters faced years ago. Bad beer and gas-guzzlers sometimes lose in the global marketplace.

But hope is not easily quashed in the American heart and with InBev promising not to close any of its US breweries, a Teamster can dream. Better to devise Plan B, says the faux carioca. This is business. Big business.

The New York Times represents InBev as a Belgian company. While its headquarters are in Belgium, the company is truly a round table of international business sharks with Brazil serving as the biggest fish in the sea being the primary producer of Brazil’s (bad) beer. InBev was created through a merger of the Brazilian company AmBev and the Belgian Interbrew in 2004. Moreover, its CEO is the aggressive Brazilian and Stanford MBA, Carlos Brito. When he worked for AmBev, Brito was known for his tough driving market-expansion, moneymaking skills. One way he effectively cut costs was by cutting jobs. Teamster brewers are advised to check the expiration date on their benefits.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Angry Asshole

In the U.S., to talk about a fondness for bidets indicates either a) a pretentious disposition or b) a preference for being sodomized (a clean butthole does not guarantee but may facilitate anal exploration by others). An American's love of the bidet may also suggest that one is both pretentious and likes to be buggered (e.g. bourgeois gay white male). Yet these are not absolutes. Is it not possible for any semi-old American to enjoy the daily pleasures of a cool, soothing anal cleansing? The Protestant disposition that pervades even among non-Protestants in the U.S. denies one the admission of such Dionysian pleasures so let us shift to another approach.

The bidet is so much more hygienic than rough dry toilet paper. So uncouth and oddly primate-like to crouch over a bowl scraping and wiping. After the bidet hose-down one pats dry with a clean, re-usable towel at the ready reducing the use of toilet paper/Sears' catalogs/leaves. Not only is this more civilized than scraping with thin paper squares, but it is also more environmentally friendly since the fluffy towel can be washed and re-used. And did we mention that the bidet is healthy? A lack of chafing reduces the incidence of hemorrhoids.

The asshole grown accustomed to a daily springtime rain freshness afforded by the bidet grows angry and puckers its mouth into an inflamed pout, "How did a country so obsessed with cleanliness come to cultivate such a nasty means for cleaning the seat of its constitution?"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Map, what map?

The faux carioca has returned to the too-tight embrace of Blow-me-ton where she languishes under the scourge of a nasty Brazilian cold and grows impatient with her wounded ankle. The good news is that an x-ray revealed no bones were broken or cracked during her assault on the other guy’s head. The bad news is that the ankle’s most important ligaments were sprained during the impact and it will be another 2-5 months before a full recovery. Strengthening the muscles in the foot is a good thing until it starts to hurt. When the hurting begins, so too shall the final installments of Waxing Brazilian.

So what does a gal have to do to get around Rio de Janeiro if she wants to add a little toxicity to the environment--and we’re not talking about a post beans and beer stroll by the beach. Well, she might drive a car or take a taxi but there is also the bus, the various illegal vans, or the Metro.

What is interesting about the bus and the vans is the lack of posted schedules or maps. Anywhere. While this makes sense for the contravans, it defies logic for the bus system. Buses are numbered and have destinations posted in the windows, e.g. Praça General Osorio via Barato Ribeiro. If the picky traveler wants to know whether a bus is heading near her destination, she must ask. She asks other riders, the bus driver, the money-taker that sits by the bus’ turnstile, but ask she must. Sometimes she receives correct, incomplete, over-detailed, or just plain wrong information. Yet Brazilian culture is very much shaped by oral tradition and there is a logic in the system of navigating buses by talking to other people. One Brazilian perspective might consider the individual mapping out her travel plans in solitude as lonely and weirdly antisocial. There is no reason to be so self-sufficient when there are other people on the streets who know how to get to point B from point A. The independent American spirit resists this reliance upon others, but is eventually served its humble pie (the only kind in Brazil) when in Rio--dropped incidentally, on the filthy bakery floor.

For a few centavos more, the city trekker can ride the clean and bourgeois Metro. Why bourgeois? Because the Metro includes so many useless ‘perks’. The thrifty carioca will regard the Metro as a needlessly expensive alternative to the vans and buses. Vans and buses range in price from R$2-2.40. The Metro, on the other hand, is R$2.60. For what does one pay up to an extra 60 centavos? Sure, there’s a map of the system in the subway cars (not very useful for someone trying to decide which train to board while wavering on the platform—better to ask someone). What’s more, the Metro plus its connecting buses are all air-conditioned. Air-conditioning, in case the gentle readers did not already know this, is a sign of civility. Over air-conditioning is the height of luxury that no self-respecting Third World elitist would dare complain about. But perhaps the greatest useless perk of using the Metro that serves to remind its riders of their bourgeois status is the music. Each air-conditioned bus and Metro station plays uninterrupted classical and jazz music. The rubes could never appreciate such refinement. Appropriately enough, crime is very low on the Metro. No one jumps the turnstiles or moves between subway cars. There is no one trying to sell socks or candy on the Metro. The homeless and the mentally ill steer clear. Truly the Rio Metro is a bourgeois paradise that is begging to be discovered by a savvy hustler.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Proper Burial Forthcoming

Dear gentle readers,
The faux carioca had such grand plans to be your correspondent from Brazil. Over the next two weeks she was going to report dutifully on food, people, and practices. Alas, the system is down. The computer in her host mother's apartment protested said mother's recent departure for a two month stay in France. Things went awry less than a week into the faux carioca's unlimited access to 21st century technology. The CPU now squeaks mournfully when it is turned on and the screen remains black.

So it goes.

The faux carioca must regretfully put Waxing Brazilian on hiatus. While the she shudders at the thought of maintaining a blog on a regular basis, she is disappointed to end this one so abruptly and unexpectedly. Your trusty correspondent will do her best to file last reports when she has returned to the US. Oh sure, she could write now and again from Rio but the truth is she is tightening her belt to make the budget last and Internet cafes are cheap though not free.

Speaking of returning to the US, does anyone know someone interested in breakfasting or brunching with the faux carioca on Wednesday July 16 in Houston? She will be arriving in Houston at 5:20 a.m. with a connecting flight to Indianapolis scheduled for 4:15 p.m. That's a long ass time to spend reading magazines and drinking cocktails in an over air-conditioned stinkhole. Charming as the Houston airport might be, the faux carioca would love a respite after an overnight flight from Rio. Please advise via e-mail on people to call and places to visit!


Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Regular readers will have noted the lack of postings lately. The faux carioca is reaching the end of her language and culture program so she has been very busy. In the next week she will try to get you caught up on the following:
  1. Oral tradition in Brazil and what this means for public transportation.
  2. Hillbilly month in Brazil (June).
  3. Capoeira as a butch form of dance.
  4. Her fresh-juice-a-day mission.
For now she will offer the following updates:
  • The ankle is on the mend, but the faux carioca is still gimping around. A few days with absolutely no walking--being carried on a litter would be appropriate--would expedite her recovery, but this simply cannot be accomplished.
  • Research at the Carmen Miranda Museum has been going well, but won't be complete by the time she returns to the U.S. (Has the faux carioca told you lately how incredibly helpful the museum staff are?) Interviews are on the horizon for sometime between July 1 and July 15.
  • The movie "Control" has beautiful cinematography.
  • Oddly enough, drag shows in Rio seem to start on time. This was bad news that the faux carioca recently received when she was functioning on Brazilian time and had planned to catch a show of impersonators singing songs from various divas including, she had hoped, Carmen Miranda.
  • Of the 10 students in her program, the faux carioca and one other person (the guy she kicked in the head--the faux carioca's magic is contagious!) are the only people who have not been robbed, had a knife held to their throat, identity stolen, etc.
  • Last week was Fashion Week in São Paulo and bloomers made their appearance again. The pendulum of fashion has a tendency to swing from one extreme to the other. The thong, Brazilian freaks and the faux carioca agree, is better left in the bedroom. The faux carioca wouldn't dream of denying anyone the right to sport a filo de dental (dental floss), but she must confess that she is a bloomer radical for all occasions. Sexy and comfortable!
Tchau gente!

Letter from Brazil to Barack Obama

Dear Barack Obama,
Though your hands be as soft as a baby's bottom from many years of laboring with the mind, the honeymoon is over. The faux carioca still loves your sparkling eyes and admires your optimism, but she's disappointed with your position on corn-based ethanol. Who doesn't want to help out the Midwestern farmer? How could we deny assistance to friendly folks who get their kicks from building sculptures out of butter at the state fair? The rub, golden boy, is that these same nice people are growing a food staple that provides a good portion of the world's diet. Fine. Subsidize the growth of these crops. But does it really make sense to give farmers support to turn that same food staple into fuel that will feed the American gas guzzler?

You have also proposed maintaining the tariffs on Brazilian sugar cane ethanol. The energy ratio of sugar cane ethanol to corn is 8 to 1. The math here is simple. Moreover, unless you're Chrystal F. (and there can be only one Chrystal), sugar cane is not essential to anyone's diet.

We need to find other solutions to the high cost of fuel. At the risk of sounding like an idealist, the faux carioca suggests that in addition to the use of more energy efficient sugar cane ethanol, we consider alternatives to the car. Why not provide subsidies for increased bus service, for example? Or perhaps provide municipal bicycles as the Parisians have done?

Stay in touch and please try to do the right thing,
Faux Carioca