It has been just less than a week since we moved to Rio and we have lots of color to report. The vivid characters are everywhere. There is the curmudgeonly furniture seller a few doors down who tried to sell us a desk. Then there’s our doormen. I could have sworn that I saw one Read more about City of Figuras (Characters)[…]
My wife Carol and I just completed a move to Rio from Belo Horizonte, which we managed to accomplish in one car load and one bus load. Carol’s working as a Project Manager on the Petrobras building, charged with making sure the façade goes up expeditiously. I´ll be teaching, writing and looking for opportunities in this lovely, complicated, and exciting part of Brazil.
“Lovely” is clearly the obvious adjective, and “exciting” sums up recent developments reinvigorating the city. Principally, I speak of the Brazilian economic boom , including the new oil finds (the Tupi field off the coast of Rio), and the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics soon to grace this city. “Complicated” is not difficult to understand either. Rio is coming out of a long decline, initially triggered by the transfer of Brazil’s Capitol from the sunny shores of the Atlantic in the early 1950s to Brasilia, more than 1000 kilometers inland. Complicated describes any city that balances beach and business. Complicated also describes the characters on the street here– the Carioca (person from Rio) is generally looked upon with mild contempt by the rest of Brazilians, who see him as a lazy conniver; some even associate him with the unruliness that brought about the 1964-85 dictatorship.
Yet the worldly Carioca is perhaps more grounded in the country’s reality than most other urban Brazilians. After all, the carioca lives the complication of stark inequality in his day-to-day. Brazil has the unsavory distinction of placing among the five most unequal countries in the world, and most of the Rio’s poor are within a spitting reach of the richest parts of the city, including the Zona Sul (south zone), where lie the white beaches of Ipanema and Leblanc, among other poche locales.
Although I’m not super familiar with New York, I would imagine that Rio has the feel of New York City in the 1980s and even earlier: the starkness of poverty, crime, wealth, and easy-living all daily bump-and-grinding with each other. Carioca’s are in-your-face, much the same way as New Yorkers are reputed to be. Montreal, where I did my B.A., is also akin to a Rio– a rawer city than most other Canadian cities because of striking contrasts and perhaps also that French edge.
Despite the Carioca’s less-than-solid reputation, I have found much to like about Rio’s straightforward way, and the general lust for things we value. On my first official day in Rio, however, my experience was rather mixed. As soon as I emerged from our luxury sleeper bus in Rio, I asked for a luggage helper. I had paid $11R in Belo Horizonte for our burden of 7 bags and suitcases; I expected to pay the same in Rio. I know better, but I let him load the bags before asking a price. I won’t even mention the–negotiated–sum I paid, but even if I did pay fair price–more than double the fee I paid in Belo, for less than half the trip–I got scammed. We could have done the lugging ourselves with little sweat. Our cab driver compensated for the bus station heist– he was a really nice, helpful gent named Ronaldo.
I’d prefer not to dwell on negative episodes, but one that occurred later that day does deserve analysis. I am interested in helping out Real Estate firms in Rio on a very part-time basis. I spoke with one Realtor, who seemed very pleased with the idea. Then I spoke with another, who told me that in order to perform any Real Estate role whatsover I would have to become an accredited Real Estate Agent. And to obtain the license I would have to do about 20 tests and anywhere from 3 to 6 months of making the trip back and forth to Niteroi, a ferry-ride away. It would also cost about $700R.
But “don’t worry” he said, “if you pay the fee in cash, I have a friend who will let you take all the tests in one day, and you can copy all the answers[…] you can study later,” he said. I’m supposing here that the person receiving the bribe is pocketing the cash. I’m also supposing that the bureaucracy is such that many people end up taking the quick route and paying the bribe. The situation is unfortunate on two counts. First, it reinforces what they say about the Carioca, that he always finds a “jeitinho,” a way around things. Second, it illustrates the bureaucratic obstacles that lay the corruption trap. Complicated, very, very complicated this Rio, and indeed, this Brazil.
Carol and I successfully unloaded all of our suitcases today, but the clutter will take a while yet to deflect. I am happy to be in Rio. Happy for the challenges to come, and grateful for the opportunity to live in the “marvelous city,” blessed by beautiful beaches, people, and a colorful culture. We’ll bring further vitality to this city, Carol and me. We’ll also learn to love the Carioca– but I’m not quite sure about the jeitinho.