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Rio from the ground, with a hint of Judaism and Israeli dance

April 30

Another breakfast on the veranda on what looks to be another picture-perfect, sunny day in a Rio. Yesterday’s weather was as good as it gets. So far, the beauty of Rio seems to be as seen from atop the city, and driving along the beautiful beaches. What we’ve seen of the city itself does not distinguish it from other large cities. One doesn’t feel the beauty of a Paris or Barcelona, or, closer to home, of a San Francisco, or, yes, a Chicago. But we’re going to explore the city more today, so, stay tuned.

But first, I seem to forget a something each night when I post the blog. Last night, I forgot to report that the 29th of each month is gnocchi night in Italian restaurants, so we shared three different kinds of gnocchi. Good, but very rich. Luiz knew of this and told us that the custom is that you’re supposed to put a dollar under your plate to bring good luck. We didn’t know about that, though.

Luiz picks us up and we take a very bumpy local bus over cobblestone roads down to the city. Carol declines a seat offered to her by several on the bus, because she does not have her hard seat, which she lost in Salvador. We arrive downtown and walk around a good deal. We learn a lot from Luiz about Brazilian history, and see both some of old Rio and new Rio, including an amazing busker who poses motionless as a statue.

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We experience another small world phenomenon, encountering our friend, Scott Turow. Well, not exactly, but we see a translation of his book, Innocent.

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It was Scott who at lunch a week ago had cautioned me to be very careful in Brazil. The wisdom of Scott’s advice was demonstrated yet again when, in broad daylight in downtown Rio, a young man bumps into our guide intentionally and tries to snatch a chain that Luiz is wearing around his neck. Luiz seems unaffected and more or less shrugs. A well-dressed man who witnesses this hands me a small plastic bag and motions for me to put this bag around the camera that I’m wearing around my neck. This experience makes us suspicious of everyone, watching those around us continuously, which is not a comfortable way to live. It makes me think of those who confront more serious threats of violence regularly in their lives and how fortunate I am not to be subjected to that. Our friend Andrew last night spoke of how this fear is the worst part of living in Brazil. He is reluctant to take out his iPhone on the street, locks car doors and spoke of how he knows several people who travel in armored cars. So, maybe you want to think twice about that trip to Brazil.

We walk to see the new art museum from the top of which we can get sense of the ambitious projects being undertaken in preparation for the Olympics, including destruction of a highway that had divided city. From the museum we can see from above the old and new Rio that we’ve seen at street level this morning, including the golden interior of a Baroque church.

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We take a taxi to get to lunch at the iconic restaurant Confeitaria Colombo, the oldest coffee shop in Rio de Janeiro, originally opened as a meeting point for intellectuals and aristocrats. Built in 1894 and refurbished in 1914, it is a living portrait of Rio’s Belle Époque, retaining much of its Art Nouveau charm, with famous Belgian mirrors in hardwood frames and lovingly preserved Italian marble benches. See if you can find Carol in this photo.

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After lunch we take a half-hour tour of the opera house with its elaborately refurbished interior, done in the very early twentieth century for the centennial of the founding of the Kingdom of Brazil, where we’ll see a performance this evening.

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From the opera, we take a subway to Beth El, an orthodox synagogue. We are greeted warmly by the director, who studied in the U.S. And has two children living in Israel. We speak mainly English, but a few words of Yiddish and Hebrew are thrown in. This type of immediate connection is common whenever we stop at a synagogue when we travel.

Our host shows us around and encourages us to take photos. There is a beautiful tapestry above the ark and some very striking stained glass windows. The women are separated from the men and sit upstairs in a balcony. The congregation has a thousand members, and we’re sown a separate building that is used by younger congregants. Rio has approximately 50,000 Jews, San Paolo about 100,000 and there is a smattering elsewhere in the country.

Our host says that I should keep the kippah (yarmulke) he’s loaned me to wear while I’m in the synagogue, which I later discover was from Clara and Victor’s wedding on Nov 30, 2008. Amazing that today marks exactly 5 years and 5 months since Clara and Victor were wed. Doesn’t seem possible.

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Taxi to Santa Teresa and walk around, visit a few galleries, stop for beer at well-known local bar, across from murals visible aside reflections of the bar in a mirror, where we meet a young lady who has spent a year and a half in Brazil doing various and sundry things and is heading home tomorrow. At a shop, Carol buys a nice platter. But she’s not intending to use it as a platter, but as a seat to replace the one she left in Salvador.

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Back to our hotel to shower and rest/blog before heading down for a very good and leisurely dinner at Bistro Villarino, a restaurant near the opera house at which we stopped in to make a reservation earlier today. We then round the corner to the opera house where we see an absolutely fabulous modern dance company called Batsheva, which is based in Tel Aviv and somehow affiliated with Martha Graham. Make sure to keep an eye out for them, and, if you see they’re on, don’t miss them. Carol said that if they were doing the same program tomorrow (they’re not), she’d go see it again, and so would I. Back to the hotel to turn in.

6 comments to Rio from the ground, with a hint of Judaism and Israeli dance

  • lauri pollack

    Great photos. Fun to wake up to this every morning. Thank you and enjoy the rest of your journey.

    Lauri

  • Kay Osborne

    Nice, very nice. K

  • Wendy

    Love the face of the painter. You do good people.
    I was able to find Maz, though I was not at all sure I would. Turned out to be a very gratifying game.
    Wish I could’ve seen Batsheva.
    Glad Maz found just the right platter to replace her seat!

  • Zoe-Bug

    I love all the pictures. I did spot Gee-Gee, I believe, but boo to you if that was a joke. It’s great that Gee-Gee got a seat. Does it work? See you soon. Sorry about all the robbery.

    Zoe-Bug

  • Maxi

    Um um um. Very nice. Sorry I haven’t been commenting. I’ve been to busy eating and adoring and buging my sister.

  • PRskie

    I like the designs that are on the buildings—very colorful!
    Oh-I found Gee-Gee in the picture!
    Yikes. It ain’t look’n like Brazil for my 13!

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