Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fog and Redemption in Rio de Janeiro

The port of Rio de Janeiro is one of the most spectacular ports to approach, and whoever isn’t on watch, stands out on deck to catch a glimpse. If there is anything to catch, however, the thick fog catches it first, and we stand there quite for nothing but to listen lusky to the town’s distant din floating in through the haze.

After a while of drifting in a featureless milky world, a lazy shudder informs us that we’re probably docked now. Some guys we’ve never seen before break from the clouds, angrily explaining things in Portuguese, from which we deduct that indeed we must be tied to shore. Someone surprisingly understands that these men are riled-up port, state and health authorities, but much of their explaining is lost to our inability to understand Portuguese.

Luckily my Draga is perfectly lusophone. She’s also as charming as two week old puppy, and soon the explaining becomes less urgent and seems to evolve from issues concerning pending maintenance and grave health violations to the exact whereabouts of the nearest H. Stern outlet.

Draga, namely, is besides besottingly charming also celebrating her birthday. I’ve been on high alert for weeks now, have selected the prettiest gems a generous but modest budget may be turned into, sent out spies to scout the land and have sworn the troops to secrecy apparently so effectively that Draga expects nothing but my forgetfulness.

We have the evening off and we can go ashore. That happens about once of month, so destinations are carefully selected and vehemently debated. Of course, with her having her birthday, the debate starts dangerously in my disfavor. I weaken her defenses with a set of ear-studs – made from astonishing black diamonds, which the naked eye can’t possibly distinguish from fake ones. Draga once explained that diamonds are so special because only the owner knows whether the diamonds are real or fake, and since no one but one self knows whether one truly loves someone else, diamond are the preferred medium to express this certainty. Since I truly love Draga, she gets to wear real diamonds. Now all I have to do is make sure we don’t end up somewhere noisy tonight.

“I’d like to take you to the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer,” I confidently try, “Then maybe we can swing by a cathedral or two, stroll a park and then head for a quick bite somewhere not too crowded.”
Draga poses in front of the mirror, flips her hair back and stares dreamily at her studs. “Oh, let’s go to Ipanema beach,” she says slowly. I am after all the only one who knows whether my diamonds are real. So let’s spend our precious evening of shore leave having a dinner in a restaurant full of bikers and half-naked bodybuilders rubbing their oily hides. I’m sure they all have girlfriends clad in green fluorescent minikini’s and they’ll serve the entire evening to prove the genuineness of my diamonds.

A shuttle bus takes us through town. My teary eyes cling to museums and churches whisking by and after a break-neck turn somewhere I fling myself in a reflex against the windshield to steal a photo when the contours of Christ the Redeemer flash like the Second Coming over the mountains. We tear along the famous Copacabana beach, where tourists can have their picture taken whilst being mugged, and come to a screaming halt at Ipanema beach, which is just west of Copacabana. The driver explains that the Rio guild of muggers has vowed to not mug tourists at Ipanema, so we can move around freely, speak English at full volume, take pictures and flash our sweaty wads of dollars around. Because, he assures, Rio de Janeiro is truly enlightened and tourists may pay in US dollars anywhere.

Soon after we are settled at an outside table of restaurant Astor, overlooking the beach. There’s a six lane highway between the beach and the rest of the world, and it has no safe way to get from beach to pub or vice versa. Traffic hurls itself hungrily onto crossers; fists are raised, curses are cast, but curiously enough, no one ever honks their horn.

Draga and I sit in relative peace and I’m even relaxed enough to realize that I’m blessed beyond the compass of superlatives. All bustle and dazzle of Rio dissolves in her single glance. All needs to know and regrets to have learned become superfluous in the simple urge to love and the ultimate joy of being loved back. Finding her at the heart of everything I realize that I love her entirely.

Foggy morning  - drifting into Rio de Janeiro
Christ the Redeemer through the window of a speeding bus
Ipanema Beach by night

Restaurant Astor on Ipanema Beach in Rio de Janeiro

It takes a death defying bolt across six lanes to get to the beach

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