Brasil is hip. Time Out London publishes a Sao Paulo edition, Macy’s New York has a Brazilian month, Rock in Rio and now ArtRio are international hits http://riorealblog.com/2012/09/13/artrio-snowballs-into-a-draw-far-beyond-carioca-dreams-the-second-time-around/ , the Forbes September 10 cover girl for a feature on “The 100 Most Powerful Women” is Brasil’s Presidenta Dilma Rousseff. It is time for Brazil to be discovered. Again.
The Impressionist view of Santa Teresa
We Flew Down to Rio and danced The Carioca in 1933. Peggy Lee sang “Caramba! It’s the Samba” in 1948. We sighed over The Girl From Ipanema in Astrud Gilberto’s accented English in 1963. US New Wave singer David Byrne produced a number of Brazilian music compilations – 1989’s O Samba is very good. It’s no accident that we know Brasil through the music of this most musical of nations.
Teatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro, opened 1909, restored 2010
In reality, Brasil has always developed independently and prolifically. The Rio de Janeiro of the 1920s and 1930s rivalled Paris and London for sophistication, with broad boulevards, grand architecture, modern art (see Semana de Arte Moderna http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semana_de_Arte_Moderna )
Exhibition curated by Mário de Andrade and the Group of Five, image by Emiliano di Cavalcanti
and the disposable income which made it possible, in the time of the ‘café com leite’ political settlement of coffee barons and cattle ranchers.
In the old capital Rio, Time Out tells us that “the more adventurous tourists” make their way up the hill to Santa Teresa. Rio is full of such hills, from the morro do Corcovado (Hunchback Hill) on which Cristo Redentor stretches out his arms, to the lesser-known hills which are home to the favelas – originally meaning villages – where Rio’s poor find a place to live. As in Wales, you move down to the better locations as soon as you can.
The view enjoyed from Cristo Redentor
When you take the 014 bus from Centro up the cobbled hill to the Santa Teresa neighbourhood, the ride is exciting – you feel the tyres scrabble for purchase as they slide across the granite setts. The bright yellow trams which were a distinctive feature of the area are being renovated … or has the service been withdrawn because of a fatal accident in 2011? Probably both, if the usual Brasilian story prevails. Expert at making a virtue of necessity, they are proud of their ability to find a way through (um jeitinho). And are the trams really called bondes because when they were introduced they advertised the attractions of European war bonds?
Prosperous from the foot of the hill
You look down on landmarks such as the tent-like canopy of the Catedral de São Sebastião as you ascend.
Downtown from uptown
Amid the mix of crumbling infrastructure and abundant natural growth, you notice something else.
The call of nature must be obeyed
As well as the usual Brasilian signs of enterprise – a dress-maker displaying her wares in a villa window –
Not just dummies
you see that this has been a prosperous suburb for many decades. The 1910s Art Nouveau villas are examples of their type just as beautiful as in Paris, Brussels, Palma or Montevideo.
Villa, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro
Yes, there are trendy restaurants, and more established places too.
Interior of the excellent Bar do Mineiro, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro
And the smart money is already here – properties are being bought and renovated, no doubt with the World Cup and the Olympic Games firmly in mind. When I took a closer look at the beautifully cast brass of this Art Nouveau door furniture, the jobbing builders came out to enquire what it was I wanted.
Door handle, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro
Even the graffiti seem to have a delicate spiralling beauty, compared with the directness of the work you see in Centro. Poets come and sell their self-published work while you are out at dinner. The Saturday evening street market boasts as many fine art painters as crafts stalls.
Santa Teresa mural art, Rio de Janeiro
Santa Teresa has been a Bohemian artistic retreat for many years, a heritage of which the locals are rightly proud. How comfortably it sits alongside the neighbouring favela I could not be sure on my first visit. Sitting on the terrace of the bed-and-breakfast villa overlooking the pool, watching a troop of monkeys scamper along the roof ridge, swing into the garden trees and on up the street, I could not help but decide on a return visit to the beautiful city of which Santa Teresa offers such an alluring prospect. I’m sure I am simply the latest in a long line of admirers.
View from the terrace of the comfortable Villa Laurinda, Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro