An Evening Stroll Up Rua Barão de Guaratiba

Lee Kaplan-Unsoeld
March 9, 2016
Pedra bonita

As I walk away from the Catete metro station, Rua do Catete unfolds in front of me. To my left is a food cart is advertising in English: Dutch Fries, Hamburgers, Beer on Tap, Shots. It is playing a Nirvana song on its speakers, and a few people are hanging around drinking beer. People are sitting on the walls of the metro station, just hanging out. I can smell something frying, and feel the wind from the traffic pushing the heavy air across my face. As I continue to walk, a surge of taxis, busses, motorcycles and cars flood past me on my left, the silent facade of the Palacio do Catete on my right.

The cars pass and the sound of a drum overtakes the airspace, emanating from inside a dance studio. The windows are ceiling to floor, and thrown open along the whole length of the building, exposing the dancers to the street. The drums they are placing echo out into the streets like musical gun shots, sending a message to all within ear shot: these people will dance!! And people below crane their necks, trying to catch a glimpse of the dancers before moving on.

And I pass on as well, making my way past the MercaDez supermarket on the left, and the Colegio Zaccaria attached to a decent sized church. It is still only around 8 p.m., and the city is very awake. Some men are sitting at a small folding table playing cards as I round the corner next to a much smaller food cart selling things that weren't clearly indicated in any language. Across the street lounge three or four mototaxistas who will take you up the hill for 3 reais (about 75 cents), but tonight I'm going on foot. I wasn't planning on coming out tonight because I was feeling sick, but I think the walking is doing me good.

I have arrived to Rua Barão de Guaratiba, the final stretch of my journey home. I leave the mototaxistas behind, and curve around the the right. My long legs take me past a woman carrying groceries and a man who was eating an ice cream bar and limping. A VW SUV is turning around on the tight street, and it backs into another little side street. The street starts to go straight up the hill for about 15 feet, then goes into a T, its progress diverted by a huge old house built on top of a 20 foot stone wall. Past the side street, the bar that the VW was pulling away from is exposed to the world in the same way as the dance studio. A few people converse over drinks inside, but compared to the weekend crowd it is calm, mostly middle aged people.

Across the street is a wall that forms the back side of Colegio Zaccaria and the church, covered in beautiful street art. Turning left at the end of the block, the road gets steep, and the hike begins. At first I tune out my surroundings and adjust my breathing to the incline, trying to shake off the sickness I've been feeling the last couple days. I'm about 5 minutes into the hike, and nearing the halfway point, before I begin to tune back into the world around me. I see that a man is working on one of his many VW Beetles, the kind from the 1980s that are still surprisingly ubiquitous in Rio de Janeiro, and I say hello to him with a "Boa noite!", which he returns from underneath the car. As I walk past two of his other Beetles parked along the street, I notice that I can still hear the drum from the dance studio. The sound of a horn cuts into the mix for a second, the woosh of traffic drones on in the background, and a dog's barking accompanies the city's evening symphony. The steady beat of the drum makes it all seem to be some unconventional, decentralized concert. I was listening to a Brazilian remix of the song that each and every city makes at night.

I always try to guess, but I can never really know what to expect when going to a new country. It is always a difficult feat to feel like you are understanding a place when you can only know so much of what is going on around, but walks like this one make me feel the closest to understanding a place as I ever will. It is important to know the history of a place, and equally important to know underlying cultural norms when living in a new country, but the only way you can truly understand a place is to be in the middle of it. To walk the cobblestone streets, smell the frying food, walk past piles of trash on the sidewalk, and see the Guanabara bay from the top of the hill with Pão de Açucar mountain towering behind it is to get to know what is really there.

They don't put certain things on postcards for a reason, but living somewhere makes you confront it all, good and bad. Sometimes it feels like there is too much to process and I just can't wrap my head around the place that I am living in, there is a lot to take in on any given night. It will probably always be that way to an extent. Rio de Janeiro is an extremely complex place, and far from being the paradise that you might have seen on travel brochures. But if you open your ears at night, it's almost guaranteed that some magic that Brasil has to offer will drift in.

Lee Kaplan-Unsoeld

<p><span style="font-size: 13.008px; line-height: 20.0063px;">I am a sociology and cultural anthropology student from Olympia, Washington, who has been lucky enough to study abroad in Spain, Costa Rica, and Chile. I am now headed to Brazil for my final semester of my undergraduate studies, and could not be more excited to learn a third language and enjoy some of Brazil&#39;s natural and cultural beauties. In addition to traveling, studying people and learning languages, I like to read, write, rock climb, play violin and drums, hike, swim, do yoga, and enjoy quality conversations that run late into the night. Please join me on this blog in processing some of the crazy stuff going on in my life, and in Brazil.</span></p>

2016 Spring
Home University:
Saint Martin's University
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