Ruy Castro delves into the past and present of Rio, where even in periods of comparative calm there has always been a palpable excitement in the air - the feeling of a city on fire.
In this spellbinding fifth entry in Bloomsbury's The Writer and the City series, Rio de Janeiro's vibrant history unfolds. While stiff-collared poets flirted with prim young ladies in coffeehouses during the belle époque, revolts were being plotted that almost destroyed the city. We learn how the iconic wave-patterned mosaics of Copacabana pavements were baptized with blood, and how more than a hundred years before the girl from Ipanema passed by, the girls from Ouvidor Street adopted French chic - and never really gave it up. From what is arguably the most breathtakingly beautiful city in the world, the people of Rio - the Cariocas - tell their stories: of cannibals charming European intellectuals; of elegant slaves and their shabby masters; of how a casual chat between two people drinking coffee on Avenida Rio Branco could affect world coffee markets; of an awe-inspiring beach life; of favelas, drugs, police, carnival, football, and music. With his own Carioca good humor and great storytelling gifts, Ruy Castro brings the reader thrillingly close to the flames.
The fifth book in Bloomsbury's the Writer and the City series is no dry travelogue, dutifully reciting the requisite tourist attractions and eating and drinking establishments. Castro (Bossa Nova), a notable Brazilian essayist, meanders through Rio the way a long-time resident might take a visitor through favorite neighborhoods, telling charming anecdotes as they occur to him: a French viscount's lunatic plan to knock down the Sugar Loaf mountain that rises in the midst of Guanabara Bay; the quixotic efforts to move Carnival to the cooler month of June; the playboy Porfirio Rubirosa's loss of his wife in the middle of a dance floor. Historical fables are woven in with an account of contemporary Brazil and a strong dose of the legendary carioca humor. Castro takes us from Amerigo Vespucci's arrival in Brazil in 1502 to the 17th- and 18th-century battles for control of Rio, recounting colonial-era maneuvering with an ear for irony. His musical chronicles follow the Belle poque and the first hit samba in the 1960s Carnival, "The Girl from Ipanema." He also recounts the drug wars and the growth of the hillside favela slums. He conveys Rio's jeito, or indefinable spirit, in a way that no traditional travel book could ever do.