Friday, August 13, 2010

Rio Through New Eyes

It's been a while since I've actually lived in Rio - since 2001, to be precise - and it's always interesting to see the city through non-resident eyes. When you live in a place, after a while even its most strange and wonderful and shocking aspects become commonplace. Stay away for long enough, and when you come back for a visit they hit you in the face.

Here are some of my observations about the cidade maravilhosa this time around. (Our last trip was in March 2009, and somehow it seems there have been big changes in Rio since then...or perhaps it's just my frame of reference that's changed - from Maputo to Casa Cali). At any rate, here are my thoughts:

- The traffic in Rio these days is horrendous. It's always been bad, but somehow it just seems that much crazier, chaotic, congested and aggressive. The first day we arrived in the city, I was hit with a wave of confidence and thought, "I can totally drive here." After the do-what-you-please, traffic-law-ignoring attitude of drivers in Maputo, and now the high-speed, think-fast attitude of drivers in California, I somehow felt prepared to get behind the wheel in Rio. After just one day in the city, I'd changed my mind. I don't drive in Rio by choice, and I believe it will stay that way. Quite frankly, I'm amazed there aren't 1,000 accidents each day. Traffic here is the definition of organized chaos, and I'm happy to remain a passenger.

- Everything is EXPENSIVE. Ridiculously so. Consumer goods are, in general, three times the price in the US. Anything imported is absurdly priced. Even food and drinks are super expensive, and it sadly seems that Rio is no longer a city in which one can get simple, fresh eats for less than R$10. I don't think Rico and I managed to go to a restaurant and spend less than R$75 (the exchange rate is about US$1 to R$1.75) and we were going to pretty run-of-the-mill places and ordering modestly. Even a serving of pasteis or bolinhos (fried pastries that Brazilians love to eat as appetizers) is at least R$20. Preparing food at home is definitely the way to go, but sadly that wasn't an option for us on this trip, as the majority of of our social and family events were geared around restaurants.

- Despite the plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables available, Brazilians really love their fried foods and snacks. Fast food is commonplace, and there are multiple national chains. I don't understand how people can eat so much oil and fritura and maintain such trim figures. That said, it's definitely more common to see overweight people in Rio (and I imagine in all of Brazil) these days. I routinely see women who are "bigger" than me in the streets, which was something rare 10 years ago.

- There is a massive real estate bubble in Rio at the moment. It's a hot topic among cariocas these days, trying to figure out whether it's a bubble that's bound to burst, or simply market valuation that's here to stay for a while. Part of the upswing in real estate prices is due to the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016 that will be hosted in Rio. Another factor is geographic limitation. Like San Francisco, Rio is a city of mountains/hills and sea, which means there are natural boundaries to how much the city can grow (thus driving prices of existing real estate quite high). Furthermore, there are a few neighborhoods (e.g. Ipanema, Leblon, Urca) that are highly desirable to live in and will always have greater demand than supply. Additionally, there has been appreciation due to certain neighborhoods being rehabilitated/"gentrified" (e.g. Lapa, Santa Teresa, parts of Zona Norte) and, plain and simple, time passing and Brazil developing. A final factor is that Brazilians are increasingly getting mortgages and financing their real estate, meaning they are willing to purchase properties for a higher face value. It will be very interesting to see what happens... Personally, I think it's a bubble.

- Women are very, very trendy in Rio. Fashionable, for sure, but very specifically trend-followers. I am amazed at how many beautiful women wear clothes that are horrifically unflattering just because they are the latest runway trend. Most specifically, low-cut skinny jeans on women who are blessed in the hips department. They end up looking like they've got two chicken drumsticks for legs instead of beautiful, shapely curves. It's disproportionate to their shapes, and my inner fashion cop wants to take photos of them to see if they actually think the look is working. I feel authorized to speak on this subject because I am one of the many ladies who isn't really flattered by the whole skinny jeans look. Other trends seen during this trip? Jumpsuits (many in loud, neon prints), 80's style back in full force, ankle booties, and shorts with tights.

- Small bikinis. I know I was once totally on board with this one, but apparently the size of my bikini has grown with each year I've lived outside Brazil. I felt like my current bikini was more appropriate for a granny than a girl in her late 20's. Tomorrow I'm off to buy a new one, although I doubt I'll ever wear it in public in the US. :)

- Manicured nails all the time. Color of choice right now: blue! (especially dark, gray-tinged, metallic blues). I try, but I can't keep up. But seemingly Havaianas are now acceptable in more social situations and in public than ever before. I still can't bring myself to wear flip-flops out of the house, but who knows on another trip I might just give it a whirl.

- Santa Teresa is full of tourists (wandering through the streets with cameras in hand, worry-free!) and lots of cute new shops and restaurants. Seems like the cool, bohemian neighborhood is more interesting than ever. There is a hotel down the street from the Casa Rosa that has a bar I'm dying to try, there is a new German restaurant on the corner, and there's lots of new artsy graffiti in the streets, including a gorgeous mural of the Brazilian national soccer team in the Santa Teresa street car, surrounded by all sorts of African animals in a fusion homage to the World Cup in South Africa.

There are many other observations to add to this list, but I'm going to call it a night. I just got hit with a wave of sleepiness, and it's best I head upstairs lest I fall asleep here on the veranda.


Marcia said...

Ali, I love these posts :)

And I can't wait to come visit you one day so you can show me all these things.

My pet peeve are those skinny jeans that people feel compelled to wear because it's in fashion, and yet look horrible on them. As you know, I also feel like I can say this because of my gigantic butt :)

Ali la Loca said...

~Marcia - You are too funny! I just saw an article here that Levis is launching 3 new jeans styles meant for ladies with varying levels of curves. They also mentioned that there is a fourth level, aimed at women with a whole lotta bum going on. I bought a pair of these jeans in South Africa 2 years ago (guess Levis there was ahead of the global curve) - they are called Eva Fit and are divine for those with lots of curves.