June 24 2011
For the first time during this trip I sleep through the night and wake up at a decent time. I hear my host moving around on the floor below. He’s up early because a whole string of workmen are due to arrive; the electrician at 8.30 and a carpenter an hour later.
Works are concentrating on what was the seminary’s chapel that, in the big scheme of things, will become the studio. He has agreed to his work colleagues’ demand for air conditioning; there’ll be a series of desks in nicely finished wood. The stained glass window with a cross is staying but will be accompanied by a digitally printed photographic wallpaper. The effect will be eclectic but with design panache – an effective location for a creative office that can bridge between Brazil and Europe.
I’m meeting another friend at 11am for my one and only trip to the beach. Getting there means a stroll between 1970s apartment blocks along leafy streets. Metropolitan pressure has its own darkening effect; thanks to the fear of intruders, cage-like fences cut the buildings off from pavement level. Crossing the avenue adjacent to the beach, we step over the cycle track and Burle Marx tiled promenade, to plant bare feet in the sand. The sun is shining, but the beach seems empty compared with summer.
My friend and I choose to spread our beach sheets (or kangas) on the sand and head for fierce ocean’s edge in the shadow of the city. The water is frothy, cold and powerful. At the western end of the beach, the Morro dos Irmãos (the Twin Brothers mountain) defines an iconic outline. I am in one of my favourite places in the world.
I’ve allowed two hours to reach Rio-Galeão airport by cab. That should allow for traffic jams. The taxi crawls around the shores of Lagoa. Stop, start, stop, start. Young guys are profiting from the jam selling popcorn to bored drivers. Through the tunnel to downtown the traffic is still sluggish, and continues to be so on the raised section that sails over the old dock and warehouse area. I catch glimpses into sweatshops in semi-derelict structures adjacent to the freeway. Factories are belching acrid white fumes; I wind up the windows as the traffic finally speeds up on the open freeway through some of the most polluted industrial sprawl anywhere on the planet. But, for all its chaos and decay, Brazil seems to be booming and beginning.