A mountain dweller on the Copacabana Beach

Corcovado out of the clouds

Let me see the (sun)light.

Despite what I can write every so often, my life is not a pure dichotomy between mountains and valleys. Every now and then I like to explore shores too... Having been drenched in Ireland during what was supposedly a summer break, I was really longing for a proper holiday somewhere exotic enough to finally have a second day of sun this summer. We are fortunate enough to have friends around the world, including a couple who currently live in Brazil and invited us a few times to visit. Sun-starved, this was not to be refused any longer, so there we went.

However before I start, Brazil is such a big country that I will never claim to have visited it. At most I can pretend to have seen Rio and some of its surroundings... That is probably more fair to such a massive geography. And yet that will not prevent me from jotting down some of the fun and puzzling facts that I have experienced during my stay in the auriverde country.

Ordem e progressport

Frankly speaking that should be more appropriate a motto for this nation whose carioca's culture gravitates around the cult of the body. The beaches count more volley ball and beach football courts than towels. The walks alongside them are paved with work-out machines between which joggers and skateboarders slalom half-naked (or half-dressed, depending on how you like to look at your glass).

The number of tattoos is astonishing, but yet again it is understandable when the body is the centre of attention. In a sense, the locals own their bodies. They carve them, develop them, insert a little bit of silicon here, a touch of ink there in order to fully really personalise it. No wonder that in 2011, Brazil was ranked second nation behind the US in terms of number of aesthetic surgery intervention.

Having said that, we are not all equals in this culture of culturism. And I must say that sometimes the flesh on display was not of the greatest appeal. It seems that most of the Rio inhabitants have come to terms with their body, irrespective of how it is And as a result they do not hesitate to put it on display, for the better or the worse:

All good, man.

Well, I say for the better or the worse, but in reality, according to the local idiom only the earlier half of that statement applies to Brazil. "Todo Bom" (e.g. Everything is good) is hammered by everyone all the time. You may even get a double thumb up to accompany that sentence, as if a physical punctuation was required to really land the message.

How are you? Todo Bom! How is the food? Todo bom! Fancy an helicopter flight over the city? Todo bom! Errr, do you have a pilot license? Todo bom! Do you have swimming suits that cover, hmm, a bit more? Todo bom! There is no more milk in the fridge? Todo bom! I crashed your car!? Todo bom! What time is it? Half past two-do bom!

It seems that the Cariocas have simply a very positive stance towards life. Nothing seem to really worry them - to the point that other Brazilians pretend they don't really care about anything. And to a certain extend I can understand that it can put some people off, especially in a business environment. This positive attitude translates into a laid-back stance which easily evolves towards a lack of involvement, an absence of dedication, very loose time commitments, etc.

But on the other hand the absence of stress cannot be blamed, when we all complain that we want to have a better work/life balance. The NGO, suicide.org, was for instance reporting Brazil as only the 73rd nation in terms of suicide rate, with under 4.3 per 100,000 population/per year. That is about a third of the worldwide average.
Why such a positive attitude? Some would argue that it is endemic to folks leaving by the sea, as you find similar traits amongst other insular nations... On the other hand Great Britain is definitely an island and the same positivity does not apply, I can testify. So what next? The influence of sun, sand, s...?  Any of these factors, found in abundance in Rio, may be to blame or hail, again depending on which half of your caipirinha glass you look at (and I must acknowledge that these glasses tend to be too often half empty... Waiter!).

Bottoms up.

Talking about the beverage of choice for any tourist, it is sad to see Brazil being the victim of its own success...
Besides cachaca, a white alcohol derived from sugar cane that is forming the base of the caipirinha cocktail, Brazil is renown for two other sources of beverage: coffee and cocoa. Brazil is in fact the world number one producer and exporter of coffee beans, with over a third of the international trade originated from what is the fifth largest country in the world. Accordingly with the University of Sao Paulo, this has resulted into record breaking revenues for the country in 2011,with 2.8 billions dollars (+43% year on year) being cashed within the first four months of harvest. Similarly it was the 6th cocoa exporter, with over 4.5% of the worldwide trade volumes in 2006.

Good news, you would think, for a country which is willing to accelerate its economic development and diversify its revenue sources... But the problem is that to shine on the international scene, the country exports its best production, leaving its domestic ground with the bitter taste of second tier beans. As such, the coffees served in Brazil are either of mediocre quality or sold at extortionary prices... since they are reimported! Such is the irony of the situation, and the globalisation of the economy.

National pride.

Ironic, but nevertheless accepted by the locals who have to swallow poor chocolate and coffee... But I could not refrain to think that maybe, yes maybe, it may not taste as bad for them as for us tourists? not that their taste buds may be different, or that they are less demanding. The sweetener for them is probably that even if it is a second rated product, it is still a home-grown product, ergo something to be proud of: national pride can make you blind sometimes, look at how East Berliner were proud of the Trabbant for instance! Brazilian are tremendously proud of their country. As a French, I was amazed by the national pride that this country demonstrates. It is a pride that does remind to a certain extend the US or Canada, with flags being displayed everywhere: on masts, on t-shirts, on the beach, on shoes, on the skin, etc.

It is a national pride that does not however translate into obscurantism and chauvinism however. This country knows where it is coming from and what it still needs to accomplish. Yes, corruption is rampant. Yes, protectionism is in place to place the domestic growth behind a wall-garden (random taxes are set up out of the blue on imports, adding 20% to the retail price of a car from one day to the other for instance). Yes, immigration is limited... But on the other hand you cannot help but feel welcome. This may explain why Brazil boasts the largest Japanese community outside Japan for instance. I certainly felt almost at home, maybe too much since I was seeking some exotic if not cultural clashes.

Feeling home in Rio's undergound

Once again judging Brazil through the prism of Rio is probably a pitfall that I do not want to encourage. This country is so vast that the limited exposure that a visit to Rio provides you with is necessarily partial - in all sense of the term. I could not stress more the need to broaden your Brazilian experience beyond the seaside lifestyle and carnival. These are already source of great enthusiasm, but my main take-away is that there is so much more to Brazil than these clichés... Clichés that are true nonetheless.

If you don't believe me, prepare your trip by doing nothing but watching Rio, Disney's latest animation feature, you will be amazed by the accuracy of the carioca details. I already wrote about how these computer animated movie can help boost local tourism, but this film once again proves me right. And if you are not into such movies, well maybe the following pictures I captured during my two weeks will do the trick.

Enjoy the slideshow, enjoy Brazil, enjoy life. After all... TODO BEM!

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