Day One – Cantagalo, Copacabana, Ipanema
Jenny and I meet Sidney from the Museum of the Favela at the foot of the Miranda lift with Daniel and his wife Vela helping to translate. We ascend the lift to a viewing room. Now level with the hillside, overlooking Ipanema beach, the lift and walkway was completed 4 years ago to link the hillside favela of Cantagalo with the beach community of Ipanema. Previously, favela inhabitants had to walk up the steep steps. The lift and walkway are very blue, very modern, and very much in use as people are walk past us while Daniel does the translation and Sidney greets his friends. The artwork starts to appear – painted onto the sides of buildings by local artists and depicting in vivid colour the history of the favela – started by freed slaves over 100 years ago and usually the first port of call for those seeking work in Rio from other parts of Brasil, particularly Minas Gerais to the north. The mood darkens as a possee of armed police walk past in combat mode, pointing their weapons like a SWAT team into people’s houses. Sidney waits for them to pass then shows his contempt for this “pacification force”. We walk up, we walk down, past tight little dwellings cramped onto the slopes, through dark alleyways where dogs are stretched out asleep, tiny hair salons, cafes, stores and kids playing. The views over Rio are breathtaking. Makes we wonder out loud whether the gentrifiers will be along shortly. Slightly farther south past Leblon this is already happening to a hillside favela which looks from a distance like Positano on the Amalfi coast. As the facilities improve here – sanitation, running water, electricity and now the modern, free access, these areas become more desirable to the middle class. We reach the Museum HQ, buy a T-shirt and pose for photos on the roof. Moving into Pavao-Parvinhno, a twin favela above Copacabana the mood changes again. A funicular railway here serves the steep hillside and marks the place where a water tower fell down one Christmas day ten years ago killing whole families. We walk through the entertainment corridor where men unload crates of drink and other men scarcely conceal their weapons. Sidney advises me not to take pictures. But in the next breath he insists that we are safer up here in the slums than we are on the beach down below us, where pickpockets roam and armed muggers look for opportunities. He poses next to a picture of a dancer from the favela and big on TV : Douglas Rafael da Silva Pereira, killed by the police two month ago. There were riots here when his body was found. Jenny recognises a graffiti from a US World Cup commercial. We walk down the steps and out, shaking hands.
Two minutes later we are strolling along the promenade of famous Copacabana beach being gently hassled by trinket sellers, spotting fans from Chile, Argentina, Ecuador, England, Spain and Mexico all deciding not to eat the various fried food offerings. A giant temporary structure at one end of the beach turns out to be the media centre where Gary Lineker, Adrian Chiles et al will broadcast from for the next month. At the far end of the great curved beach is the FIFA Fanpark, where we expect to watch England v Italy on Saturday night.
We walk around the headland to Ipanema beach where the tone softens, surfers fight the breaking waves and mini-vultures hop along the shoreline. Hat and scarf sellers have to pack up and vanish at a moment’s notice whenever a police car drives slowly and malevolently along the service road. We sip on vodka & tonic and watch the world walking by. Later that night we eat with the beautiful people in Caffe Felice amidst a tropical downpour and a dumb waiter who brings me milk in a teapot. One mosquito bite and bed.