As I was sitting at a sidewalk table, a young and not particularly wretched-looking urchin approached me asking for money for food. There was an untouched half a sandwich on my plate so I shared my meal with him. He took it and walked off and half a block away I saw him throw it away uneaten. I suspect there was enough cultural insensitivity there for both of us.
In the late afternoon I walked to Copacabana, which is more sidewalk cafe, stroll and be seen-oriented than Ipanema. As it was Sunday, the north-bound lane of the beach front road was closed off (who wants to go into the city on Sunday?) and part of it was taken up with a hippie-ish crafts faire, mostly selling touristy knick-knacks, though a dried armadillo did catch my fancy.
Again at a sidewalk table, I was accosted by a shoeshine boy who explained in English that he must shine shoes because he has much hunger. As this did not look to be the case I waved him off with some difficulty and wondered if I should procure a Danish-language guidebook and and keep it prominently displayed so that the next time I was approached I could look up in innocent befuddlement, point to the guidebook and turn up my palms and say, sadly, “Søren Kirkegaard”.
As I was writing that I was successfully solicited for 5,000 Cruseiros (3-1/2 cents, US) by a purportedly starving woman holding a sleeping, but also purportedly starving infant.
I was beginning to see a distinct down-side to sidewalk tables.
There is more street and sidewalk life in Copacabana. More foreigners, peddlers, street kids and prostitutes. A lady of the street takes the next table and intrudes on my space. After convincing her that I speak neither English nor German, and am also incredibly dense, she moves on to the next sidewalk cafe. Street kids are charming and less easily discouraged and the restaurant employs a kid-chaser who prowls continually with a wooden baton to keep them at bay.
Peddlers, trying to get invited in, whistle to attract attention, and a pair of little black kids make cat noises.
I should have worn my white suit. Copacabana on a Sunday night is definitely the place to wear a white suit. I would, of course, be the only person there in a suit, but one does not wear a white suit in order to blend in.
By eight o’clock it was quite dark and I had supper in a restaurant run by a Greek family. I had a two-inch-thick filet -- “to die for” -- and it was one of the moderately-priced items on the menu. What Lucullan delights must await the big-spenders. The whole meal, with two beers and dessert, came to less than seven dollars.
Much as I might like my friends back home to imagine I am hacking my way with a machete through tangled undergrowth, menaced by jaguar and anaconda, ever-wary of the hostile Jivaro, I am, alas, playing the tourist in the lap of European civilization, about to pay for my meal -- filet mignon, not freshly-killed howler monkey -- with my American Express card.
I walked back to my hotel at Ipanema. Along Av. Queen Elizabeth, raucous transvestites try to wave down cars. Though the streets are relatively dark, they seem safe as this is a neighborhood of pricey high-rise apartments and almost every building has an attendant standing outside at the door.
The next day I took a cab to Corcovado. The meter shows 48 Cruzados, but the driver shows me a printed conversion chart that indicates that today this means 442 Cruzados. Runaway inflation is all in a day’s work here.
At the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Corcovado a funicular climbs through a jungle-like park to the mis-named “top”, from which there are another hundred or so steps up to the base. It was late April and warm on the beach, but surprisingly chilly at this higher elevation(about 2300 ft.). The city beneath us was hidden by clouds, and even Christ’s head above us showed only now and then as the clouds broke, reminding us perhaps that we ought not take his presence for granted. There was a hang-glider lazily circling the huge statue of Christ smiling down on Rio and turning his back on the rest of South America.