An achingly seductive love letter to Brazil’s most famous city.
The fifth entry in Bloomsbury’s The Writer and the City series paints a portrait of a land where the sun always shines and the contented inhabitants never lose their cool. Tracing Rio’s evolution from its origins as the home of the Guanabara Indians through its current-day incarnation as the world’s biggest party town, Brazilian journalist Castro walks the reader through the cultural and historical high points of the place he’s very pleased to call home. Beginning with Vespucci’s arrival at Rio’s shores in 1502, the author runs through the successive waves of colonizers and immigrants who, having found Rio, couldn’t bear to leave it. The French and the Portuguese, the pirates of every nationality, the slaves who were brought in to work Brazil’s plantations but at least had the fortune to remain in the city—Castro traces their influence on Rio’s culture and particularly on Carnival, that enormous industry that supports countless bead manufacturers and ostrich-feather merchants. The author expounds on the festival’s roots, its heroes, its profound impact on the philosophy of Rio’s inhabitants, and the strange rise of the perfume atomizer as a mid-century drug of choice at Carnival time. He also explores Rio’s rich musical tradition, with special focus on “The Girl from Ipanema,” as well as Ipanema itself and the women who inspired the song. The female is celebrated throughout Castro’s work, in fact, and in keeping with the theme of Rio’s serious appreciation of frivolity, he attributes women’s liberation in Brazil to the adoption of French fashion in the 1800s: staying à la mode required the ladies to leave their male-run households in order to visit the modistes. Castro makes only the briefest mention of the city’s dire poverty and organized crime; his is a glorious fantasy of his ideal hometown.
Fantastically successful travel propaganda.