13 August 2012

Rio's Eight Minutes

Mark and I just suffered through the Olympics Closing Ceremony — a two-and-a-half-hour long anthology from hell of five decades of bangers-and-mash British rock (the Queen was smart, this time she stayed home) — for no reason other than to watch the eight-minute Introduction to Rio segment. When the spotlight hit Renato Sorriso, and he began his magical samba footwork, I applauded. But then I worried that no one outside of Brazil would think he was anything other than an actor in a funny orange costume. No one would understand his importance to the city of Rio, and why he had been picked to open the closing. And then, to prove I was right to worry, I read this in New York Times reporter Campbell Robertson's blog: "In the middle of the stadium is  Renato Sorriso, ‘the garbage collector who is a samba dancer and a symbol of Rio de Janeiro's Carnival.' Seriously. A samba dancing garbage man is Rio's introduction to the world." So arrogant. So smug. So ready to put Rio down. Robertson obviously considers a samba-dancing garbage man pretty low down on the food chain.

Renato Sorriso on the job
I don't know why this bothers me so much, but it does. You see, I've seen Renato Sorriso in person. I know his story. I know how important he is. Renato Sorriso (which, by the way, means Renato Smile) has become a larger-than-life personality, and even something of a tourist attraction in Rio. Renato Luiz Feliciano Lourenço has worked for COMLURB, Rio's municipal sanitation company, for 15 years. If you want to go and talk to him, he can be found every day sweeping up around the Praça Xavier de Brito in the north Rio neighborhood of Tijuca. Back in 1997, Renato signed on to work the Sambadrome during Carnaval for some overtime pay. As each samba school finishes its show on the runway, a group of COMLURB men follows behind, sweeping away the ribbons and sequins and feathers and anything else that fell off the floats and the costumes, and getting the runway ready for the next samba school. Except that Renato, who loves Carnaval and samba, didn't do as much sweeping as he did samba-ing. His boss reprimanded him, but since the public was applauding and demanding more, his boss gave up and decided to let Renato do his thing. A star was born.

Nowadays Renato spends Carnaval parading down the runway with one or another samba school, in between his cleaning duties. There aren't many sambistas as good as he is, or as talented, or as charming, or with as much charisma. And that smile, well, it's contagious. It's from the heart. Renato has also appeared in a Brazilian television soap opera, he's done a telephone commercial in Europe, and he's toured with professional dancers in France, Spain and England in a show called "Brasil Brasileiro." And now he has danced at the Closing Ceremony of the London 2012 Summer Olympics. Campbell Robertson may not think that this "samba dancing garbage man" should be Rio's introduction to the world, but that just shows how very little Robertson knows of Brazil. It also shows how much a person's brain can be fried after hours of rock music.


  1. Right on Barbara!! I also sent Robertson a link this post via the Comments section of his Blog. I hope he reads it and learns something. Well done. Abraço, Luiz Augusto.

  2. Great view of what was the Rio's presentantion.
    Thanks for your text. Hope it can open some eyes around the world to not just expect superficial cliches, and make people discover what's the history about any little thing (person/musics/clothes) that were presented.

    best regards,

  3. My dear you were perfect once again.

    Your writing was precise and right on time.The day after the presentation you had all clear and explained. I also (as Rodrigo Vianna) hope your text reaches more people around the world.