26 November 2012

Armação Beach

Armação Beach might be the most unusual beach in Búzios for being the only one with a street dividing the water & sand from the mortar & brick. At least the street is just one-way, so it's not too heavily trafficked. I think in ten years here I've never seen anything but a handful of people use Armação as a beach, with Búzios residents staring at them in amusement. Really, nobody goes into the water here, nobody even walks on the sand. Why do that, with such a lovely walkway set along the entire length of the beach? No, it's the view that people go to this beach for, the view and the commerce on the other side of the street, with its bars, restaurants, discothèques, hotels, shops of all kinds, and even a mini-golf.

The waters of Armação Beach lap onto what's called the Orla Bardot, Búzios's version of la promenade of St. Tropez. Stroll the orla (or waterfront) and you'll come upon a series of statues, the famous one of la Bardot herself . . .

. . . and the slightly less known statue of three fishermen (all sculpted by Christina Motta) . . .

. . . plus a newer statue of Juscelino Kubitschek, the president who built Brasília, sitting in front of the house he borrowed to enjoy weekends in Búzios with any number of mistresses.

There are still some charming old fishermen's cottages along the orla which may or may not be landmarked, no one seems to be particularly concerned.

Lots of small boats anchor off the entire length of Armação Beach and, during high season, monumentally huge transatlantic cruise ships join them, looming over both the smaller vessels and the tiny downtown buildings as if they were characters in a sci-fi film.

You won't go hungry on Armação Beach. Restaurants both up and down the scale line the Orla Bardot . . .

19 November 2012

One Wedding and a Funeral

The Igreja Sant’anna, the very first church built in Búzios, has stood high atop the hill between the beaches of Armação and Ossos for 272 years. The church is steps away from some real touristy honky-tonk, with lots of crowds and noise, and yet retains a peaceful simplicity and intimacy that still surprises both visitors and residents. People just don’t expect to come upon such a place in Búzios, and it is without a doubt one of the highlights of the itinerary Mark and I follow when we have guests to show around. The church never fails to come through on our promises. Besides being a tourist attraction, the Igreja Sant’anna property also houses the only cemetery in Búzios, the former Cemitério dos Escravos, or Slave Cemetery.

The church as seen from Ossos Beach . . .

. . . and back down from sacred heights

Mark and I have been to exactly two events at the Igreja Sant’anna in our ten years here. The first, the wedding of a neighbor’s daughter, took place a good seven or eight years ago. It was an interesting wedding, the usual Búzios mix of upscale and downscale, with half the guests hauling over from Germany (our neighbor being German) and the other half more local and decidedly more casual. The service bounced back and forth between German and Portuguese, and I have to say I was never very sure what was going on. But this wedding provided us our first glimpse of the inside of the church, which is usually kept closed except for special occasions: simple, rustic, water-damaged and dignified, just what we had expected.

The second event was just last Friday, this time a funeral. A friend’s mother passed away — at the remarkable age of 96 — and we were called to the chapel behind the church for a velório, or vigil, to be followed by her funeral. I haven’t been to many funerals in my life, and never one in Búzios, so I was caught a bit off guard. Wandering aimlessly through the somber gathering of friends and family paying their respects were bikini-clad tourists in transparent beach cover-ups and floppy straw hats, doing the usual picture-taking and bathroom-seeking that one does at a tourist attraction. I watched as occasionally one or another tourist strolled into the chapel and then stopped short — was this a real coffin, or a prop for more picture-taking? I was both scandalized and charmed. As for the actual funeral service, that, too, took on a very Búzios tone. Since our friend’s mother had died during one of the most important Brazilian holidays, the Proclamation of the Republic, there wasn’t a clergyman to be found, not a priest, not a pastor, not a minister, not even an acolyte. So in the best Quaker fashion, the attendees themselves ran the service. I think it took on a dignity that it wouldn’t have had with any priest. Much better, I thought, and oh so very Búzios. Rest in peace, dear Luisa.

Chapel at left, steps up to cemetery at right

12 November 2012

The Great Escape

Back in September I wrote about what my husband and I call the "obligatory mention," the way aspects of Brazil — its culture, its music, its geography — are often mentioned kind of out-of-the-blue in movies, books and magazines from other countries. In that blogpost I warned that I would soon write about the most frequent obligatory mention of all, The Escape to Brazil after Committing a Crime. But this theme is not just a quick mention, sometimes it's the entire plot point. And this criminal escape idea isn't an arcane one, it's alive and well, even here in Búzios. Many people, for instance, have often wondered out loud what Mark and I are doing here, anyway. The initial, and most prevalent, idea was that we were CIA agents. Then people thought, no, there's nothing in this beach resort any government would want to know. They're probably hiding out from some nefarious deed. Could that explain the deference with which some people treat us?  

Brazil does enjoy — if "enjoy" is the right word — a dubious reputation for being the escape hatch for fugitives from justice, particularly Nazi fugitives. Back in March of this year, secret National Archive files were opened, and they revealed that 9,000 Nazi war criminals fled to South America after WWII, 1,500 to 2,000 ending up in Brazil, most of them "under a false name and with a dark past." Straight out of the movies, huh? I mean movies at the end of which the few surviving characters pile onto an airplane and fly off to Rio, like Nuns on the Run, Five Fingers, A Fish Called Wanda, The Lavender Hill Mob, That Man From Rio, Notorious and The Thomas Crown Affair (famous for Steve McQueen's Brazil rant, "samba, Sugarloaf, jungle, piranha").

Biggs holding his safety net
Many people blame this whole image on Hollywood, but Hollywood has certainly fed off real life and vice versa. Brazil was the destination of choice for Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, who sought and enjoyed refuge here for 36 years, "protected" by the Brazilian child he fathered (back when it was common knowledge among fugitives that Brazil would not deport anyone who had fathered a Brazilian child). More recently, Brazil finds itself harboring Cesare Battisti, convicted in absentia by an Italian court for four murders, after then-President Lula vetoed a Supreme Court order to extradite him. But here's a heads-up to fugitives: things are changing. Jesse James Hollywood, an American drug-dealer who fled to Brazil in 2000, was arrested and deported in 2005, with no concession made for his having a Brazilian child. And Kenneth Andrew Craig, an American child molester who had fled to Brazil in 1998, was found in Rio, arrested and deported in 2011.

Battisti , unable to wipe the smile off

In a wonderfully ironic twist, Florida has become the destination of choice for Brazilians fleeing Brazilian justice. Mind you, it's mostly white-collar crimes, corruption, extortion, that sort of thing. There are scores of them. Everyone seems to know someone — or know someone who knows someone — who's fled to sunny Miami. The most recent and notorious example is Ricardo Teixeira, former president of the Brazilian Football Confederation. Teixeira was so mired in allegations of tax fraud, money laundering, bribery and embezzlement that he finally resigned his post last March (citing medical reasons), disappeared from Brazilian headlines for a while, only to reappear in Florida, where he happily counts his money in his $2 million Boca Raton mansion.

Teixeira's new digs

Note to readers: For those who can't get enough, you can read an interview with me on the website called ExpatBlogs that was published last week:

05 November 2012

Are you . . . Obama?

This is the question that some Brazilians have timorously asked of Mark and me in these last weeks before the U.S. presidential election. Are we Obama. Mind you, these are people who don't know us very well, because those who know us don't have to ask. To us it seems transparent that two Americans living in Brazil, immersed in its culture, open to learning other perspectives on life and how to live it from people who are really good at it, who prefer havaianas to high heels and bandanas to baseball caps, are de facto Democrats. But some people have to ask. And so they do, courteously and respectfully, so as not to offend on the off chance we are . . . the other guy.

These are Romney flip-flops
These are Búzios flip-flops

Generally, a Republican who opts to live outside the United States stays close to the two things he loves most, his money (Cayman Islands, Bermuda, Switzerland) and a good golf course (Scotland, Barbados, Australia). If you meet a Republican here in Brazil, you're probably visiting an oil-producing center, like nearby Macaé, and the Republican is probably just doing a two-year temporary stint. And if you chance to find a Republican in Búzios, my guess is you're just playing through at the Búzios Golf Club & Resort. Oh, not that Democrats don't sometimes play golf as well, they do. After all, was golf not the sport of choice for Clinton and Obama's recent "family- that-plays-together-stays-together" reconciliation?

But let's put my little jibes aside for a moment. Let's focus on the fact that if Brazilians could, they would overwhelmingly vote for Obama. Ninety-three per cent of them, according to a recent poll. How is it that they instinctively understand how antipático the other guy is? For that matter, how is it that the whole world instinctively understands? An October 25th article in the global edition of the New York Times reported that if the rest of the world got to vote, President Obama would be re-elected in a landslide. For the rest of the world, this election is a no-brainer. I can't help but roll my eyes whenever I hear one or another Republican speechify about how the United States holds a special leadership role in the world. I think they ought to come out here in the world and see what the world might have to say on the subject. And I think they ought to take a good look at this BBC-prepared graph:

Who will win tomorrow? This is the question Mark and I have been fielding from Brazilians who think we have some special insight. We tell people we don't know. We discuss what happened in 2000 when Gore won, and then lost. We talk about what the Republicans are doing to steal this election, from buying up the companies that own voting machines to sending letters to Hispanic voters urging them to get out and vote on the 8th of November! (I'll wait until that sinks in . . .) We talk about the latest polls, we talk about how polls are skewed, and we remind our fellow buzianos how on the day before the recent mayoral election here the polls showed the sitting mayor ahead, with 41%, and his closest competitor with only 32%, but that it was the competitor, Dr. André, who actually won with a slam-dunk 48.55%. Who will win tomorrow? I don't know. We've already voted, and all we can do is keep a bottle on ice and remember Scarlett O'Hara's immortal words: