08 April 2013

The Búzios We Never Knew

Can't get more glamorous than "la Bardot"
I don't have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times Mark and I have been told, "Oh, you should have seen Búzios 35 years ago!" — or 30 years ago, or even as recently as 20 years ago — "Now that was something special!" I can always see the comment coming, too, because people get this funny look on their faces, and their eyes go all glassy. They wax poetic about the utter simplicity of the place, how rustic it once was, how marvelously uncomplicated. Sure, the electricity went out a lot more often than it does nowadays. And water wasn't piped in, it was trucked in, 20,000 liters at a time. But oh, those were the days! The urban "rabble" hadn't yet discovered this seaside paradise of ours. The people who came from Rio were all beautiful people. Champagne ran in the streets. And Mark and I missed it all — or so we're told.

Of course, if you talk to the real oldtimers, you'll hear tales of a time, not 35 years ago but 50 or 60 years ago, when the real buzianos never even used money. Farmers brought their lettuce and manioc and bananas and carrots by donkey to the neighboring town of Cabo Frio, where they exchanged these products for bags of rice, coffee and beans. Fishermen did the same with their day's catch. And at the end of the day people gathered around the village water well to gossip and exchange news while filling their buckets with water. Such is the nostalgia for this time that a few years ago a candidate for mayor actually ran on what Mark and I came to call the "water-well platform." She fervently wanted to recreate the Búzios of her youth. Well, nostalgia has its place, and a lot of people regret not just the passing of the ultra-glamorous Búzios of, say, the '70s and the '80s but even the really primitive Búzios that preceded it. Myself, I'm an indoor-plumbing girl. I don't think that fetching water at the well is all that romantic. And I am apparently not alone, since that water-well candidate I mentioned did not get elected.

There are still vestiges of this other time, though, if you look hard enough. For example, there are two eye charts in my ophthalmologist's office. One is the Snellen chart with that big familiar E at the top center. But the other one I'd never seen before, with only symbols and figures on it. "Is that for kids?" I asked my doctor. "No," she said, "there are still some adults here who don't read or write." That gave me pause, until I remembered that the educational system in Búzios — back in that simpler time — went no further than 4th grade, and many of those adults are still alive.

Though Búzios has changed dramatically in the last 30 to 40 years, the glorification of Búzios as a tranquil, rustic fishing village is still the driving force behind current tourist propaganda. But as for idealizing the days when, for example, there was no electricity, I think it's time for a reality check. Everyone can get behind a romantic, candlelit dinner. But electricity keeps the fridge cold, the boilers running, the pools filtered, the air conditioners holding global warming at bay, and the hospital blood banks full of usable blood. And when we lose electricity here in Búzios — which is happening all too frequently these days — no one goes running out into the streets to rejoice. It's true, we don't know the Búzios of 35 years ago. We never will. But we're here now . . . doesn't that count for something?

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