14 April 2014

Bright Lights, Big City

Jardim Esperança—not too bad, just not pretty

The first time Mark and I drove across the bridge into downtown Cabo Frio, the municipality next to ours on the map, I remember yelling, "Get me out of here!" It could be I thought that I had died and had been consigned to spending eternity on New York City’s 14th Street — particularly the part of 14th Street west of Fifth Avenue as I remember it from the 1980s. The image still in my head is of tall buildings looming over low-end commercial establishments with garish, clamoring signage and gondolas full of cheap underwear out on the sidewalk; streets teeming with people and cars and bikes and buses; and lots of noise, lots of shouting, lots of amplified so-called music. And it didn’t help that back then the only road into Cabo Frio took us through a somewhat scruffy community with the encouraging (or perhaps mocking?) name of Jardim Esperança, or Garden of Hope. Actually, many very nice people live in Jardim Esperança. They work in the pousadas and the restaurants and the grocery stores in Búzios and Cabo Frio alike. They clean houses, drive buses, deliver prescriptions to sick people. They do all kinds of useful things that more prosperous people don’t do. Still, particularly for a newcomer, it wasn’t all that pretty.

quite an improvement!
But things have changed. And, to some extent, so have I. One advance was the completion of the Guriri Road, which connects Búzios and Cabo Frio via a particularly pretty stretch of countryside with the dunes of Peró Beach on one side and fields and pastureland on the other. No more Jardim Esperança. And the trip now takes a mere 30 or 35 minutes as opposed to the 45 minutes or so of yesteryear.

Our favorite bookstore in Cabo Frio
As for the old downtown that I found so horrifying, the Cabo Frio of today finds itself in a tug of war between the forces that want to keep the old downscale commerce on the one hand, and the forces of gentrification on the other. There is still plenty of garish signage and noisy hustle and bustle. But now there’s one of those cozy little bookstores in which you get the strong sense that the real money isn’t in the books but in the quiches and the espresso and the Australian shiraz poured by the glass, and where the artisanal stone sink in the ladies’ room seems to float in mid-air, attached to nothing. There may still be plenty of traditional Brazilian beach town restaurants, the kind in which the men sit around bare-chested and the women in bikinis, gorging on over-generous mixed grills washed down with buckets full of beer — those places aren’t going anywhere. But now there are more and more chic, sophisticated restaurants with French names and jazz on the sound systems.

Cabo Frio has also matured into a booming and well-regarded medical center, and I believe that it’s with the many doctors that work there that the town is keeping pace. I mean, they have to live, eat and shop somewhere! Once you get out of downtown, with its surrounding high-rise apartment buildings (that probably house the nurses and lab technicians) you find yourself in charming, leafy, low-rise neighborhoods, each with its own special character. The one pictured here is my personal favorite, a neighborhood called Passagem. Look at this refuge! It’s completely out-of-time.

And now all of a sudden, off in a part of town where there had previously been nothing but wide open space, there’s a real, honest-to-goodness shopping mall, complete with plenty of free parking. I know, very American of us to head, zombie-like, to a mall. The first time we went there we wondered if we would ever return. Well, we have returned. Repeatedly. Cabo Frio has really changed, and to this day I’m embarrassed by my initial reaction to it. When Mark and I haven’t been to Rio for a while, when we hunger for some bright lights, we jump in the car and head to Cabo Frio. Sometimes it’s fun to be the Out-of-Towners, gawking at the big city.

**A little bit of horn-blowing**
 My blog has been featured on InterNations, a Web site for the expatriate community (http://www.internations.org/). My interview with them can be found at: http://www.internations.org/brazil-expats/guide/recommended-expat-blogs-brazil-15696/barbara-tropical-daydreams-6?ah01_enabled

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