26 May 2014

Rua das Pedras

When my husband Mark and I came to Búzios 12 years ago, we used to walk up and down the Rua das Pedras, or Stone Street, in the evening and say to each other, "Guess we’ll be walking up and down this street for the rest of our lives." This is in fact not exactly the way things have panned out. But, first, what exactly is this Rua das Pedras, or Stone Street? And why would people walk up and down its short length, saying its name in such hushed, awed tones? Well, the Rua das Pedras has been to Búzios what the Boardwalk has been to Atlantic City, what the Via Veneto has been to Rome, what Fifth Avenue has been to New York, and so on. With allowances for scale, obviously.

The Rua das Pedras is a pedestrians-only thoroughfare of extremely irregular paving stones — hence the name — fairly dead during the day when the locals are working and the tourists are at the beach but lively bordering on the frenetic in the evening when the beaches hold no allure and people on vacation are looking for a good time. Most bars, restaurants and stores on the Rua das Pedras don’t even open in the afternoon, let alone the morning. They tend to open around six or seven and then stay open, the stores included, well into the wee small hours or, as they say here in Brazil, until the último freguês — in other words, until the last customer is ready to call it quits.

Getting crowded . . . time to go home!
Actually, the Rua das Pedras was never where any resident of town would be found during the peak of high season or on holidays, when Búzios was packed with visitors and the Rua das Pedras was reminiscent of a subway car anywhere in the world at rush hour. But in low season, which is more than three quarters of the year, it was great. You’d run into your neighbors. You’d run into your friends. In other words, the ratio of locals to visitors on the street would be high. You’d sit down with people, impromptu, and have a drink. Sometimes you’d have two drinks, three drinks. Those were memorable evenings.

So what happened? To simplify, two things. One, Brazil got rich. Or at least a middle class popped up virtually overnight, and people who used to scramble to make ends meet at the end of the month all of a sudden had money to spend on pleasures. Two, thanks to the glamorization of Búzios in a prime-time soap opera, thanks to the press and the town’s own promotional efforts, Búzios came to be the place people thought of first when arranging their once-in-a-lifetime vacation.

The Rua das Pedras got kind of dumbed down. The unique Rua das Pedras institutions — the crazy Takatakatá Bar (run by an even crazier Dutchman), the Czech adventuress Brigitta’s tropical chic restaurant, the old Pousada Colonial with its restaurant serving excellent homemade German sausages — have all disappeared. The brand-name chain stores came in in their place. A few of the old-line places, like Sonia Persiani’s Cigalon restaurant held on stubbornly, but increasingly the commerce on the Rua das Pedras was hard to distinguish from what is encountered in a Rio or São Paulo shopping mall. As for the serendipitous and usually extremely agreeable encounters with neighbors or friends, well, our neighbors and friends aren’t going down there in the evening any more than we are. And, to the extent that any of us are still going down that way, we’re not running into them. We’re all lost in the crowd.

The old Takatakatá Bar, with its papered-over windows, the better to hide what went on inside!

Brigitta’s Guest House and Restaurant, once a Búzios institution

Fortunately, other places to go in the evening have come into existence and one of them, the Porto da Barra, is no more than a ten-minute walk from our house. But it’s actually not just Búzios that has been through a sea change these past 12 years. Mark and I have also changed. We can’t handle those three-caipirinha evenings anymore. Don’t sleep well. So even if the Rua das Pedras had not changed one iota, we would probably still have given up our nightly strolls to stay snug at home, re-watching old Hitchcock movies.

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