January 20, 2020 Rio
You know you’re in Rio when you stand on the rooftop of a Copacabana hotel. Eyes left you see Sugarloaf. Eyes right, you see Copacabana fort. Eyes forward you have Copacabana Beach. Eyes down the Copa Promenade with its inlaid stone. Over my right shoulder, Corcovado and Christ the Redeemer. And if you were on the rooftop at about 6 PM on Monday you saw the MS Amsterdam sailing out of Rio without us.
We’re taking a five-day intermission from the cruise to visit Iguassu Falls on the Brazilian Argentine border. But I also wanted to spend two nights in Rio listening to Bossa Nova and enjoying beach life at Copacabana and Ipanema.
We checked into a luxury hotel; two room nights bought with Marriott Rewards points. And since I am a lifetime titanium member, they upgraded us to a suite, a proper suite with a sitting room, a bedroom and two bathrooms, which combined are as about the size of our stateroom.
I spent my first winter in Minnesota in 1965. It was one of the coldest and snowiest on record. I remember sitting in my dorm room at St. Olaf College listening to Herb Schoenbaum on KQRS’ “Jazz in the night.” Herb played bossa nova and as carnival approached, a lot of samba. He led a station Rio Carnival tour in 1965 and oh how I wanted to get on that plane and out of Minnesota. But that didn’t happen and I have longed to go to Rio for Carnival and bossa nova ever since. 5 years ago, 50 years since that longing started, we went to Carnival. It was everything I imagined but it was all about Samba. I still had a bossa nova itch to scratch. I wanted to listen to it live and hang out in the places where Tom Jobim and Vinicius De Moraes hung out.
After enjoying Sunday afternoon on the roof-top we headed for Ipanema. It was the perfect Brazilian evening. We’re sitting in a bar, across the street from the café where Tom and Vinicius wrote “Girl from Ipanema.” The bar is named Vinicius. We were listening to bossa nova with one eye on the young performer and the other on beautiful, ballet like, football (soccer) match. How Brazilian! The bar is full of young families and older people enjoying each other and the evening, elders and kids listening to music written 55 years ago. I ended the evening with a strong cup of Brazilian coffee. Life is beautiful.
Monday was St. Sebastian’s day, the patron saint of Rio. We ate breakfast overlooking the beach, watching players water down the sand for beach volleyball as sunbathers, surfers and swimmers assembled for the holiday.
After breakfast we walked along Copacabana toward Ipanema. I may have been the only guy not wearing a swim suit or shorts. I just don’t have the male physique for Brazilian beach. Women were braver, they strutted in bikinis without the physique. There were flags flying from almost every country and from most of the Brazilian football teams. Sand castle artists asked for tips to take pictures. Overhead planes pulled large advertising banners, and in a new twist, a tug pushed a barge with a jumbotron TV screen flashing adverts. It flashed “Dengue,” then “Mosquito” and finally a picture of a can of insect repellent. We stopped for a coke at Susi and Ricardo’s, we had to.
Soon we reached Ipanema. At the head of the beach a statue of Tom Jobim walks down the beach with a guitar over his shoulder. I walked a little with him. Then we walked a block inland for lunch and a beer at Garota de Ipanema, “The Girl from Ipanema’” the renamed café where Jobim and De Moraes were inspired by 17-year-old Helo Pinheiro, who went by every day on her way to the beach and sometimes stopped in to buy cigarettes for her mom. (Helo went on to become a successful businesswoman playing on her identification with the song with a line of cosmetics and other merch.)
Both Garota’s and Vinicius’ walls are lined with pictures of the bossa nova greats, including Frank Sinatra who did one album with Jobim. I did not see Stan Getz or Astrid Gilberto.
On Monday night we went back to Vinicius. We had planned on going to another bossa nova club on Copacabana but the sunset looked like it was developing at Ipanema and the show at Vinicus started an hour earlier than the one on Copacabana. We had to be up the next morning at 4:15 to catch a plane to Iguassu.
It was a very different crowd and a very different performance. No families with kids but several hard-core bossa nova fans and an older performer Flavio, who I recognized in one of the photos on the wall with Jobim. Audience members called out requests and offered Flavio suggestions for the set list for his new CD. There was a lot of banter. Both nights were the only Americans in the club but Flavio made sure some of the banter was an English for our benefit. The fact that I know something about bossa nova helped. When there was an English lyric, he invited me to sing along.
Next morning, we were up at 4:15, airport at 6:15 and airborne at 8:15. It was a misty, cloudy morning but as we climbed out of Tom Jobim International Airport, I saw sugarloaf just over our wing and thought of Jobim’s “Samba do Avion” written for the film “Copacabana Palace.
Next stop Iguassu Falls!