I chose the image above of the half-finished Portuguese stone sidewalk in Leme, by Augusto Malta, for this continuation post because it speaks to a Rio de Janeiro still being built, something still being imagined. More specifically, it was a city undergoing a transition from being the setting of stories to being the subject of them (cidade-crônica).
While I feel like I did a good-enough job explaining how the Cidade Maravilhosa became a slow-moving meme of the early 20th century in Part 1, I recently received an interesting comment on that post – regarding a different interpretation of the Cidade Maravilhosa – which became a “thread” I had to pull, of course. In short, the comment references Coelho Neto’s second mention of the term, in a 1928 short story (the first tale here).
Doing some further reading of academic papers on the subject, I came across Priscilla Xavier’s paper titled “Cidade Maravilhosa: discursos entre o imaginário e o mito” [PDF], which says the following:
“In discourse regarding Rio de Janeiro, the wonderful incites the dissolution of a supposed division between the real and the imagined, in which mythic appeals and performance-based bias gain importance, animating actors to create and to symbolically appropriate urban space. In effect, an aura of inherited identity is simulated in the population and what is propagated is a world of admirable landscapes within an enchanted city.”
Coelho’s tale is about a traveling painter from Rio trying to seduce a young female professor named Adriana, who is from a boring, small inland town, by making tempting allusions to Rio de Janeiro, yet the “Cidade Maravilhosa” he talks about is not Rio but rather an imaginary city, evoked during an August night by the sight of burning fields in the distance.
In the story we learn of how boring and dull living in the interior is, but Adriana’s world lights up when she’s told of the painter that will live temporarily in the same pension as her. She’s told he’s handsome, funny, and knows how to play the guitar and sing. At this point, Adriana starts to daydream of him and how he might look – like a movie star, she imagines – and proceeds to show interest in her own appearance, giggling to herself.
They eventually meet, and while watching the burning fields in the distance and his allusions to it as a city, he mentions how he appreciates the brightness of the moon in the small town sky where “the moonlight shows up in all its splendor…simple and pure, without artificiality. There [in Rio], everything is for show…”
Yet, as the night goes on, upon inviting her to go with him back to Rio, as a couple, he starts to talk about how uninteresting the small town is, and how Rio has the intellectual atmosphere a woman like her requires. After forcefully stealing a kiss from her, she runs home and cries, unsure if she feels love or hate for him. The next day, she’s invited by a friend and her farmer father to see the “wonderful city” up close (that is, the now-scorched land).
“Here you have it, your wonderful city. You saw it from afar, it was beautiful. See it now. Illusions, child, illusions.” Adriana looked terrified. But it was not the destruction of trees, nor those drab gray ashes, still warm, not those denigrated trunks, nor those branches that burned full of sap which moved them, but the memory of that scene of the road, the lure of a sinister man showing her, in the distance, the glittering blaze, the marvelous city, a city of dreams, a city of love.
Adriana, seeing the “city” up close, starts to cry. When asked what’s the matter, she says,
“Nothing. A shame. I feel sorry for the trees, the birds, everything. It breaks my heart to see this. So pretty from afar!”
The farmer responds,
“Ah! girl, that’s how it is. Distance deceives. From afar it’s one thing, we get close and we’ll see. I feel bad, too. To me, the trees have feelings, like us. They feel! Oh! they feel! You’re right. But don’t cry. The earth will renew itself…”
And then, the tale comes to an end…
Adriana returned to her sadness and, for a long time, she was looking, to see, not that sadness of the devastated earth, but of the burning the night before, the captivation that fascinated her, the wonderful city, made completely of gold in the night, feeling on her mouth the flavor of that hellish kiss which burned her from inside, like the fire that still chiseled away at the plains, reduced to ashes.
In Portuguese, too
Adriana voltou-se para a desolação e, muito tempo, esteve a olhar, a ver, não aquella tristeza da terra devastada, mas a queimada da véspera, o deslumbramento que a fascinara, a cidade maravilhosa, toda de ouro dentro da noite, sentindo na boca o sabor daquelle beijo infernal, que a queimava por dentro, como o fogo ainda lavrava naquelle páramo reduzido a cinzas.
I also suggest another paper, “Encantos e desencantos mil: de cidade maravilhosa à cidade-crônica”, by André Uzeda [PDF]