Rio’s 10 secrets not in guidebooks


In these times of low spirits – in Rio, even Carnival is under threat – it’s necessary to look for alternatives, to leave behind routine and, instead of only complaining, to find solutions. That was how, thinking of solutions, I remembered the secrets of Rio. Every city has its secret points, places that are almost never on the tourist routes. Landscapes and buildings, old or new, that sometimes not even Cariocas know. Or they’ve heard of them, but have never been there.

I made a list of ten of these secrets, some very well kept, others not so much: there are those that we always pass through without realizing they are there. Others we know by name, but that’s it. They are places with charm, mystery or history. Or with all of these things combined. And landscapes too, which aren’t lacking in Rio. The secrets of Rio are so great that they were worth making a guide about – “Secret Rio” by Manoel de Almeida e Silva, Marcio Roiter and Thomas Jonglez – but I made my own list. And, I repeat, such a list may include places that are right there under our noses, but which we know little or nothing of.

São José Church
Downtown (av. Presidente Antonio Carlos, s/nº)


This church has a secret. Those who enter its central aisle, especially on weekdays, to appreciate the rococo style interior (c. 1842), realize at once a strange ritual. In the hallway to the right, people are waiting, forming a line. One by one, people go up to the altar – while the others keep waiting – and disappear behind it. A few minutes go by. The person who disappeared reappears on the other side, on the left, and only then does the next one in the line go up to the altar, also to disappear.

What is the secret behind Saint Joseph’s altar? It’s an image of the saint, before whom people will pray. Not just any image: it shows a very old Joseph, dying, surrounded, on his deathbed, by Mary and Jesus. Life-size. It’s impressive. I heard that churches for Saint Joseph, all over the world, have an esoteric symbology, a relationship with the Templars. There are temples dedicated to the saint that carry on the walls the symbols of the zodiac, they assured me. I don’t know if there’s anything magical there. But popular wisdom says that whoever enters the Igreja de São José for the first time must go behind the altar and make a request – and their wish will be answered. It doesn’t cost to try.

Belas Artes Portal
Jardim Botânico (rua Jardim Botânico, 1.008)


Those who enter the Botanical Garden through the main gate and go to the end the alleyway lines with imperial palms will pass through a lake and end up in a bamboo grove. There, surrounded by greenery, you will find a two-storey building, consisting of an archway on the ground floor and an upper part with columns.

It looks like the facade of a neoclassical palace, but it’s just a portal, the front part of a building that was, like so many, demolished sometime in the past. This is the portal of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, designed by the French architect Grandjean de Montigny (1776-1850). Granjean de Montigny, as well as the painter Debret, came to Rio in 1816, as part of the so-called French Mission, a team of professionals that the court of Dom João, newly installed in Rio, sent for in Europe in order to start the teaching of arts and architecture in Brazil.

Ten years later, in 1826, the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts was inaugurated in a building built from the Montigny project. Brazil’s wrath of demolishments reached it in 1938, so that in its place the Ministry of Finance could be built (which ended up somewhere else). It was a miracle that the architect and urbanist Lúcio Costa (1902-1998), who was then the director of the National School of Fine Arts, had the idea of ​​saving at least the portal of the palace, transporting it, stone by stone, for later reconstruction amid the plants of the Botanical Garden.

Royal Portuguese Reading Room
Downtown (rua Luís de Camões, 30)


See my post

Ladeira da Misericórdia
Downtown (Largo da Misericórdia)


See my post

Nossa Senhora da Cabeça Chapel
Jardim Botânico (rua Faro, 80)


This is actually a secret. There are people who live a lifetime in the Botanical Garden and don’t know that it exists. The Nossa Senhora da Cabeça Chapel is hidden at the top part of this little cross street in the neighborhood and you must ask for permission to enter.

The chapel, built in 1603, sits inside the grounds of a school (and convent) of the Carmelite sisters, the Mello Mattos Maternal House, and is one of the oldest buildings in Rio.

According to the book mentioned at the top, the little church was the private chapel of the Engenho de El Rey, a sugar cane mill that belonged to the governor Martim Correia (1575-1632). It was his family who had brought the image of Nossa Senhora da Cabeça, which gave name to the chapel, from Portugal.

The name of the saint originates from Cerro del Cabezo, in Spain, where an image of the Virgin Mary was hidden during the Muslim occupation. In principle, the nuns allow visitation on weekdays, between 9am and 4pm. But there are exceptions. There have been those who got there and weren’t allowed to enter or photograph the chapel from outside. But if it weren’t like this, it wouldn’t be a secret…

European Institute of Design
Urca (av. João Luis Alves, 13)


See my post (second half)

Bossa Nova Mall
Downtown (av. Almirante Silvio de Noronha, 365)


The Bossa Nova Mall is the obvious and evident thing of which Nelson Rodrigues spoke: like that story about Otto Lara Resende always passing by Sugarloaf, but never noticing it – because it was too obvious. Facing Sugarloaf, on the other side of Botafogo bay, there is now another obvious and evident thing: the Bossa Nova Mall, which for the moment few people, even among Cariocas, know.

Right beside Santos Dumont airport, this space – I would not call it a mall – comprised of hotels, restaurants, food trucks and several stores, occupies what was formerly the headquarters of Varig.

With the end of the airline, the building was closed for years, until it was entirely reformed (retrofit, with the structure maintained). Now it’s open to everyone. The easy way up to the terrace, where the Hotel Prodigy’s restaurant operates, is worth a visit. The view is indescribable. The Bossa Nova Mall is the kind of place that leads us to the question: how come no one has thought of this before?

Joá (rua Paschoal Segreto)


Rio has this unique characteristic: to be a city with millions of inhabitants where, in a few minutes, it’s possible to be in the middle of a forest. Or a secret beach – like Joatinga’s. Among the most hidden beaches in Rio, Joatinga is the most, let’s say, affordable.

Just go down a stepladder. Once down there, you have that feeling of vacationing in some remote place. It’s in Joá, in the west zone (between São Conrado and Barra da Tijuca), in a closed condominium. But anyone can enter.

Once inside the condominium, just look for Rua Sargento José da Silva and on it go down the stairs that leads to the beach. Joatinga is small, it’s about 300 meters long, but, as it’s embedded in the rock wall, it gives one an exclusive, even secret, beach feeling, – that’s its charm. There’s only one problem: at certain times of the year, the wall casts a shadow on the sand and, soon, the sun no longer reaches it. What’s more, during a very high tide, the sea swallows the entire strip of sand and the beach disappears. But these vicissitudes only make Joatinga a rarer place.

Catacumba Lookout
Lagoa (Avenida Epitácio Pessoa, 3,000)


In the 1990s, photographer and psychoanalyst Hugo Denizart (1946 – 2014) took a series of photographs of Catacumba Park, in Lagoa. The photos showed fragments of the recent past, where the Catacomba favela, removed in 1970, had existed. Denizart photographed steps, pieces of cement, remnants of tiles. Testimonies, in his words, of the human life that had existed there.

To this day, climbing the trail that leads to the Sacopã lookout point, you can find these fragments. Some stone steps are still the same ones that had been placed there by the community. Catacumba Park is an ecological reserve, with a beautiful forest (the hillside has been reforested since 1988). It’s also a place for expositions and adventure tourism. But the Sacopã lookout point is still a less sought after place than it should be, although it’s part of the Transcarioca Trail.

The walk is very quiet and can be done in half an hour at most. And the reward up there is total: one of the most beautiful views of Rio, which includes not only the Lagoa but also Pedra da Gávea, Morro Dois Irmãos, Ipanema beach, Corcovado, everything – and from a less traveled angle.

And returning on the way up to the viewpoint: it is curious to imagine that those stones, that tell so many stories, were also trodden more than 50 years ago by a teenager who was always going up the hill, in search of a party or musical partners. A boy who crossed the Lagoa by a little boat to go to Catacumba. His name was Tom Jobim.

Also see my post and this one on its history

Madureira Park
Madureira (Parque Madureira street, s / nº)

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This virtually everyone knows – but usually only by name. Tourists, as well as locals from the Zona Sul, are somewhat lazy to go to the north of the city, which includes Madureira.

Madureira is one of the most traditional and most Carioca neighborhoods in Rio. If it had no other quality, it would already be sensational for its two bonafide samba schools: Portela and Império Serrano (both were champions in the last Carnival, in their respective groups, to the happiness of crowds).

But Madureira has much more. And, five years ago, the neighborhood got a space for leisure and culture called Parque Madureira.

Madureira Park was built on an immense terrain above which electric transmission lines passed. It was public space, but it was invaded, and families had to be removed. With a 2015 expansion, today it’s the third largest park in the city (at 450K sq. meters long), only losing out to Aterro do Flamengo and Quinta da Boa Vista.

In addition to kiosks, picnic lawns, sports courts, bike paths, waterfalls and ponds, the park has one of the most modern skate tracks in Brazil, where parts of the world championship are held. It also houses the Nave de Conhecimento, a public cyber cafe, and a very well-equipped theater, the Fernando Torres Arena. – Source (PT)


Missing Guanabara


Aldir Blanc and Moacyr Luz met in a concert in 1984. On the way out, they got a ride with each other and -holy smokes! -they discovered that, unknowingly, they lived in the same building. These things only happen in Tijuca. The partnership started there. A melody would be sent up to the fourth floor, and lyrics would be sent down to the third.

Alone, Moacyr composed a “no-nonsense” samba and showed it to Beth Carvalho, who praised the melodic line, but suggested the verse change. A job for the man from the apartment above. In a short time, Aldir came down with his eyes glistening: “You can change the living room curtain because we have a hit.”

The second part was still missing. With the excuse of drinking some beers and eating lupin beans and gizzards, Paulo César Pinheiro was called and put his pen to work. Late in the afternoon, Moacyr called Beth: “That samba is going to be called ‘Saudades da Guanabara.'” The singer hurried to learn the new lyrics on the same day.

In 1989, when the song was recorded, Cariocas and Fluminenses also faced a critical situation. One more, of the many that we faced since Estácio de Sá. But nothing that compares to the bottom of the well – worse is that we may not have even reached the bottom of the well – in which that bastard Sérgio Cabral, in promiscuity with entrepreneurs of the likes of Jacob Barata, has us now. It’s necessary to sing in the street at the top of our lungs: “Brazil, your face is still Rio de Janeiro / A three by four photo and your whole body / Needs to regenerate itself.” Or softly, in the corner of the room, in the dark: “Take the arrows out of my patron’s chest / That Saint Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro / Can still be saved.”

As reinforcement, call Paulo César Pinheiro, Aldir Blanc and Moacyr Luz for a new meeting – and don’t forget the lupin beans! – in that Tijuca apartment. Who knows if one more heroic samba can’t help us out of this? – Source (PT)

Eu sei / I know
Que o meu peito é lona armada / That my chest is an armed canvas
Nostalgia não paga entrada / Nostalgia doesn’t pay the entrance fee
Circo vive é de ilusão (eu sei…) / The circus lives on illusion (I know…)

Chorei / I cried
Com saudades da Guanabara / Missing Guanabara
Refulgindo de estrelas claras / The glittering of bright stars
Longe dessa devastação (…e então) / Far from this devastation (…and then)

Armei / I set up
Pic-nic na Mesa do Imperador / A picnic at the Mesa do Imperador
E na Vista Chinesa solucei de dor / And at the Vista Chinesa I sobbed in pain
Pelos crimes que rolam contra a liberdade / For the crimes against freedom that occur

Reguei / I watered
O Salgueiro pra muda pegar outro alento / Salgueiro (willow) so the sapling takes another breath

Plantei novos brotos no Engenho de Dentro / I planted new sprouts in Engenho de Dentro
Pra alma não se atrofiar (Brasil) / So the soul doesn’t atrophy (Brazil)
Brasil, tua cara ainda é o Rio de Janeiro / Brazil, your face is still Rio de Janeiro
Três por quatro da foto e o teu corpo inteiro / A three by four photo and your whole body
Precisa se regenerar / Needs to regenerate itself

Eu sei / I know
Que a cidade hoje está mudada / That the city today is changed
Santa Cruz, Zona Sul, Baixada
Vala negra no coração / A black ditch at heart

Chorei / I cried
Com saudades da Guanabara / Missing Guanabara
Da Lagoa de águas claras /  A clear-watered Lagoa
Fui tomado de compaixão (…e então) / I was filled with compassion (…and then)

Passei / I passed
Pelas praias da Ilha do Governador / By the beaches of Ilha do Governador
E subi São Conrado até o Redentor / And I went up São Conrado to the Redeemer
Lá no morro Encantado eu pedi piedade / There on the Encantado hill I asked for pity

Plantei / I planted
Ramos de Laranjeiras foi meu juramento / Ramos de Laranjeiras (branches of orange trees) was my oath
No Flamengo, Catete, na Lapa e no Centro / In Flamengo, Catete, in Lapa and downtown

Pois é pra gente respirar (Brasil) / Because we’re supposed to breathe (Brazil)
Brasil / Brazil
Tira as flechas do peito do meu Padroeiro / Take the arrows out of my Patron’s chest
Que São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro / Saint Sebastian of Rio de Janeiro
Ainda pode se salvar / Can still be saved

Vila Kennedy officially exists


Created 53 years ago, Vila Kennedy officially became a neighborhood in Rio on July 14th 2017, from a subdivision of Bangu, in the West Zone. The community was born as a housing development, built to house evicted favela residents from various regions of the city. Its name is in honor of the US president John Kennedy, who even donated money for the construction of the first buildings and a replica of the statue of liberty.

The law that makes Vila Kennedy a neighborhood was sanctioned by Rio mayor Marcelo Crivella and brings Rio’s total officially recognized neighborhoods to 162.

The housing complex that gave birth to Vila Kennedy was built in 1964, by determination of governor Carlos Lacerda, to shelter the displaced residents of communities such as Morro do Pasmado in Botafogo. Initially, it had 5,054 dwellings. Today, it has 12.8 thousand homes and 41.5 thousand inhabitants, according to estimates by the Instituto Pereira Passos (IPP).

The construction of the housing complex was part of the Alliance for Progress program launched by JFK in 1961 to finance social projects in Latin American countries with the aim of preventing the advancement of communism. Brazil entered the list of beneficiary countries and the money was applied to the creation of the neighborhood that would take in people coming from favelas. Initially, the place was to be called Vila Esperança, but that changed after the death of the American president. – Source (PT)

The Hermit of Arpoador

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Mr. Pedro Joaquim Lambert, 49 years old, born in Jardim Botânico, the solitary man has been living for close to 5 years in the middle of the rocks on Copacabana. Mr Lambert, as the photo shows, lives alone in this grotto surrounded by objects that serve to maintain his existence; some baskets, fish hooks, a net and his only companion, a little dog. 

One of humanity’s primordial scenes reproduces itself today – a man living in a cave.

Copacabana is where the primitive man appears. In a hidden spot on the penninsula, in which the Nossa Senhora da Copacabana Chapel was erected, Pedro Joaquim Lambert – a  strong, perfect example of a caboclo, somewhere around 45 years old – spends his days calmly fishing.

This creature is a privileged spirit, who never changes, who doesn’t educate himself and faces existence through a rose-colored prism, contemplating nature in the immensity of the seas, enjoying the ocean’s always impressive show, whether at rest or in upheaval.

From rock to rock, jumping, he passes through the vast dominion that no one disputes with him. And, when the night comes, after having contemplated the starry sky mirrored in the calm water of the ocean, he goes to bed on the fine, snowy sand, that extends itself like a carpet under a natural vault of an immense suspended slab, forming the roof of his habitation, in a den where only the murmur of the waves sweetly breaking on the rocks comes!

It’s a perfect grotto, sheltering from bad weather; it is there that for five years, unworried and happy, Lambert lives, after having been discharged from the army, where he served for ten years, in the 39th infantry battalion.

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Lambert is always content; in his retreat there’s everything he needs and for company he only has a small yellow dog. From fishing he gets the resources he needs to maintain himself.

And his biggest pleasure consists, he says, of contemplating the constantly new wonderful things in the immense frame that surrounds him; hearing the delicious concert of the surges that caress him to sleep.

Such is the man that we visited in the pictoresque place in Copacabana, abandoned by those that should take care of those who have served the country, since Lambert fought with courage in Canudos, and chose that retreat to, away from ungrateful men, spend rest of the days that remain to him in this valley.

Revista da Semana
May 28, 1905


It seems he was actually living in Arpoador. See this image from 1905, where the church mentioned at the start of the article was located. Based on the development of Copacabana in the early 1900s, I would suppose his style of life would have been encroached upon quite soon (that is, within 5-7 years) after this article came out. Another thing to keep in mind is he was likely at the end of his life, since he had already surpassed Brazil’s general life expectancy around the early part of the 20th century.

See also: The Hermit of Grumari

Valongo Wharf gets UNESCO status


The Valongo Wharf Archaeological Site, located in the port area of ​​Rio de Janeiro, won UNESCO‘s World Heritage status on Sunday (July 9). The location was the main port of entry for African slaves in Brazil and represents the exploitation and suffering of the people who were forcibly brought to the country until the mid-nineteenth century. The status sheds light on a past of slavery that left behind deep social inequality between whites and blacks and structural racism that’s not always recognized.

“Valongo Wharf is a place of remembrance, which refers to one of the most serious crimes perpetrated against humanity: slavery. Being the landing point for Africans on American soil, the Valongo Wharf symbolically represents slavery and evokes painful memories which many Afro-Brazilians can relate to”, said Itamaraty (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in a statement, which expressed the Brazilian government’s “satisfaction” with the news. Rio’s current Secretary of Culture, Nilcemar Nogueira, wrote on his Facebook that the title is “an essential step for the recognition of a memory that needs to be revealed and, mainly, repaired.” For Nogueira, who was part of the Brazilian delegation that traveled to Poland to defend the nomination, “this moment marks the beginning of a new phase in relation to the recognition of a history that, for many decades, has been kept apart from that which we officially know about our country”. Former Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes also celebrated the news on his Instagram: “May the history of the Black Diaspora always be remembered. May the origins of our country, our formation and our culture be highlighted. May the violence of men always be remembered lest it be repeated.”

Cais do Valongo was discovered in 2011 during excavations made for the port area’s reform. According to anthropologist Milton Duran, its ruins are the only material vestiges of the arrival of Africans in the country. The academic was one of the coordinators for the candidacy, which involved Rio’s City Hall and the Brazil’s National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN), presented at the end of 2015 – Brazil holds the title for another 20 sites, including Brasília and Ouro Preto. “This Archaeological Site is unique because it represents the millions of Africans who were enslaved and who worked to build Brazil as a nation, generating the largest black population in the world, outside of Africa,” said Kátia Bogéa, president of IPHAN. The city government promised an on-site celebration on Monday, starting at 4PM.

Upon being named a World Heritage Site, Valongo Wharf was put on the same level as other UNESCO-recognized locations as being places of memory and suffering, such as a memorial in Hiroshima, Japan, and the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland. The appointment requires that Brazilian authorities assume certain responsibilities. “UNESCO recommends that Brazil adopt specific actions for the management of archaeological remains, for the execution of landscaping projects and for visitors to have a holistic view on the Valongo Wharf and what it represents,” said Itamaraty. “These measures, which will contribute to the preservation of this important Brazilian cultural heritage, should be implemented by the federal, state and municipal governments, in coordination with civil society and the communities involved.”

Little Africa

Built at the end of the 18th century, the Valongo Wharf is located in the region known as Pequena África (Little Africa), which is located in Rio’s port area, downtown. Besides being the gateway of millions of Africans in Brazil, the port region was also the meeting point for the black community in the then-capital. With laws signed in the mid-nineteenth century that prohibited human trafficking and the abolition of slavery, signed in 1889, thousands of blacks, many from other parts of the country, settled in the region, in neighborhoods like Gamboa and Saúde, and they spread throughout the region. It was in this same central area of ​​the city that samba was being refined until it became the musical genre known today, according to historians.

The wharf was buried by the early 20th century’s urban reform, as was much of the history of the black community in downtown Rio over time. It was finally rediscovered during the port reform carried out in recent years. With the construction of the Museum of Tomorrow on the Mauá Pier, many demanded that City Hall take advantage of the region’s reform to also safeguard and consider the importance of the history of blacks who’ve been there. In June of this year, Agência Pública launched the Museum of Yesterday app with the purpose of revisiting this past. Under the administration of Marcelo Crivella, City Hall began to debate the construction of a slavery museum in a place near Valongo this year. – Source (PT)


There’s life outside the Zona Sul

(English subtitles available)

Far is a place that doesn’t exist for historian and communicologist Renata Saavedra. During 2 years, while coordinating the project to build the “Culture Map of Rio de Janeiro“, through the State Secretary of Culture, she got her ‘passport’ stamped in territories far beyond the Grajaú-Urca circuit, where she was born and raised. Circling through Nova Iguaçu, Mesquita, Caxias and Méier, among other destinations beyond the tunnel, she discovered a wonderful cultural world, where the only currency, for now, is love. But this creative cauldron, free of charge, made of movies, serenades, capoeira circles and poetry, is still invisible in the eyes of the public and most Cariocas, who remain hostage to the most terrible barriers of the broken city: disinterest in others. On the TEDxRio stage, Renata crosses the city in fractions of a second because she keeps every corner in her heart, making everyone reflect on the question that won’t keep her silent: “What’s far for you?”

Such an important talk. The Rio she mentions throughout her presentation is not a Rio that I know personally, but it’s a Rio that I recognize and love with the same passion. The Rio that I lived during my two years in the city was one of free culture in unlikely places, so I totally get what she’s advocating here. I didn’t have a TED stage to get my own message across but I’d tell (and still tell) anyone that will listen about all the cool stuff that exists in the city, if one has the curiosity and adventurousness to find it. 

Rio’s new noise law carries heavy fines


Stricter than the previous one, the new ‘Silence Law’ can carry a fine of up to R$5,000 for establishments that make “excessive noise” in Rio. In case the bar or restaurant is a repeat offender, the amount can be consecutively doubled. For individuals, punishments will be fines of R$500, “independently of the requirement to cease the transgression.” Authored by City Councilor Alexandre Arraes (PSDB), the law was mandated by Mayor Marcelo Crivella on Friday (June 30) and published in the Official Gazette this Monday (July 3).

Noise inspection will be transfered from the Military Police and will fall upon the Municipal Guard. The agents will be equipped with noise measuring devices, certified by the National Institute of Metrology, Quality and Technology (Inmetro), to measure the volume of music in bars, parties and public squares. According to the Municipal Bureau of Public Order, the start of activities should take between 60 and 90 days. – Source (PT)

241 complaints per day

The Municipal Guards’ new job comes at a good moment. According to information gathered by Seop, excess noise is one of the main complaints made by Rio residents, as noted via the Military Police hotline. The Secretary said that, according to data from the Institute of Public Security (ISP), an average of 241 requests are received per day in the city. – Source (PT)

As always, a fine idea but let’s see how/if it’s actually put into practice.

Explore old Rio with this app

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The port of Rio de Janeiro has a rich past, full of stories that go beyond what’s in school books. This is the focus of the first app from Agência Pública for mobile devices, the Museu do Ontem.

The app is yet another launch product from LABs – Laboratories of Innovation in Journalism, by Casa Pública in Rio de Janeiro. It mixes journalism, art, technology and a dash of “Pokemon Go” to bring to the public new insight into the area where Porto Maravilha, one of the symbols of the Rio Olympics, was installed.

With the app, you can be the investigator of its secret past, from the arrival of Dom Joao VI to the recent corruption scandals of Lava Jato. Surely no one is going to see Porto Maravilha in the same way!

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It was there that the Portuguese Royal family landed in 1808; that Princess Isabel signed the Golden Law in 1888, ending slavery; and where the Republic was proclaimed in 1889. But it was also there that the largest slave port of the Americas operated, which received more than 700,000 enslaved blacks, and where President João Goulart held the rally at Central station, used as an excuse for the military coup of 1964.

These and other facts can be discovered by exploring the port area on foot with the app, guided by the current-day map and also by a map from 1830. But watch out! To experience the Museu do Ontem app you must be in Rio’s port area.

And for those outside Rio, stay tuned, because in the coming weeks Agência will launch a remote game, where you can take virtual tours, allowing more people to have access to the content.

Unlike other apps, Museu do Ontem does not allow you to zoom in, zoom out, or move the map. The app shows only what is really close to you. To find out the secrets of the port area, you should go to the nearest location marked on the map. The more you walk, the more parts of the map will be conquered. The app was created by the agency’s journalists in partnership with Dutch developer Babak Fakhazadeh and features illustrations by artist Juliana Russo and narrations by singer Anelis Assumpção. – Source (PT)

Download the app on Google Play. Or on the App Store.

Related: Last year I posted about another Rio history-based app. Now there’s two!

Lima Barreto – Sad visionary


At the top of Affonso de Henriques de Lima Barreto’s record of his first hospitalization in the Hospício Nacional, the writer is identified as white. The year was 1914, the diagnosis alcoholism, the city Rio de Janeiro. Just below the header, however, a sepia photo belies information about his color. Just like countless intellectuals and well-known Brazilians, who were black but were repeatedly portrayed as white, Lima, who was still alive, was taken as something he was not. In his case, however, the “whitening” is even more absurd, since being a black in the last country in the world to abolish slavery was a central issue of his life and work.

“In his characters, plots, and personal writings, the attention given to the racial question and descriptions of characters’ physical types are always emphasized,” says anthropologist Lilia Moritz Schwarcz. If at the beginning of the twentieth century, racial determinism – which claimed that mestizo and black populations were biologically weaker – was in vogue, Lima appeared as a dissonant, combative, and often lonely voice. “The mental capacity of the negro is measured a priori, that of the white a posteriori,” he wrote in Diário in 1904, offering a clear picture of the tenor of racism that prevailed in Brazil after the abolition of slavery.


The theme of race, not by chance, is also made more relevant in the biography Lima Barreto: Triste Visionário, which Schwarcz launches on July 10, from editor Companhia das Letras. “Lima is a well-played character. The whole series of researchers who followed Francisco de Assis Barbosa, his first biographer and diffuser of his work, is excellent. The question I asked, which had not yet been asked much, is about the issue of race. “A grandson of slaves and the son of free parents, born on May 13, 1881, on the same date the ‘golden law’ would end slavery seven years later, Lima approached the subject from his own experience. His work, in this sense, is extremely autobiographical.

As a teenager the writer attended the Polytechnic School and found himself to be the only black person in a class composed of elite white children, feeling all the rejection that could exist in such a situation. In Memorias do Escrivão Isaías Caminha, from 1909, his debut novel, he made the character Isaías, the bastard son of a priest with a slave, go through a childhood in which he received regular education, discovering in the future that his color would be a barrier for him to move up the ladder. Like Isaías, Lima also had a relatively stable childhood development, only discovering in adolescence and early youth the displacement that his social condition and color would impose on him.

Commonly portrayed as a poor writer, Lima had had some family stability for much of his childhood. His father, João Henriques, and his mother, Amalia Augusta, were ambitious and had good relations with the elite. They were educated and free. While he had a promising career as a printer, she was a schoolteacher. Things started to change when Amália died of tuberculosis and João lost his job. In 1902, after a series of episodes of emotional exhaustion, he also lost his purpose, which led Lima to leave college to financially support the household.

At the age of 21, he became the breadwinner of the family, made up of three brothers, a father and a few other members. Working as a public servant and, at the same time, following his literary goals with routine collaborations in newspapers and magazines, Lima found the critical propensity of his main brand early on. If it denounced racism, it also directed attacks against the Republic, the press, and anything that smacked of foreignisms. “There is a history of comparing Lima Barreto with Machado de Assis, but it is an injustice. They had completely different goals, while Machado was a universalist, Lima was an engaged writer who denounced mischief and criticized what he saw in his daily life”, says Schwarcz.

Looking back at his era, Lima was, for example, a ferocious critic of downtown Rio’s renovation, undertaken by mayor and engineer Pereira Passos. The era marks the beginning of the opening up of large avenues in the city and the subsequent expulsion of poor people living in slums to places further and further away. According to Schwarcz, “his view of the renovation was impressive, because many of those who witnessesed it at the time were delighted with what was being done.” He, on the contrary, already saw the plight of those that were expelled – which would ultimately result in a chronic problem for Brazilian cities, present until today – and was also incited by what he saw as the exportation of European city standards, especially of Paris, to Brazil. A great angst of his life, for example, was the neighborhood of Botafogo and the city of Petropolis, both “French-ified”.


The sad end of Lima Barreto

Between 1909, the year that Memórias do Escrivão Isaías Caminha was launched, and the year 1922, when he died at age 41, Lima wrote hundreds of chronicles and short stories, such as O Homem que Sabia Javanês and Nova Califórnia, and published at least one masterpiece: The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma, in 1911. Other novels, such as Numa e a Ninfa and Vida e Morte de MJ Gonzaga de Sá, were also published in the short time frame. In addition to these publications, a lot of material came to the public after his death, such as Diário Íntimo, Clara dos Anjos and Os Bruzundangas. In short, it was a productive and intense output.

With a life touched by alcoholism, however, his texts and books were often viewed and evaluated by critics as erratic. Lima piled up several projects at the same time and did not fit the virtuoso profile with which writers were seen. In addition, the autobiographical tone of his books and the lack of concern in hiding the real personality of some of its characters were not well evaluated at the time. In Memórias do Escrivão Isaías Caminhas, for example, he critically portrayed different journalists who were easily recognizable, such as the celebrated chronicler João do Rio and Edmundo Bittencourt, owner of Correio da Manhã, one of the most influential newspapers of the time. He didn’t have an easy life after that.

“It was only after 1950, when he was rediscovered by biographer Assis Barbosa, that his work began to circulate again, but I think his name only came to be remembered, in fact, recently”, says Schwarcz. Today he will also be the main honoree at the 2017 Paraty Literary Festival (FLIP), which takes place at the end of July. According to the biographer, it’s also interesting to think that if the image of the Bohemian writer was so romanticized in some cases in literary history, with Lima Barreto it was always seen as something derogatory. “Bohemia and alcoholism, in his case, always appeared as an accusation”, says the biographer. Behind this, perhaps is the question of race once again. Not that Lima didn’t have serious problems with alcohol. He did, and they cost him his health. But it’s curious to think about the difference in treatment that his bohemia received.

In 1919, when he was hospitalized for the second time at the Hospício Nacional, Lima was already described as someone ragged, with his shoes on the wrong foot, perspiring a lot, with a swollen face and “sampaku” eyes – when there is white below the iris, a characteristic common to alcoholism. Three years later he died lying on his bed while reading a French magazine. At that time, Schwarcz describes, his personality was increasingly merging with that of the suffering suburban residents – he portrayed so much in his texts.

Lima, according to his new biographer, is our visionary for having spoken of racism practically a hundred years before the subject was actually open for discussion. He is our visionary also for having anticipated a series of Brazilian themes, such as the unplanned urbanization of cities. It’s sad to know beforehand that it wasn’t going well and that the euphoria of the years in which he lived  – the time of the Belle Époque, where scientific advancement and the growth of cities gave the impression that humanity’s problems were resolved – would not last. Unfortunately, the sad visionary may have had his maturity interrupted: “If we think that Machado de Assis wrote his main works after the age of 40, it is a pity that Lima was gone so early.” – Source (PT)

For a written interview with the author and short videos of her talking about his life, go here (PT)

Trolley Etiquette – Machado de Assis

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Machado de Assis would have turned 178 years old on June 21st. Here’s an etiquette guide he wrote back in 1883. Take note of Article II which sounds like manspreading.

How to behave on the trolley

It occurred to me to compose certain rules for the use of those who use trolleys. Between us, the development of this essentially democratic! means of locomotion requires that it not be left to the pure whim of the passengers. I cannot give more than a few extracts from my work; just know that there are no less than seventy articles. Here are just ten. 

Art. I – The throat-clearers

Throat-clearers can enter the trolleys on the condition that they do not cough more than three times within one hour, and in case of phlegm, four.

When the cough is so stubborn that it does not allow this limitation, the throat-clearers have two options: – either to go by foot, which is good exercise, or to go to bed. They can also go to hell coughing.

The throat-clearers that are at the ends of the row of seats should spit towards the street, instead of doing it in the trolley itself, except in case of betting, a religious or Masonic precept, vocation, etc., etc.

Art. II – Position of the legs

Legs must be brought in so that they do not disturb the passengers on the same row of seats. Open legs aren’t formally forbidden, but on condition of paying for other seats, and having them occupied by poor girls or underprivileged widows, and giving some small change.

Art. III – Reading newspapers

Each time a passenger opens a page he is reading, he should be careful to not lightly touch his neighbor’s nostrils, nor lift up their hats. It is also not pretty to lay the pages on the passenger in front.

Art. IV – Cigars

The use of cigars is allowed in two circumstances: the first is when there is no one on the trolley, and the second is upon exiting.

Art. V – Annoying people

Anyone that feels the need to speak of their intimate businesses, not caring about others, should first inquire from the chosen passenger about such confidentiality, if he is very Christian and resigned. In the affirmative case, one will ask him if he prefers the narration or to be kicked off. Being it probable that he would prefer the latter, the person should immediately strike them. In the case, however extraordinary and almost absurd, in which the passenger would prefer the narration, the proponent should do so thoroughly, heavily conveying the most trivial circumstances, expelling what is said, going over and over things, in a way that the patient swears to God to not be subject to it again.

Art. VI – Spitting talkers

The front row of seats is reserved for the emission of spitting talkers, save for the occasions in which the rain obliges one to change seats. Also they express themselves on the back platform, with the passenger going next to the conductor, facing the street.

Art. VII – Conversations

When two people, sitting at a distance; wish to say something aloud, they should be careful not to use more than fifteen or twenty words, and, in any case, without malicious allusions, mainly if there are ladies about.

Art. VIII – People who smell bad

People who smell bad can participate in trolleys indirectly: remaining on the sidewalk, and seeing them pass by from one side to the other. It would be better if they lived along the street where trolleys passes by, because then they could see them from their window.

Art. IX – Women passing

When a lady enters, the passenger at the head should stand up and allow passage, not just because it is uncomfortable for him to remain seated, squeezing his legs but because it shows a great rudeness.

JULY 4, 1883

Source (PT)