Saturday, August 07, 2010


It was a brilliant Wednesday morning in Rio de Janeiro, and Ipanema beach was packed. A long stretch of white sand covered in red umbrellas, fleshy bosoms and shapely bottoms. I asked my friend whether all these cariocas didn’t have anything busy to do and he just smiled an amused smile.

A man suddenly appeared out of nowhere and advanced at me with a pineapple in his hand, shouting: “HA!! Abacaxi!! Abacaxi !!!” Pineapples were arranged in a basket on his head, and a whole pineapple was clenched like a sword in his fist. I jumped at first poke.

And then I burst out laughing and shook my head. “Não, obrigada,” I said. He switched to English, which always annoys me because that means I still haven’t got the accent right. Flashing his brilliant white teeth he said, “No?? I Love You!!! No abacaxi?? ”

I laughed again and shook my head. He gaily turned away and started to poke at other people with the abacaxi in his hand, causing outbreaks of laughter in his wake.

As we continued our stroll my friend pointed to one of the condominiums lining the coast.

“That’s my grandmother’s apartment,” he said, “8th floor, 3rd window from the right.”

I squinted up and tried to count windows in the blaring sun.

“That would be a gorgeous view she would have from up there,” I said.

“It is,” he said.

He stared out toward the sea. Cracked up into a sudden laugh.

“When I was a kid I would play at the beach every single day with my friends after school, just hanging out and swimming and surfing the waves. And I still had a curfew back then.”

“Which you largely ignored,” I said.

“Of course. But not for long, because whenever I went too far beyond the limit, my grandmother would hang a big red towel on her window right there. From wherever I am on the beach I would see it and feel guilty.”

I was immediately overwhelmed with a comforting certainty that he was the perfect authority to go exploring Ipanema with. We spent an entire day on the beach and I was taught a multitude of effortless lessons. Like how to differentiate the “safer” locals from those coming down from the favelas. How to ask a stranger to look after your belongings while you go for a swim, and to trust them completely. How to bodysurf when the wave is right. How to let your body dry in the sun and never use a towel.

How to stand as if your only business in this world is to look cool under the sun. And how to walk as if the only place you needed to go to was where you were right now.

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