Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The City and the Mosquito

Should I give you the good news or the bad news first? Well, let's get this part over with: For someone who's a mosquito magnet like me, these are not the best of times. I've just read that 1.4 new cases of dengue fever are diagnosed in Rio every minute! The outbreak has sickened over 45,000 people and caused 67 deaths, mostly children, mostly poor; so far, six people I know came down with the infection. Squabbling federal, state, and municipal authorities are pointing the finger at one another. Apparently, no one but the tiny, striped mosquito is responsible for this public health disaster...Meanwhile, as far as I'm concerned, Off is literally that: suffering from chemical sensitivities, I've armed myself with citronella candles and Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent (which I brought from the U.S.), and some homeopathic pills that promise to strengthen my immune system. I keep the air-conditioner on, avoid leaving the apartment during certain hours of the day and evening, and have limited my outings to areas with low infection rates. I check the papers every day for news that the epidemic is tapering off. What else is one to do, except perhaps pray, as Rio Mayor Cesar Maia reportedly did, during a recent trip to Salvador, Bahia? (I'd bet people here are praying that he and his party lose the upcoming elections!)

OK, now on to the good news: For the second time this month, I've spent Saturday afternoon in the City, which translates to Rio's downtown. I wanted to see an exhibition dedicated to Debret, the French artist who documented life in the burgeoning capital of the Portuguese Empire between 1816 and 1831. The arrival of D. João and the Portuguese court in Rio in 1808 had dramatically and permanently transformed what was then a rather backward tropical city, along with the habits and lifestyle of its inhabitants. (By the way, my favorite watercolor depicts a little girl, all dressed up under an enormous hat, on her way to the "Escola de Senhoritas" (Young Ladies' School). Big changes, indeed!)

I've decided that one of the best things about being in Rio is wandering through the old cobblestoned streets. Especially when you get to sit down to lunch at a place like this!


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