Monday, April 14, 2008

Evolution and a Singer in Rio

It has become a (good) habit of mine to go downtown every Saturday. There are plenty of reasons: museums, churches, restaurants, antiquarians, traditional Portuguese desserts (your sweet tooth's got to be ready for these, though!) at Casa Cavé, the perfect draft beer at the centenarian Bar Luiz, Art Déco buildings, and rodas de samba. Oh, I'm forgetting the promise of increased security all around...This past weekend a friend and I saw the Darwin exhibition at the splendid Museu Histórico Nacional. I've been reading a lot about Charles Darwin and his travels, which brought him to Brazil and Rio de Janeiro, and Alfred Russel Wallace, for whom the Wallace Line and a lunar crater are named. Apparently, being quite content to leave all the credit and glory surrounding the evolutionary theory to his contemporary, Wallace is commemorated in other sciences. At least, Wallace's bones are resting in peace, unlike Darwin's, which must have turned a few times at Westminster Abbey recently. I'm talking about Florida's new science teaching standards and the controversy surrounding the theory of evolution in our beloved United States of America. I remind you that this is going on in the most scientifically-advanced country in the world in 2008, NOT in some backward nation, and NOT in the Dark Ages of mankind.

Anyway, we finally get to the best part of my weekend. Friday evening (weekends DO start with TGIF, right?) I went to a recital at Sala Cecilia Meireles, a temple of classical music in Rio. The program, mind you, were popular serenades from the 1930s and 40s, the kind that were (and perhaps still are in small towns in the interior) performed below a woman's window. Voice and guitar, no more. You don't need anything else when the voice and interpretation belong to Marcos Sacramento and the guitarist is his "partner-in-crime," Luis Flavio Alcofra. Where does this concert tie in with my musings on evolution and the state of things in our country? It's simply that I rejoice in the thought that at least some members of our species have evolved to the point where they're able to really contribute to the happiness of others. That some people are able to write such great songs and others to sing them with so much talent and sensitivity. This was for sure one of the best shows of my life! And I, like Charles Darwin, am glad that I came to Rio for a while.

By the way, this was part of a series that will culminate with a concert by Italian jazz pianist Stefano Bollani in December. Can't wait!

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!