With the countdown to the end in full swing, we find Tony in Rio. His wife, Ottavia, is there for a Jiu Jitsu tournament. Tony is here to eat and drink. What do we learn (besides the fact that Ottavia Bourdain can kick some serious ass)? That Rio is a lot like south Florida...while at the same time not at all like south Florida. A few observations:
Ipanema Beach is a lot like South Beach
Tony is sipping
caipirinhas on the beach, just watching the beautiful people swim,
laugh, and play volleyball. "If you want to feel really bad about your
body, go to Brazil -- where everyone looks like they've either just had
sex or are on their way to have sex."
While everyone is playing
and tanning, Tony muses that no one seems to have a job. What could they
possibly do? They're too good looking. Then we learn that the hot man
chatting with Tony is not a personal trainer or gigolo. He's a lawyer.
The beach is the great equalizer. Like South Beach, if you're rich, you're at the beach. If you're poor you're at the beach.
Sections of the beach are numbered. In Rio,
certain sections of the beach are "unofficially" designated for stoners,
volleyball players, teens, gay people, etc. If you've ever been on South Beach,
you'll realize it's pretty much the same.
Ipanema Beach is not like South Beach
our beaches, there are stands where you can get a strong drink and
a hot roast pork sandwich directly on the sand. The only time we can do
that is basically during the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.
Tony mentions that life is good and notes, "If you can't
be happy eating a moist roast pork sandwich while drinking a caipirinha
with this view of a sea of oiled, tight buttocks you can't be happy. Or
you're a Republican."
Rio is a lot like Key West
Tony meets up with local chef/restaurateur, Danni Camilo, they find a
spot along the sea wall to watch the sunset. They get some food from the
local bar (fried sardines, seafood soup, pastelles) and a cold beer.
"When the sun sets, you clap for the sun," Danni reminds Tony. Sounds
like sunset celebration on Mallory Square.
Danni tells us a
locals tip -- when meeting someone, invite them to your house for dinner
or drinks. Just don't tell them your address...or else they might show
up. This is a ruse that I'm sure all south Floridians have used before.
tells Danni that he could never live in Rio because he can't dance or
play volleyball. And he doesn't follow soccer. "But you can drink," she
Rio is a lot like Wynwood and Downtown Miami
Tony is walking through Rocinha with Paulo, a local tour guide. What was once the largest favela, or shanty town, in Rio, is now a liveable community. "The drug gangs have no power any longer," Paula tells Tony.
Up until a few years ago, this section had no electricity, no water. The people took to the streets to protest and the government eventually spent millions to put this section on the grid. Our Wynwood was never so bad, but the neighborhood did undergo a drastic change, proving that the power of a community can overtake crime and drugs.
Rio is not like Wynwood and Downtown Miami
There is still much work to be done and many children still have no opportunities to climb out from these favelas. We learn Ottavia's Jiu Jitsu trainers have started an academy that not only teaches children from these shanty towns martial arts, it teaches them discipline, makes them keep up grades at school, and feeds them. All too much like in Miami (and all over the world), the program is lacking funds and while 150 children are given an opportunity, there are about 200 more children on a waiting list.
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By the way, as the calendar counts down to Ottavia's big match against a woman named Valquiria, she and Tony go for churrasco. Tony watches the love of his life "tear apart the meat like a wolf tearing apart a baby antelope. A gal's gotta have her protein. Before the match, Tony tells us he thinks he's going to throw up. The match is five minutes long but, Valquiria has more experience and the home turf advantage. Ottavia wins and they celebrate with a home cooked meal at the Gracie home, the owners of the Jiu Jitsu academy that hosted the event.
Tony muses that tomorrow he's "on to a plane and on to another city. But for the moment -- a glorious evening of shared carbs and good cachaca."