City of Figuras (Characters)

It has been just less than a week since we moved to Rio and we have lots of color to report.  The vivid characters are everywhere. There is the curmudgeonly furniture seller a few doors down who tried to sell us a desk. Then there’s our doormen. I could have sworn that I saw one of them in a Spaghetti Western, playing the role of a bad-guy Mexican. Out the door of our apartment building and across the street linger the neighborhood’s most devoted beer guzzlers– at the boteca (bar) that sits on the corner of Gomes Carneiro and Visconde de Pirajá. Carol and I even saw a fellow enjoying a cold one at 9:30 in the morning.

The traffic thunders down this part of Visconde de Pirajá, Ipanema. It gets a good start at the Praça General Osório stoplight about 400 meters down the road. By the time the traffic reaches our apartment building, it’s hurtling down the road at 60-80 kms/hour. We have one neighbor who has a particularly antagonistic relationship with the local traffic. He’s about 70 years old, looks like he just crawled out of a cardboard box, dresses in filthy shorts and shirt, his nose is as cratered as the moon from years of drinking, and he moves along at the rate of about a block an hour. He doesn’t walk across the road to our neighborhood bar. He first times his approach, and then he shuffles as  quickly as he can to beat the traffic hurtling down upon him. “Flash,” as we’ve named him, is only one of the more apparent neighborhood characters. There’s also the quiet, wizened locksmith on the Praça General Osório. Approach his little shop perched on the edge of the curb and he’ll agree to come to your house and change your locks for you at $45R and two keys included. The deadpan barman at Sucos 47 on the Praça General Osorio scored highly on our characterometer. When I asked this last figura (character in Portuguese) if he was  Lebanese, he looked at me in mild confusion and told me, “I am cearense from Ceará” (a state in the northeast of Brazil). Wherever he is from, his shop is okay by me; Sucos 47 has perhaps the best Açaí in the city, and a mean misto-quente to boot (ham and cheese grilled sandwich). I’ll say it again, the city’s rich in figuras.

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