When HomeAway Holiday-Rentals asked us to include Rio de Janeiro on our Grantourismo itinerary and stay at this cute Ipanema apartment, we jumped at the chance. Terence had never been to Rio and I was keen to return to show him ‘my’ Rio.
Movies and music brought me to Brazil the first time I visited for a month 15 years ago. I’d come for a film festival and to research Brazilian film and I’d also hoped to see some Bossa Nova, a musical style I’d become a little obsessed by back in Sydney for no reason other than it was sunny, sensual and seductive and I loved it.
Bossa Nova wasn’t the music of the movies I’d been watching in my university library — that was Tropicália — but the bright, sexy, gritty black and white images I’d been seeing on the big screen melded with the music to form the Rio of my imagination, a Rio I’d never really see.
On that first trip on my own, I’d been staying in a windowless single room in a gloomy budget hotel on a Copacabana backstreet (nothing like our current Rio de Janeiro holiday rental apartment), sitting in traffic for hours to catch buses to and from different theatres for screenings, and sitting in blackened cinemas from nine in the morning until midnight for ten days. Despite the post-movie parties and socializing, the hotel, traffic and darkness conspired to depress me. At the end of the festival, I found myself desperately in need of sunshine and light.
I took a stroll to the end of Copacabana, through the then dodgy neighbourhood that connected Copa and Ipanema, to get to the beach. I could have walked a block to Copa’s famous crescent of sand, but it was full of tourists and touts, and favela kids, which meant I couldn’t swim unless I wanted to get out of the water to find tourists and touts and probably no belongings. The hotel desk clerk suggested I head for Ipanema. It was the locals’ favourite beach and it was safer, he said.
I’d left my South American handbook, the Latin American travel bible in those days, back in the hotel and didn’t have a map, instead deciding which way to walk based on what interested me. If a street lost my attention, I simply turned a corner and strolled down another. In this way, serendipitously, I found myself outside La Garota de Ipanema, the café where Antonio Carlos Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes wrote the song, The Girl from Ipanema.
I could hear the familiar tune wafting from the restaurant out onto the street before I even realised where I was. I lingered for a while, deciding whether to go in or not, but before I knew it the song had ended and the cobalt sea and waves crashing against the white sand a block away were just too tempting. I lay on the beach drinking cold beer and eating hot cheese balls that I bought from vendors, humming the song over and over again in my head. At last, I’d recreated the Rio of my imagination, even if it was only momentarily.
This trip, however, I didn’t have any expectations. I knew I wouldn’t find the Rio of my movies or music, which I hadn’t found (outside the cinema) the first time around, and the Rio of my imagination of fifteen years ago had long since faded.
After Nicky, the young English owner of our current ‘home’, opened the door to show us the contemporary, two-bedroom apartment he had recently decorated, with its modern modular sofa, big flat screen TV, DVD player, Internet access, and iPod docking station, I knew we were about to experience a rather different Rio. But what a good base to experience it from!
Our Rio home is located on the sixth floor of a characterful old building and is fitted out in a contemporary minimalist style with vibrant local art on the walls and funky touches, like hand-stenciling on the walls. It has two spacious bedrooms with plenty of cupboard space for those who want to settle in for a while, and one with a cool (albeit tiny) bathroom. There’s also a bigger bathroom in the hallway, and a laundry.
The kitchen may be small but it has a big fridge and a decent stove, and a basic supply of pots and pans, glasses and cutlery. It’s not a kitchen for foodies who intend practicing the Brazilian meals they learn at their cooking class, but it’s fine for those who are planning to eat out most of the time and stay in for the occasional breakfast after a big night out.
The place is light-filled and there are Rear Window views onto the apartments behind and in the evenings football matches and rock bands (no Bossa Nova, I’m afraid) can be heard from the neighbouring pubs. The location smack-bang on Ipanema’s main drag, Rua Visconde di Piraja, is the apartment’s greatest asset. Surrounded by block after block of chic shops, stylish restaurants, juice bars, and neighbourhood botecos (old style pubs), that make it hard to leave the ‘hood to explore the city beyond.
I would experience my first moment of déjà vu the first afternoon we checked in, not long after we turned the corner and stumbled across La Garota de Ipanema, and beyond it a block away, La Praia de Ipanema — Ipanema Beach. That we had ended up here all these years later was spooky. From the Google map on the website, I’d thought the property was a few blocks away. Happily, it was a short stroll to one of the world’s most entrancing beaches. Ipanema is a worthy match for Sydney’s iconic Bondi Beach.
Aside from the colossal sign bearing the song’s lyrics that had been erected on the building exterior and a few framed press clippings inside, little had changed at La Garota de Ipanema. The restaurant was crowded with locals, drinking beer and eating sizzling steaks and mountains of French fries. While the tune The Girl from Ipanema wasn’t wafting from the place, the guitar chords somehow still hung in the air.