29 March 2011

The barriers to entry

As we are all subject to the conditions of what variously passes for modernity, post-modernity, most-modernity, etc., our notions of self are irrevocably buried within the borders and boundaries of the nation-state. I’m not sure that I possess any one object more valuable than my passport. As a foreigner, when asked a question of origins, one typically does not give family or regional affiliations, but rather the nation of birth and/or citizenship. In Brazil, I try to side-step the symbolic colonization of the Americas by USAmerica by saying that I’m a Texano (even though I was born in Vermont and don’t feel particularly Texan). Sometimes people respond with, “Oh, Americano.” Then, begins the discussion of why there is no word in Braziliian Portuguese to refer to a citizen of the United States of America and that everyone born in the Americas could be considered an Americano. In Spanish there is estadounidense, which could also refer to someone from the Estados Unidos de México,  but by the time I get through explaining this no one is listening. In addition to boring people to death, this is a prelude to the conceptual and physical barriers that define our geographic lifeworlds.

As some of you have commented (or not), I am searching for an apartment in Rio de Janeiro in an era of unprecedented demand, scarcity, and cost.  There are multiple and intersecting reasons that explain my increasing state of desperation. In the last post I described the relationship of a fiador to a renter. Having a fiador with documents at the ready is the key that most readily unlocks the black-box of the formal housing market in Rio. BARRIER. That or many hundreds of thousands of Reaís to buy something. BARRIER.

Absent of a fiador, one has to turn to secondary mechanisms of convincing your potential landlord that you are good for the rent. In any case, you have to provide documents that prove you have an income that is directly deposited into a bank. This eliminates most people who make a living in informal economies or who are artists with intermittent spurts of income. BARRIER. In order to guarantee the landlords their increasing rents, most of the corretores (real estate agencies) are in bed with a private firm called Porto Seguro. Porto Seguro will guarantee your rent, but they take their pound of flesh. From what I can figure (and I haven’t gone through the process so can’t get a direct quote), for a typical 30 month contract one pays between 4 and  6 months extra rent. So, if your one bedroom apartment goes for R$1700 a month (US$1000 ish + condo fees +taxes), you will pay Porto Seguro between R$6.800 and R$10.200 to guarantee that you will pay your rent. You will never see this money again. BARRIER. I ask you, what is the incentive to pay rent for the last six months of one’s contract? The wheels of the Brazilian justice system turn very slowly, so by the time they come rolling down your street the contract will be up and you can leave.

There is an option offered by many of the banks in which you do get your money back. I am trying to do this with Banco do Brasil, but it is incumbent upon me to convince the corretores  to convince the propreitário that the carta fiança of BB is as valid as the seguro fiança of Porto Seguro. Why is this difficult other than having to keep a mouthful of technical terms at the ready? Because it is more than likely that the corretores receive a percentage of the money that you are giving to Porto Seguro, so what is their motivation to convince their clients of alternative financing guarantees? BARRIER.

As I scour the paper and zap.com.br and call to schedule visits to apartments,  I’ve been getting good at making a little speech to the corretores about the insanity of the seguro fiança scheme. No one will give me answers about how much money they get from Porto Seguro and will say things like oh senhor esse não está comigo (that has nothing to do with me) when I suggest that Porto Seguro is a mafia and that their company is implicit in perpetrating spatial injustice on a metropolitan scale. Nossa. Then today, I was told that I wasn’t eligible for an apartment because the landlord doesn’t rent to foreigners. BARRIER.  I was able to practice a very different kind of speech on this corretor, the kind of speech I learned in the stadium.

Another BARRIER is conceptual. I am limited by desire to live in a certain part of the city. I have a choice of where to live so don’t want to just live anywhere or in apartamento qualquer. There are plenty of spacious places in Tijuca, Zona Norte, the Baixada Fluminense, Zona Oeste that are affordable and very nice. But I don’t know anybody in those neighborhoods and with the transportation mess in Rio it’s not worth overcoming the spatial BARRIER to go to the university, socialize, see shows, go to the beach, play footy, etc. Even in the geographic regions, neighborhoods, streets, buildings where I would like to live, there are some truly awful places, or apartments that are very nice but out of my price range. I had a great opportunity to take over the lease on a two bedroom place in Laranjeiras, but the rent + condominium fees+tax+bills would have been around R$3000 a month. BARRIER.

So if a university professor is having difficulty entering into the formal housing system of Rio de Janeiro because I lack the personal history, personal wealth, and connections, how difficult must it be for people who don’t have bank accounts getting replenished at the beginning of each month? The incentives to enter the informal market are the pull forces that respond to smashing up against the multiple BARRIERS to entry. That these informal housing solutions are then surrounded by physical BARRIERS (such as the walls around Rocinha and the acoustic BARRIERS along the highways in Maré) begins at tragic-comic-ironic and terminates in their “pacification” by the Military Police. The possibilities of entering the informal housing market are open to everyone but it is rarely accomplished under the conditions of one’s choosing.

The key that really unlocks the black box of finding an apartment so that one can begin to surmount all of the above mentioned BARRIERS appears to be personal conversations with porteiros. The BARRIER here is that one has to have the time to run around the city, going to the neighborhoods, streets, and buildings where one would like to live and have conversations with the people that work in the building. If you manage to find something, you can put your feet in the blocks and race the other people to the corretor to see who can file their paperwork first.   

Back to where I began, our notions of self and belonging are not only bound and determined by the socio-political-spatial conditions of the nation-state, but by the ways in which we move through space and the conceptual frameworks that structure that movement. This movement is in large part determined by our ability and willingness (sacrifice, desperation, need) to overcome spatial, temporal, or social BARRIERS. I can live here or there, more or less well, formally or informally because I have the resources and knowledge and passport that give me nearly acrobatic spatial facilities.  To choose where one wants to live is a luxury, but is complicated and defined by many of the same problems and BARRIERS that define relationships of class, race, and power.  

25 March 2011

The impossibility of everything

The impossibility of keeping up with EVERYTHING that is happening in Rio de Janeiro is increasingly clear. Today I drove with Fabricia Herdy as my grad-student co-pilota along the trajectory of the Trans-Carioca BRT line (also known as the T5) that will supposedly link the international airport (Galeão) with the Autódromo. This is the link to the official and brutally crisp video. http://oglobo.globo.com/rio/video/2011/22724/

I have many impressions after driving these streets. In sum: Nooooosssssaahhhh Senhora. The project appears to be moving, or rather, the city government has started putting up big blue signs. There are mergulhões to be sunk, houses and businesses to be bulldozed, viaducts to be shot into the air, voids to be bridged, tunnels to be dug and an unimaginably complex project to be carried off in four and a half years. Officially mid-wifed this week by O Principe do Rio, the Trans-Carioca is budgeted at R$1,5 billion and will consume at least 3,200 buildings. It is a massive urban transportation project and will DEFINITELY change things along its 39km trajectory. (In the Grandes Projetos Urbanos (GPDU) laboratory in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urbanism at the Universiade Federal Fluminense, we are working on a project that will analyse these transformations. We’ll present our preliminary results at LASA 2012 in San Fransisco. If you want abstract, send me an email). 

But wait, there are three more BRT lines planned. One is blasting its way across swamplands and through mountains to connect Barra da Tijuca and Santa Cruz, and another is headed, lock-step from Barra to the military compound in Deodoro. The third, and least likely to leap off paper is the Trans-Brasil that will link Santa-Cruz and Caju. These are all supposed physically manifest before the 2016 Olympics? The T-5 alone is going to demand an incredible amount of equipment. Are there enough qualified laborers in Greater Rio to build all of these things? What about all of the other things under construction? If I were a skilled road-man, fore-man, or oil-man with a mouthful of Portuguese, I would get myself to Rio asap.

Eduardo Paes calls the T-5 “An urban revolution”. He’s right. There’s a half a billion set aside to pay people for the homes the project will destroy. The Minha Casa Minha Vida housing program for the whole country is only R$7,6 billion (just cut back from R$12,7). So, to build one BRT line, one in every 15 reales of public housing money will go to destroy housing stock. If they manage to connect all of these segments before the opening day of the Olympics, I will be well and truly impressed. It will take years to untangle what is being rolled into these BRT projects. Caution and three sheets to the wind boys!

Politically, the bicho esta pegando também. For Portuguese readers, the following is a link to a great description by Nelma Gusmão de Oliveira of the lack of change in the basic form, function, and force of the APO (Public Olympic Authority). There was some shuffling of papers and a few hundred public functionaries fell into the dustbin of the future, reducing the budget of the APO by a few million a year. In a budget that begins at R$29 billion, that’s nothing. But never fear! The former head of Brazil’s Central Bank (all 8 years under Lula), is taking charge, damnit. Bankers are honest and know how to manage many billions of your money! There's not too much noise coming from opposition, but there are a few snarky figures lingering about. Don’t tremble because the Rio Military Police is there too…
Rio police spray little kids in Niteroi, nice work fellas. Oglobo foto.

Let’s hope that the MP doesn’t start turning its attention to the Social Movements mobilizing to fight the World Cup and Olympic Project the way they’ve been treating the Obama protestors and the people from Morro da Bumba in Niterói that have yet to move into permanent housing following last April’s mudslides.

Oh, FIFA. Oh, CBF. Oh, the Copa.  You know it has to be bad if a headline in OGlobo about the 2014 World Cup is: White Elephant of the Forest. This refers to the absolute and complete lack of utility for the Arena Amanônia after the World Cup. It’s a pity that they destroyed a functional and elegant stadium in the process. Much like the HSBC Arena in Rio (built for the 2007 Pan-Am. Games), the 47,000 seat R$593 million stadium will probably only be used for shows. Air Supply in Manaus anyone? Get your tickets now. We knew this was going to happen. It was planned this way. There was never any doubt about the result. But it didn’t have to happen this way, and no one is going to do a thing to prevent it from happening again or hold officials responsible for their pig-hgeaded, short-sightedness. Or are they? 

In a refreshing switch on its coverage of favelas being the main source of pollution for the lakes of the Olympic Development Region, OGlobo has finally started reporting on the saw sewage and waste that condominiums are pouring into the waterways. There have also been occasional reports about the pollution caused by the various chemical and pharmaceutical plants in the region. Nothing, of course, about how the changes to the city’s master plan which will allow for more and denser condominium development, more cars, more consumption, more sewage, and more waste will affect the regions already stressed water system. That’s for IBAMA and Imanjá to deal with.

I started off this column by reflecting on how it was difficult to keep up with everything that is going on in Rio. This is true everywhere, but at times, Rio de Janeiro seems to be moving so quickly and in so many directions that it’s difficult to know where to sit and watch it. This is part of the challenge of finding an apartment in Rio: to find a place that is quiet but close to transportation, on a side street but with a view, close to entertainment, restaurants, parks, plazas. Someplace to work, play, eat, study, sleep, feel comfortable. Too much to ask? There are great streets in crappy neighborhoods and crappy apartments on great streets. Some are too far, some are too low, the buildings from the 60s and 70s and 80s are cramped, the new buildings without personality and the roomy apartments in older, elegant buildings from the 30s, 40s, and 50s are too expensive. There is a general sense of urgency and scarcity that is clapped on the ear with the open palm of bureaucracy. Most of the apartments I have seen have had between 4 and 12 other people looking at them at the same time. Looking to rent an apartment in Rio? Here’s a word you need to know: fiador.

Your fiador will be someone who owns at least one property in the city of Rio de Janeiro and who is willing to provide you with all of their original personal documents, including the value of their apartment, how much money they make, etc. This person will act as the guarantor of your rent for your 30 month contract. You flee the country, or move to the interior of the interior, the rent is on them. The problem, in addition to what I feel is a tremendous invasion of privacy and the commensurate need for a long-standing friendship (or family relation) to even ask someone to be a fiador, is that it takes a lot of running back and forth, here and there, copies, orginals, stamps, signatures, proof of residence, bank accounts, getting everything together, and the first person (of the 10 of you standing in line to see the over-priced apartment where you will never speak to or meet the person who owns it), the first person to deliver all of their documentation will be the one who gets the apartment. So, get your fiadores lined up now, or be prepared to pay Porto Seguro the equivalent of one month’s rent per year for two and a half years. You will never see this money again. This word you already know and it needs no italics: mafia.

20 March 2011

A visita d'O'Bama

Not eveyone is happy about Obama's visit to Rio de Janeiro

Mr. President woke most of the Zona Sul up this morning with his helicopters flying about. There has probably never been anyone in history that has a larger security footprint than Obama. The airports were shut down, the Brazilian Navy parked off of Copacabana, and more than 2000 Brazilian troops occupied the already occupied Cidade de Deus so that the big O could pay a visit. Where Obama goes, or plans on going, many thousands clear tens of thousands of others out of the way.  There has been a media frenzy, of course, with everyone wanting to get a USAmerican on record for something (this artilce has momentarily put me in front of Frank Gaffney, from the dark  side of the force in a google search for Gaffney Obama).

It’s a shame that NPR hasn’t made their more qualified reporters permanent staff in Brazil. That way those of you in North America could perhaps avoid the flaccid, banner waving drivel that came out before the Obamas descended on Brazil. On Friday, “Brazilians welcome Obama as their own” took on special meaning for football fans, organized labor, and people living in UPP favelas as protestors threw Molotov cocktails at the USA consulate downtown. The general reaction in the news was to ignore this massive protest, but the reaction amongst many Brazilians was that the protestors “estão de parabéns” – they should be congratulated. There were, on various listserves, calls for more protests of this sort, though I imagine that when faced with the FBI, Secret Service, BOPE, and the Brazilian Military, syndicalists, student organizers, and those with a memory that extends beyond 1985 figured that caution was the better part of valor.

After talking to Brazilian business interests and past presidents (with the exception of Lula who felt slighted because he was not asked to the official state dinner personally by Dilma and went to his son’s birthday churrasco instead), Obama gave a speech at the Teatro Municipal (full text here). I’ll pick on some easy things, because it’s Sunday and Obama woke me up this morning.

You play an important role in the global institutions that protect our common security and promote our common prosperity. And you will welcome the world to your shores when the World Cup and the Olympic games come to Rio de Janeiro.
We all know that the World Cup and Olympics have nothing to do with common prosperity, but the prosperity of big civil engineering firms, multi-national corporations, and corrupt sporting oligarchies. Our “common security” is one in which the banks get trillions from the government, R$33 billion gets poured into the World Cup, R$29 billion into the Olympics, and the minimum wage in Brazil is stuck at R$545 a month (US$328 x 12= US$3989 year).

We need world-class infrastructure -- which is why American companies want to help you build and prepare this city for Olympic success
Read: Brazilian money going to pay for USAmerican military and surveillance technology. The FBI has already been working with Brazilian police to install new modes of discipline in Brazilian stadiums.

Together we can also promote energy security and protect our beautiful planet. As two nations that are committed to greener economies, we know that the ultimate solution to our energy challenges lies in clean and renewable power. And that's why half the vehicles in this country can run on biofuels, and most of your electricity comes from hydropower. That's also why, in the United States, we've jumpstarted a new clean energy industry. And that's why the United States and Brazil are creating new energy partnerships -- to share technologies, create new jobs, and leave our children a world that is cleaner and safer than we found it.
There is nothing “clean” about biofuels. They require a massive, underpaid labor force and relegate unimaginably large swaths of  the Brazilian northeast to mono-cropping.  Brazil and the United States pollute, pollute, and pollute some more while eliminating environmental restrictions in the name of economic competition. The Brazilian Amazon has been re-territorialized so that it can be eviscerated (thanks Lula and Mangabeira Unger!). The “Brazilian dream” is to live in a condo, have at least two cars, and go to Orlando every year. (I’m only being slightly unfair here). Even if a car runs on biofuel, what about the resources needed to bring it into production? Does everyone have to have a car, Mr. President? In southeastern Brazil, the answer is yes, we can, and we bloody well will.

 And as two countries that have been greatly enriched by our African heritage, it's absolutely vital that we are working with the continent of Africa to help lift it up. 
When in Brasilia, Obama ordered an attack on Libya. Let’s keep the vapid paternalism flowing, that’ll make us feel good about what we’re doing while keeping Africa’s natural resources flowing in a Westerly 
direction (and not to China).

The millions in this country who have climbed from poverty into the middle class, they could not do so in a closed economy controlled by the state. You're prospering as a free people with open markets and a government that answers to its citizens. You're proving that the goal of social justice and social inclusion can be best achieved through freedom -- that democracy is the greatest partner of human progress.
“Freedom” is just another word for open markets. In this sense, this is basically the same speech that W. would have given. “Democracy” is the greatest partner of increased profits and ever-expanding economies. In the speech he gave to the bidness folk in Brasilia, Obama said “When we look South towards Brazil, we see 200 million consumers.”  

So hopefully once NPR gets some people who don’t just report about what they would like to believe to be true in that soft-spoken NPR world, those of you who are not living in Brazil will get a more complete picture of the perspectives and attitudes towards the USA here. There is massive ambivalence, admiration, disgust, mistrust, sympathy, and historically rooted perceptions that are not going to be overturned by Obama’s visit. People remember well the USA’s long-standing support of the military dictatorship here (and Chile, Argentina, Peru, Uruguay, Paraguay). Lula’s leftish militancy against the imperium was about as hollow as is Chavez’s. They keep their popularity by talking a big game, but in the details they hand everything over to the capitalists, developers, and USA-trained economists.

Obama has disappointed and deceived in many of the same ways as Lula. After much hope for change, he has implemented even more of the neo-liberal tools of governance to further the class-project that received such a tremendous boost under w. No one here is asking Obama how Brazilians are treated in Immigration detention centers. No one here wants to know what has gone so wrong with the “American dream”, as Brazilians are embarking upon a “development project” that is leading to a continental-scale consumer society modeled on the USA . There is no way to be green about this, much in the same way that it is impossible to have a green World Cup or Olympics, principally because there are part and parcel of the same socio-historical trajectory. It will take many, many more Molotov cocktails to alter this path. 

15 March 2011

Pos-Carnaval scattershot

Brazil is expensive. Everyone keeps saying it, we all keep paying it. Here’s an example from yesterday. I filled up a very small car with gas, R$104 (US$65, about six dollars a gallon in a country that doesn’t import oil and has its own refineries). Then, it was time to change the oil. The synthetic quarts, sucked out of the ground, processed, produced and sold in Brazil were R$39 each. That’s twenty dollars a quart of oil. The oil change set me back R$186. So, between filling up the car and getting the oil changed I spent R$290 or US$ 175. Not to even mention the cost of buying and maintaining cars here, nossa senhora.  If you can say carro caro five times quickly without having both words sound the same then you are probably used to such prices and don’t even think about it anymore.

Brazilians are getting more and more into debt as the consumer society expands. The front page of OGlobo’s Economia section from Sunday: Brazilians already commit 22% of their salaries to pay down debts. This is up from 13.9% in 2003. The banks in Brazil charge up to 180% per year for credit card debt, and for short term cash loans, the percentages can be even higher. The best possible business to have in Brazil is a bank. As people begin to borrow against the inflated values of their homes and apartments and buy more and more things that they didn’t even know they needed until they had someone offering just that very thing, then wow! When the bubble bursts in 2017(?), it will probably still be good to be in banking (as the recent experience in the USA has shown).

There is a direct correlation between occupying a foreign country and occupying Rio’s favelas. The Brazilian military has been leading the UN’s occupation of Haiti for many years and has used the strategies and tactics of that occupation in the military exercises in the Complexo do Alemão. Sensitive as ever to the cultural nuances of “indigenous people”, a Brazilian coronel was quoted as saying, “it doesn’t get to be an organized crime unit like in Rio. Violence happens here may times because it is a part of their culture.” (Não chega a ser uma organização criminosa como no Rio. A violência acontece aqui, muitas vezes, por fazer parte da cultura do povo.)  There are other comparisons to be made here between the USA and Brazil, but I will leave it to the reader to make those connections.

O’Bama is planning a visit to Rio for St. Patrick’s Day week. He’ll give a big public speech in Cinelândia. I’m trying to call this the “Visita d’Obama” but was told this is not grammatically correct. It’s the “Visita do Obama”, which for me is one too many O’s.

Dilma officially indicated Henrique Mirelles as the head of the APO (Autoridade Pública Olímpica). The former head of Brazil’s Central Bank will preside over an institution that was significantly reduced in size during the deliberations in the Senate. The APO went from 480 to 181 official posts. The Lula government was sparing no expense, for anything, but Dilma has had more fiscally responsible ideas in her head. Sergio Cabral and Eduardo Paes also wanted the APO to have reduced powers and they appear to have been successful in their negotiations with the federal government. I haven’t been able to find the revised text of the Medida Provisória 510, so if anyone out there has some time and inclination, I’ll update this post and give due credit!

Classes started this week. I’m teaching a course called “Producing the Olympic City” in the Master’s program of Architecture and Urbanism at UFF. If anyone wants to get on the blog, google group, or zotero send me an email and I’ll get you signed up. Falando nisso, se houver Brasileiros interessados em participar no curso, estou abrindo as portas para vocês! (BTW, for those of you not familiar with zotero.com, it’s perhaps the best thing ever invented for researchers, even though it only functions in Mozilla).

11 March 2011

I'm not your John Carioca

Carnaval ended three days ago, I think. I’m still not quite sure when it started. Actually, Carnaval hasn’t really ended, but the banks are open, and people are starting to work again. The official Saturday-Tuesday Carnival confused and amazed, permanently changing my vision and understanding of Rio and Brasil. I’m not sure how, but it did.  I am sure that my first experience will not be my last, and as I repeat the dose in years to come the words I am about to write will no doubt seem increasingly naive. All the same, some reflections…

Carnaval is calmer than Mardi Gras and bigger than Katrina. It’s as exhilarating as Pamplona’s San Fermin without being dangerous. It’s as steeped in lore and iconography as Double Ten in Taiwan, with fewer fireworks, fewer boats, and much more skin. If Halloween in the USA and Carnaval in Brasil were football teams, the result would always be the same. St. Patrick’s Day parade, Erin go tomar banho. Eyore’s Birthday in Austin, TX would be a quaint bloco here. Songkran in Thailand, yup, nice, but not the same kind of party. 

Bigger than I had imagined, Carnaval is more, for longer, than all of those other parties combined, at the scale of a continent.  It is simply the biggest, best party, ever, every year. Leaving the apartment (in Laranjeiras), it was never more than fifteen minutes to the nearest bloco where masses of costumed dancers moved their feet insanely quickly, lurching behind huge sound trucks down suddenly narrow streets. Moving through the crowd was the same as getting to the front of a packed rock concert, in all directions. Everyone was getting pushed, trying to make their way, wherever, closer to the music, away from the crowd, to the port-a-potty, to get a beer, to go across town, to meet some friends, to throw up, to dance, to step on toes, knock into each other, go nowhere at the same time. No one got mad. I did not see a single instance of confusão. The cops were nowhere to be seen. The crowd was totally in control of the city. We took the streets, the plazas, the alleys, the parks, the hillsides, the buses, the taxis, the sidewalks, the city, the country.

450 blocos rolled through Rio over four days. A bloco in Ipanema had more than 400,000 people. One bloco! I went to 7 blocos over four days, a modest and endearing number, but surely my limit. All of the other major cities in Brazil were doing the same thing. Recife, 400,000 people at a concert. Salvador, one million people on the street. São Paulo, probably the same thing, I don’t know. I couldn’t pay attention to the scale of things. It was too much to imagine that the crowd I was being crushed into was being repeated across the entire city, much less the entire country. As I flowed through the streets of Rio completing a beer-soaked hydrologic cycle in sparingly placed public toilets, the drama of the samba schools unfolded in the Sambódromo, which always seemed really far away. The competition was intense and emotional, marred by fires in the production warehouses, stories of perseverance, excellence, brilliance and (almost inevitably) a voting system plagued by claims of corruption. I have only mediated impressions of extravagant costumes, flying flesh, and herculean projects.

After describing my experience of Carnaval in these minimal details, what it is that has changed about my perspective? For one, I now have something to look forward to in 2012. A second, more profound shift is based in my new understanding of Carnaval as a such a profound and important part of culture that no matter how much crap gets dumped on Rio and Brazil in the form of mega-event projects (and all of their wasteful, corrupt, brutal, and shameless ways), there is always going to be a time to invert reality, and at those moments possibilities for “progressive” transformation and revolution (in the sense of turning over) are always more alive. 

Carnaval is a way for society to organize, dis-organize, and re-organize itself in myriad ways.  I was amazed by the lack of visible and official police presence, the general sense of abandonment that had an ordering about it. Everybody followed some rules, but no one knew exactly what they were (except for the peeing on the street bit).  The blocos were organized and registered by the city, the streets were cleaned soon after. As  someone that did not have to work, clean, report, police, sell beer, or make a living for four days, my general feeling was one of a generalized abandonment to an infective happiness spreading from person to person, street to street, neighborhood to city and beyond.

Curtei. Gostei, e muito. Parabéns Rio de Janeiro, obrigado Brasil.

03 March 2011

Craques, Carnaval, Câmeras, John Carioca?

Ah, summer in Rio. There's been plenty of interesting football going on in the Campeonato Carioca, if you're interested in teams you've never heard of playing against teams you might have heard of that are filling up with players you have definitely heard of. The return of the Brazilian expats is happening at an ever increasing pace. Last year, Fred went to Fluminense from Lyon, Deco dropped from Chelsea into the Fluminense doctor's office from where he has yet to emerge in 2011, and this year, Traffic and Flamengo put together tens of millions to bring Ronaldinho Gaúcho back to the homeland. So important was this move that Alexi Barrionuevo at the New York Times felt motivated enough to write a stunningly vapid piece about the current president of Flamengo (I'm not gong to dignify the piece with a link). Of course, when the NYT speaks about Brazil, someone listens, even though they never learn much.
Do like Dunga, don't use crack.

Flamengo won the first turn of the tournament (Taça Guanabara)with a lovely free kick by the buck-toothed wonder, who has already paid back the investment through shirt sales.  This brings me to the first of the C-words that start off this post: Craque. In Brazilian Portuguese, Craque refers to someone who is really, really good at something, usually football.  The stars of the Brazilian national team are, obviously, Craques. However, the drug crack is pronounced in exactly the same way. In the lead up to the World Cup a group of friends in Matto Grosso do Sul were displeased with then-coach Dunga's team selection. They pooled their money, rented the above bilboard, making a wholesome statement while at the same time crticizing Dunga.

The surprise of the tournament was that Gaucho's was that his free kick hit the back of the Boavista net. Not Vasco, not Fluminense, but Boavista F.C. from Saquarema, about 200 km East of Rio. Four years ago Boavista did not exist. It was bought by businessmen who are very open about their plans for their team: they want to develop and sell players to larger clubs all over the world. This is the same logic behind Traffic's investment in the Nova Iguaçu team, which did not have a single player over the age of 23 (and whose uniforms are suspiciously like the Carolina RailHawks). The surprise development in this year's tournament is that the traditionally smaller teams are having more success than usual. This is attibutable in part to Vasco's horrible start to the year but also to the changing economy of football in Brazil.

Beth Santos
John Carioca, keeping it real
So while there is a wee break before the second turn of the Campeonato Carioca, we have Carnaval to keep us occupied. This is a useful link to see when and where all of the parades are happening. In an era where the city and state governments are increasing their attention to controlling everything (except for skyrocketing rents and inflation), Carnaval must give them more of a headache than five days of drinking SKOL. In order to help with their anxieties and desperate need for Benthamite social controls, the city government is putting spy cameras all over the city, with a centralized command center.

In addition to the 30 new cameras installed this week, we got a look at the new Carnaval mascot today: John Carioca. He will apparently be handing out pamphlets in English, getting robbed on Copacabana Beach, and getting arrested for peeing on buildings in Lapa. I'm not sure where to begin dissecting John Carioca as an anthropological subject (must all tourists must be pasty white men with big ears with smiling gostozinhas at their side?) and am hoping that some comments will be forthcoming.

There should be a new look website coming soon. You have hopefully noticed the jump to www.geostadia.com so reset your favorites. I've got John Caroica working overtime on this, so stay tuned for some marvelous photos!


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