Rio de Janeiro – Where Smiles Go a Long Way

July 30, 2007 | By Harry How | Creative

Denis Lacerda, Harry and Streeter Lecka stop for a beer with the locals in Copacabana. (Photo by Rebecca Butala)

I was warned by my Brazilian neighbors at home that Rio is very dangerous and was told not to bring any valuables. I thought…”You mean like the $30,000 in camera gear I’m packing?” Of course, I didn’t listen. Not only did I bring my camera gear, but I wore my regular watch, which happens to be a very good watch that I haven’t taken off in over 15 years.

As much as I loved the movie “City of Gold” which depicts life with no shortage of violence in a Rio de Janeiro slum known here as a ‘favela’, I think of Brazil as a nation of soccer players, carnival partying, caipirinha drinking, beach-goers. Kind of like a laid back Hawaii. Was I naive to think this?

Like all big events, there is an extra measure of security that can’t go unnoticed here. We go through metal detectors before entering any venue, police are stationed and very visible on the streets and military with M16 machine guns stand guard at the airport or other areas requiring a higher level of security.

Away from these “secure” areas however is another reason we sat on a plane for more than 10 hours. These are the local places — the neighborhood restaurants, the places with local food, where menus don’t come in English. These are the places where all your senses are tested and come alive, where you learn to communicate with a smile, a gesture, and a word resembling Portuguese.

We had one of these moments walking back to our hotel from a local restaurant called Shirley. A bunch of locals at a neighborhood bar motioned to us, pointed to his hoisted glass of beer and winked. We accepted his “invitation” and minutes later we were enjoying a cold one practicing our Portuguese and they their English.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a shady cabbie wanting more money and felt the aggression of a packed stadium of screaming soccer fans cheering their Brazilians and wishing death on the Americans. I don’t photograph war, but I’ve been to my share of countries and have heard warnings for many of them. Caution works so much better than fear and smiles go a long way. Less than a week to go and I’m still wearing my watch.

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  • Marco Togni

    This post about security is very interesting. And I hope you enjoyed in Rio! :-)