Saturday, June 11, 2005

Bohemian happenings

Last night I went up to Lapa to check out the night life and immerse myself in hip Rio. Initially I had thought of going to an electro-samba event going on in the Fundicao de Progresso, but since it hadn't begun by 11pm I walked on beyond the Arcos to one of the three bars nearby, Cariolapa, which had a four-strong band, one of whom looked like the actor Billy Bob Thornton after a fight, playing bosa nova and samba classics.

I think I must have wandered into someone's birthday party because the tables around me filled up rapidly with couples who all seemed associated with one of the girls there. The crowd was mixed age, but generally all middle class and well dressed. Well, when I say well dressed, that's a relative term.

Carioca women definitely known how to dress; their men less so. The women make a bit of an effort although quite a few might have taken some advice about wearing those frilly blouses which billow out. In some cases it was hard to tell whether they were pregnant or not. And the men? Well, Carioca men seem to think that a clean T-shirt with jeans and trainers is enough - I felt overdressed and I'd only put on a polo shirt!

Both inside and outside the bar though it was almost impossible to discern one common uniform as it is in England. Wthout fail you an go into almost any bar in London or the North and find men dressed in Ben Sherman or Tommy Hilfiger shirts and their girlfriends dressed in Burberry.

Around the Arcos various vendors were flogging their wares, from chicken or beef on a stick to cans of cold beer from coolers or a caipirinha. In fact those with the spirits had pushed the boat out, some arranging tables with various kinds of bottles and fruits arranged around them. Some had taken their marketing either furtherby wiring up amplifiers to the mains and blasting out music to attract custom. The only problem with that though was you could barely make yourself heard when ordering.

I wandered up the stairs of one of the bars on the south side of the Arcos to find an open poetry session run by the community group, Ta Na Rua, going on. The poetry was interspersed with some tunes put on by a young Frank Zappa lookalike standing underneath a woman's 19th century-style dress which doubled as a lampshade. The place and atmosphere was extremely animated (let down only by some prat nearby who felt the need to shriek through every performance) although talking while someone was performing not tolerated (there was plenty of shussing going on).

Despite my pleasure at having discovered I didn't need to go up the hill toi Santa Teresa to experience bohemia - rather it had come down to me - my vain attempts to pull off a full Carioca evening failed abysmally. I was to be found outside flagging the bus down around 3am and getting back to Leblon closer to 4.

Somehow I don't think I have what it takes to pull an all-nighter these days. Maybe it's my age, or growing up in a different culture, principally one where we're usually kicked out onto the street at 1 or 2 in the morning. All this is in marked contrast to the conversation I had with a young woman at the potry reading who told me that it's not uncommon for it - and Lapa - to go on until 9am.

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