Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Beach Art in Rio

My first crew layover in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was admission to a free outdoor art gallery.  Artistic expression abounds on the south side of Rio!  It began with our crew layover hotel’s lobby where one of several magnificent costumes for Carnival greeted guests.  Not 20 yards from the front of our crew hotel, walking toward Ipanema Beach, I passed a mural painted on the stone wall running alongside the road.  So vivid, and full of life in color; I tried to decipher the meaning from the mural. Angry?  Political?  In love?'

The ruler straight sidewalk of geometric alternating black and white design running along the length of the famous Ipanema Beach is a standout.  Standing at one end, and trying to spot the opposite end, the pattern harked of rounded-edged square metal links, an unbroken chain for miles, coming in and out of black/white focus with the switch of my adjusting eyesight. This traditional style “Portuguese pavement” (Calçada Portuguesa) of paving the way with natural stone has been used since early Roman times (think of the vias in Rome - which are slowly being paved over citywide by asphalt). The Portuguese adapted the method, using the decorative black (basalt) and white (limestone) cobblestones in artistic and symbolic patterns, now found all over Portugal, and the former Portuguese colonies of Brazil and Macau.

Each cobblestone is cut in perfect dimension, and placed with careful precision to give the smooth and even overall effect.  One of the Portuguese speakers on my crew, who is from northern Brazil, explained to me the importance of the sidewalks to the Cariocas (as locals in Rio call themselves).  The sidewalks, if damaged, are repaired immediately in the same old-fashioned method traditional craftsmen (calceteiros) have used in Portugal since 1849.  Because the job is back breaking, the work in Rio is often done by poorly paid laborers, like the one I came across when walking to Ipanema Beach.

The other famous beach in Rio, Copacabana, is 2.5 miles (4km) long with a black and white wave swirl, swishing along the entire length of the beach, a pattern designed by the noted Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. He modeled his design after the famous Rossio Square in Lisbon, Portugal, a design translated as “the wide sea.” But, the most captivating art at Copacabana Beach were the sand castles, elaborate and labor intensive, prizeworthy at any sand castle contest in the world.

Later that evening as our crew was walking through a section of the Leblon neighborhood on our way to dinner, I spotted a mini-truck, saturated with design, and eye-popping color, conveying the message “this truck sells fish!”  Someone directed their passion - for their creative side, or for their business - into painting that truck!  The wall of graffiti behind it created a nice background canvas, quite by accident I am sure.

None of these individual artists, ordinary citizens to world-renown professional, knew what a collective and spectacular display of art and expression they created within a 5 mile stretch of Rio de Janeiro.

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