Archive for the ‘South American Culture’ Category

Rio de Janeiro: The Past on Film

April 1, 2010

American fascination with Brazilian culture is nothing new—we’ve been enamored with the beats, bright lights, and gyrating bodies of Rio de Janeiro for centuries. Modern Brazilian Carnival originated in Rio de Janeiro in 1641 when the city’s bourgeoisie imported the practice of holding balls and masquerade parties from Paris. It originally echoed the European form of the festival, and later absorbed elements derived from Native American and African cultures.

Until the dawn of the technological age of the 20th century, the only way to simultaneously witness the sights and sounds of Rio was to sail to Brazil and experience it firsthand. With the development of movies, Americans became voyeurs of this exciting and exotic culture.

Here are two examples of films that aimed to portray Brazilian culture in the early 1940s.

It’s All True
An unfinished Orson Welles feature film, this compilation contains three stories about Latin America. “My Friend Bonito” was shot in 1941 and both “The Story of Samba” and “Four Men on a Raft” were shot in 1942.

It was the subject of a 1993 documentary written and directed by Richard Wilson, Bill Krohn and Myron Meisel. Both a documentary and a unique exercise in film restoration, The documentary It’s All True tells the complex story of Orson Welles’ ill-fated attempts to make an anthology film about the life and culture of South America and concludes with a reconstruction of one of Welles’ unfinished segments, edited together from rediscovered original footage. The idea for Welles’ South American project was conceived by the American government as a sort of cultural exchange to improve relations with Latin America. Using interviews and period footage, the filmmakers tell of how the project quickly turned sour, as both the Brazilian government and RKO studio executives objected to Welles early footage. They wanted Welles to use more people with white skin coloring, and often asked Welles to try and avoid using black people. Thanks to a local witch doctor, the film could literally be said to be cursed. Although Welles stuck with the project, RKO eventually withdrew support from the film. It’s All True concludes with a partial reconstruction of the “Four Men on a Raft” segment, in which Welles tells the true story of a dramatic, thousand-mile raft journey by four Brazilian peasants.

Here is a clip of Welles discussing the project

Carnival in Brazil (1942) Directed by Leslie Roush

Review from Variety:
“Sock Latin-American one-reeler, lacking a dull moment. The annual Mardi Gras of Brazil is excuse for parading Latin-American artists and atmosphere, with newsreel shots of actual Rio de Janeiro festival trimly dovetailed into production material. Singing of Elsie Houston, Brazilian soprano, fits nicely into the opening sequence while the wild gyrations of Jose and Lolita Vega are nearly as primitive as some of Brazilian stepping captured (but a mere flash) by the newsreel camera. Fernando Alvarez supplies change of pace by introducing the current South American carnival anthem, Carolina. Exciting enough to make on want to visit Rio at carnival time. Another to Les Roush’s credit.”

One interesting thing to note about this production is the lack of black faces. This says a lot about the US in the 1940s. After the failure of Welles’ film It’s All True, Paramount Studios, in an attempt to appeal to the American public, opted to not portray the black population in this follow up project.

Truly important works, these historical films capture the essence of Brazilian culture as seen through the eyes of the American voyeur.

-Jennifer Bunin

Museums of Rio de Janeiro

March 26, 2010

Whoever visits Rio soon finds out that his/her agenda is always full – that is the pride of the local population. There is never a lack of exciting activities— from exhibitions, theater plays, dance and music shows to sports events for all tastes. But the Wonderful City has yet a wide range of other attractions to offer, such as cultural centers, churches, famous confectioners’, old streetcars and numberless museums. On your visit, be sure to set aside time to learn about the culture and the history of Rio de Janeiro and Brazil by utilizing one of Rio’s most important resources—museums. These institutions range in subject from all sorts of modern and indigenous art to natural history and political history. Here are a few of our favorites:

The Modern Art Museum
Inaugurated in 1958, the Modern Art Museum (MAM) is located in a privileged area and has a great history to tell. It hosts a collection of four thousand works. It exhibits the Gilberto Chateaubriand collection – with paintings by Anita Malfatti, Tarsila do Amaral, Lasar Segall, Di Cavalcanti and Portinari. Its gardens were designed by Burle Marx and were restored in 2004. It offers also an art cinema, a library and a bookstore. It is located on Avenida D. Henrique, at Flamengo Park. It opens from Tuesday to Sunday: during the week, from noon to 5:30 pm; on Saturdays and Sundays, from noon to 7 pm. Information: +55 (21) 2240-4944.

Museu da Republica

National Historical Museum
The architectonic complex became a museum in 1922, during the Presidency of Epitácio Pessoa, and hosts a priceless collection with 275 thousand pieces, including paintings, guns, royal carts, furniture and rare objects – such as the plumed pen used by Princess Isabel to sign the Áurea Law, which abolished slavery in Brazil. The Museum is located on a 18 thousand m² land and occupies three separate buildings erected at different times: the Train House, from 1762; the Royal Arsenal, from 1822; and the Annexed Building for military quarters, from 1835. It is located on Praça Mal. Âncora, Downtown. It is open to visitors from Tuesday to Friday, from 10 am to 5 pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays, from 2 pm to 6 pm. On Sundays, the entrance is free. For more information: +55 (21) 2550-9224.

International Museum of Naïf Art
Naïf art – “naïf” means “naive”, in French – is made by self-learnt artists, without much technical skills, The museum hosts the works of 520 national and foreign artists with the predominance of live, strong colors and irregular, abstract traces. It is considered as one of the largest collections in its genre in the world. It is located on Rua Cosme Velho, 561, at Cosme Velho. It opens from Tuesday to Friday, from 10 am to 6 pm, and on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, from noon to 6 pm. Information: +55 (21) 2205-8612.

The National Museum of Beaux Arts
It hosts rarities from Brazilian artists such as Victor Meirelles, Rodolfo Amoedo, Pedro Américo, Almeida Jr. and Eliseu Vasconcelos – works that comprise the largest collection of Brazilian art from the 19th century. This institution also keeps a much-prized collection of foreign paintings, including Italian baroque paintings, landscapes by Dutch painter Frans Post and paintings by French Eugène Boudin. Rooms are divided by themes and there are always excellent temporary exhibitions. It is located on Avenida Rio Branco, 199. It opens from Tuesday to Friday, from 10 am to 6 pm, and on Saturdays and Sundays, from 2 pm to 6 pm. For ticket prices and other information: +55 (21) 2240-0068.

The Catete Palace – the Republic Museum
It hosts the Republic Museum and what used to be the headquarters of the Brazilian Republican government 1897 and 1960, the Catete Palace; with a neoclassic architecture, with granite and rose marble façade and white-marble engraved portals. 18 Brazilian Presidents lived and worked there and it witnessed some of the most events in the Country’s history – such the Brazilian decision to enter both Great World Wars and the dramatic suicide of President Getúlio Vargas. Turned into a museum after the Capital Federal moved to Brasilia, the museum offers an intense cultural agenda and offers also a bookstore, a bar, a restaurant, a souvenirs store and a beautiful garden. Located on Rua do Catete, 153, at Catete, the Museum opens from Tuesday to Friday, from noon to 5 pm, and on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays, from 2 pm to 6 pm. Information: +55 (21) 2558-6350.

For accommodations in Rio, visit

Brazil’s Favela Conditions Improving

March 25, 2010

A United Nations report published ahead of the Fifth World Urban Forum in Brazil says the proportion of the population of Brazil living in “favelas” or shantytowns was reduced 16 percent between 2000 and 2010.

In Brazil, a country of 192 million people, those that have escaped slum conditions annually over the last decade did so as a result of slum upgrading. Most of the families in this country who have left behind their status as slum dwellers actually stayed in the favelas, but with more services and urban infrastructure, or neighboring municipalities and the outskirts of cities.

Geographer Jailson de Souza, founder of the Observatorio de Favelas, a social organization that carries out research on Brazil’s shantytowns, and who is currently secretary of education in the Rio de Janeiro municipality of Nova Iguaçu, said the term “favela” is not necessarily synonymous with “slum.”

“U.N. experts might not consider some of our most populous neighbourhoods informal settlements or slums,” he said, citing La Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro, classified by some as a lower middle-class or working-class neighbourhood.

He said that what has been seen in Brazil is “a steady improvement in living conditions in the favelas, which does not mean a reduction in the number of people living in those areas.”

In fact, some of the country’s favelas have even expanded in size, such as those of Rio de Janeiro, the second-biggest Brazilian city after São Paulo to the south.

According to the Pereira Passos municipal institute, between 1999 and 2008, the surface area covered by favelas in Rio de Janeiro expanded by around three million square meters.

And the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE) reported that in 2008, one-third of Brazil’s 5,554 municipalities contained favelas.

But many of these neighborhoods experienced improvements, as a result of spending on housing by governments – which has increased although it has not kept up with demand – and of rising income and employment, which has “enabled workers to spend more on their homes and seek new housing alternatives,” de Souza said.

Today, the middle class absorbs more than 50 percent of total income in Brazil, compared to one-third in 1992, he pointed out. Between 2003 and 2008, some 32 million people experienced an improvement in their socioeconomic status, including 2.6 million who joined the consumers market for the first time, the economist said.

And according to the U.N. Habitat report, the number of Brazilians living in slums was reduced by 10.4 million people over the last decade, with the most significant improvement being seen in sanitation.

The report refers to certain socioeconomic policies that have been adopted and mentions the drop in the birth rate and in rural-to-urban migration in Brazil, although it notes that 54 million people still live in favelas.

Brasileirão (Brazilian Soccer Championship) 2010 to Begin May 8th

March 12, 2010

The Brazilian Soccer Confederation (CBF) announced on March 8th that the Brazilian Soccer Championship 2010 will open with three games on Saturday, May 8. The Campeonato Brasileiro de Futebol is aptly called Brasileirão (the “Big Brazilian”) due to its massive popularity and large number of competitors. The competition features 40 teams in two divisions (“Série A” and “Série B”), playing hundreds of games until the last round ends on Dec.5.

This year, the championship will have a pause from June 6 to July 14 because of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Here are the 20 teams that will compete in the main division (“Série A”) this Brasileirão:

Atlético Mineiro
Atlético Paranaense
São Paulo
Vasco da Gama

To see the full schedule for the fist phase of games, open this CBF page and click on “Veja a Tabela da Série A”.

For accommodations, visit

Savory South American Cuisine

February 26, 2010

Visits to South America provide travelers with the opportunity to sample a wide choice of delicious cuisine. It is important to make every meal throughout your journey culinary event in itself.

The entertainment capital of Brazil, Rio is home to several distinctive cooking styles for which Brazil is probably best known. In the cultural melting pot that is Rio, one can taste the influence of not only Amerindian and Portuguese foods, but the cooking styles of immigrants from many other parts of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. For more information on Brazilian cuisine visit one of our most popular sites, indeed, one of the most popular sites for South American food on the Internet, by clicking this link.

If you desire a real Brazilian meal with the masses we recommend “comida a quilo” restaurants (literally “food by the kilo”). These are inexpensive dining options commonplace in most cities. Food is paid for by weight and customers usually assemble the dishes of their choice from a large buffet. If you desire a slightly higher class, but nevertheless authentic, palate pleaser we suggest dining at a churrascaria, a Brazilian or Portuguese steak house. Churrasco is a distinctly South American style rotisserie, a sort of Latin American barbecue. It owes its origins to the fireside roasts of the gauchos (natives to southern Brazil traditionally from the Pampa region). Passadors (meat waiters) come to your table with knives and a skewer, on which are speared various kinds of local meat.

The cuisine of Uruguay has its own version of churrasco known as asado. This Uruguayan barbecue is one of the most exquisite and famous in the world. The national obsession of Uruguay is dulce de leche, a sweet paste which is used to fill cookies, cakes, pancakes, and other South American pastries such as milhojas (a puff pastry), and alfajores (a filled layer cake). Our friends in other cities of call such as Buenos Aires tell us not to miss out on the tantalizing traditional drink, mate, an herbal tea commonly known as the “drink of friendship,” made with the infusion of the dried leaves and twigs of the yerba mate plant. So with a drink of friendship in hand, soak up the beautiful sites, enchanting sounds, aromatic smells, and delicious tastes as you travel through South America.

-Jennifer Bunin

Unidos da Tijuca Wins Rio de Janeiro Carnival

February 19, 2010

Samba school Unidos da Tijuca is the Champion of the Special Group Parade in Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2010. The school, one of the oldest in Brazil, won their last title in 1936. Their parade was themed “It’s a Secret” and also granted talented carnavalesco (Carnival director) Paulo Barros his first title. Barros had already made his mark in Rio de Janeiro Carnival with ideas such as the DNA float in the same Unidos da Tijuca in 2004. The theme was suggested to Carnival director Paulo Barros by a teenage boy on social networking website Orkut, and explored mysteries that have intrigued people through history.

The parade started with a bang. The Comissão de Frente, or Abre-Alas – a group of no more than 15 people who open the parade with choreographies that sum up each samba school’s theme – developed a series of moves based on illusionism (watch a video on G1).

This year’s parade entirely engaging and enjoyable. The crowd at the Sambódromo participated with elation, and joyously watched the spectacle. The meticulously rehearsed choreography of the abre-alas (opening section) deserved all the praise it received. On Tuesday, the school was awarded the Gold Banner (Estandarte de Ouro), an indication that the samba school had a good chance to be the champion.

Recbeat 2010 in Recife

February 12, 2010


From February 13th to the 16th, Recife will host Recbeat 2010. This huge, free festival will again bring pop and alternative rhythms to the land of frevo and maracatu.

In celebrating its 15th edition, the festival has Brazilian singer Céu (photo) as one of the top attractions. Local bands and international guests will also be performing. See the list of featured artists on the Recbeat website. Recbeat will be at Cais da Alfândega. For accommodations, visit

For the Best of Rio’s Nightlife, Head to Lapa

February 8, 2010

Lapa Breaks Through

In recent years, Lapa has exploded as the hip place to go for vibrant nightlife. On either end of the Lapa night scene are unique nightclubs, Carioca de Gema and Rio Scenarium. Carioca de Gema is a renaissance of the downtown of Rio in one of its hippest posts. In these clubs, 19th and 18th century architecture meets Rio’s cool, artsy crowd. The streets are lined with sidewalk cafes where cariocas gather for hours to indulge in chi chi chi (banter and chatter). The district’s street parties are among the most famous of Rio’s party attractions, and crowds gather in droves Thursday through Saturday from around 10 am until 4 or 5 pm as a celebration of what it is to be a carioca. Partiers will wander from street bar to street bar, enjoying the music and the unique vibes of the city. Between the clubs and the street parties, the district comes alive with thousands of Generation X cariocas out for a good time, a couple of caipirinhas, and a lot of paquera (flirting). You’ll find all sorts of entertainment lining the streets—from rock bands and hip hop to samba circles, the parties encompass all aspects of carioca culture. Cariocas recognize Lapa as the site where samba was reborn. Away from the often jading middle-class nightlife, the streets of Lapa come alive with music of local musicians who have resurrected a lost art.

Lapa Aqueduct

“When the people rent my apartments ask where to head for nightlife I always tell them: On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays it’s Lapa,” says Dan Babush, President of “There’s something with great music for everyone—from Gen X to Gen Y to Boomers. A couple of caipirinhas and you samba without a care and everyone will be teaching you new steps.”

“Rio Scenarium is particularly interesting,” says Dan, “as it is loaded with old antiques that are not for sale, paintings from years before, and three floors where you can wander around amazing artifacts from Rio’s past, along with one of the best samba scenes in Rio.”

Ideally, Lapa deserves three nights: One night for the Rio Scenarium area; one night for Deco do Rato, an area which is excellent to bop around (have the taxi drop you in front of Theatro Odisséia); and one night for Lapa 40° on Rua do Riachuelo, the hot new place for samba. Rio Scenarium is a great place for Boomers and Gen Xers to experience samba. Next door to Rio Scenarium is Santo Scenarium, a more Gen X and Gen Y club that plays less samba and has more of a new beat. Boomers will also like Estrela da Lapa and Carioca da Gema—but there is something for everyone in Lapa and it will take no time to find it.

Chris Nogueiro, writer of Rio for Partiers, says, “Lapa is something that happened out of nowhere. Out of a completely dead area and dead scene grew a particularly hot expression of Rio’s carefree way of being. And it stuck. Lapa is on its way towards being a world-class nightspot area.”

A Hidden Historical Haven

Among all the vibrant neighborhoods of Rio de Janeiro, Lapa has held on to an aura of historical soul and the vibrant spontaneity of parties untouched by commercial tourism. One of the hidden treasures of a Brazil, Lapa is a small, gorgeous district once known as the “Montmartre of the Tropics.” The town is centered on the Largo da Lapa, a picturesque plaza of architecture which barely survived centuries of intermittent periods of progress and civil unrest. One of Lapa’s most famous attractions is the Carioca aqueduct, also known as the Arcos da Lapa, a remarkable structure built in the mid-18th century by colonial authorities. Since the end of the 19th century, the aqueduct has served as a bridge for a tram that connects the city center with the Santa Teresa neighborhood. Another famous historical site is the Passeio Público, Brazil’s oldest public park. Built in 1779 to glorify the new colonial capital, the park is also one of the oldest public parks in the Americas. During the 20th century, the whole historical center of Rio—including the Passeio Público —fell into decay. In 2001 the city’s municipal government began a project to renovate the park and restore its historic beauty.

There’s little to recommend in Lapa during the day, except for the Escada de Selaron and the antique stores on the Rio de Lavradio (great turn-of-the-20th century antiques at really low prices can be found there). When the party dies down, visitors can walk to the Lapa staircase (Escada Selaron) and view the work of Chilean painter Selaron. Since 1983, when the 215 steps were covered in blue, green and yellow tiles (the colors of the Brazilian flag), the artist has constantly changed them to include contributions from more than 60 countries around the world. Selaron calls the stairway his “great madness” and claims he will never stop working on it until the day he dies.

-Jennifer Bunin

Draft Beer Festival at Vai-Vai

January 20, 2010

Pre-Carnival in São Paulo

Vai-Vai, one of São Paulo’s leading samba schools, is going to host its traditional Draft Beer Festival (Festival de Chopp do Vai-Vai) next Friday, January 22nd. Maria Rita, one of Brazil’s most respected singers, will perform at the party with the school’s musicians and Bateria (drum section).

Vai-Vai has been a 13-time champion of Sampa Carnival since the celebrations were made official by Mayor Faria Lima in 1971. This Carnival, the school’s theme is Double Jubilee. The parade will commemorate Vai-Vai and the World Cup, both of which are celebrating their 80th anniversary this year.

Festival de Chopp do Vai-Vai

• When: Friday, Jan.22 at 10 p.m.
• Where: Sambódromo do Anhembi – Av. Olavo Fontoura 1209, in Santana – São Paulo – SP
• Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible
• Tickets: R$25
• Phone: 55-11-3266-2581
• E-mail:

For accommodations, visit Rent in Rio.

Fashion Week in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro

January 20, 2010

São Paulo Fashion Week

As winter takes over the northern hemisphere, a select group of international journalists and fashionistas headed south towards the warmth of Rio de Janeiro for Rio Fashion Week.

While São Paulo Fashion Week is the bigger and more famous in Brazil, Rio is slowly getting recognition in the international fashion scene despite normally being famous for it’s beachwear. Visitors to this years summer fashion week found that brands that are redefining the Brazilian fashion identity. Sportswear chic is the new word.

Mara Mac, one of Rio’s fashion highlights, sent down the runway echoes of the Carioca cool and effortless style. The ageless and sophisticated collection was a perfect mix of sportswear and tailoring. Tones of dark blue and clashing colors brought a breath of fresh air to the nautical theme.

Melk Z-Da, considered the promising fashion star of Brazil, uses a lot of typically Brazilian handicrafts. Rustic materials were wisely mixed with technologically developed fabrics and deconstructed shapes – and a natural palette was complemented by real laminated wood.

Lucas Nascimento has for a long time been collaborating with big names like Giles Deacon, Luella Bartley, Jonathan Saunders and Basso and Brooke. The London-based designer decided to look back to Brazil and take the next step by investing in his own brand. Thinking about textures he created a very sensual and tactile collection; threads of mohair, merino wool and silk were combined with Lurex, metal and plastic.

Click here to catch up with Rio Fashion Week.

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