DIARY 27: March - August 1985

Saturday, Rio de Janeiro

Well I'm here in apartment 1004 of Hotel Marialva. Everyone, so far, has said it is a dangerous part of town. It is surrounded by streets full of whores and hotels with round beds and air conditioning. I tend not to spend too much time after dark loitering in the area. Luzimar told me horror stories about taxi drivers. And its true, when I take a taxi back here at night, I always feel a tension with the driver, my eyes like cats are wide alert, monitor every street and building to be sure I'm being driven the right way. Everywhere I go, I feel I am a hunted man. I expect to be mugged at any time. Perhaps a group of black kids will suddenly surround me, or two youths will arch their backs, leaving a shop doorway to hold itself up, and follow me through the streets picking their moment to pull back my arm and demand their dues. Or else a car will suddenly cut across my walking path and the glint of the knives will terrify me into emptying my pockets. In the first few days, I was more scared of my hotel room being ransacked, so carried all my monies with me, but now it is the reverse and I leave everything here. If someone stole my computer, I'd die of regret.

Yesterday a bus driver was almost killed. By braking too hard he was then thrown over the steering wheel, through the windscreen and into the street. A crowd formed immediately. Hundreds of cars jammed the road behind hooting their horns. The cheapness of life will take some getting used to. Later on I began to understand that the job of bus driver is not so much a job as a career, a risky career akin to mountain climbing or lion hunting. The drivers are racing-bus drivers. Every street in Rio is the race track. This is their game, their life. If they crash or fly out the window smashing their heads to the tarmac, then they lose. With the taxi drivers, it is different, they have the incentive of making money. Brazilians are not a precious people. I need to take on some of their earthy, unpretentious attitudes.


The heat does not let up. I open my balcony doors as wide as they'll go to catch any breeze. It is a futuristic view, especially now at the weekend when the streets below are deserted. There is a highway stretching into the distance crossed by flat bridges and flanked by grassy banks. In the immediate foreground are old tumbledown houses, but the scene is one of skyscrapers. To the right an enormous cone shaped hunk of concrete acts as a cathedral. On either side of the highway, two gigantic blocks of glass hold the richest of the thousands of state-controlled companies. On the left a cluster of yellow vans cowering in the shadows of another dull concrete building signal the telephone company. At the very end of the highway I can see a sea channel and beyond, it appears that the street Freire Gomez has been flooded with green bushes. It's extraordinary to follow the line of the street and see so much green cramming the narrow way, when there is so much waste land around and grey crumbled concrete above the leaf-line. There are more tree tops visible diagonally to my left across three or four blocks revealing Lago Carioca, a square peopled by pimps, prostitutes, beggars, police and people catching buses. I've been warned against the area at night but I can't see much trouble taking place with machine gun policemen standing at the corners.

Paul K Lyons

April 1985


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