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How To Make New Friends In Rio: 'Go And Sit On The Little Wall'

Jan 3, 2017
Originally published on January 3, 2017 10:44 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

From time to time, NPR reassigns its international correspondents to new countries, and our colleague Philip Reeves has arrived in Brazil to cover South America from our bureau in Rio. Phil sent us this postcard with a few of his first impressions.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You arrive in a new city in a faraway land. You don't know any of its people. How do you go about meeting them? I asked a friend. Oh, he said. Why don't you go and sit on the little wall? Rio de Janeiro has many little walls. The little wall I'm talking about runs along the water's edge. It's knee-high and mostly granite like the Sugarloaf Mountain just a few hundred meters away and the giant tooth of rock across the bay that juts skywards and is crowned by the statue of Christ the Redeemer.

On my first evening alone in Rio, I took my friend's advice. I planted myself hopefully on the little wall and waited. I watched a man napping on the wall apparently unworried by the risk of rolling over in his sleep and toppling into the sea below. I watched tiny monkeys, whiskery marmosets prancing along the avenue of almond trees that give the little wall its shade. A big, white egret landed on the wall beside me. This was surprisingly friendly for a bird. But where, I wondered, were all those famously gregarious people, the Cariocas, as Rio's residents are known?

(CROSSTALK)

REEVES: The answer turned out to be here, sitting on the wall 500 yards away, outside a bar. I barely sipped my first cold Brazilian beer before a group of young lawyers in board shorts and flip flops came up. We began to talk.

They were celebrating, they said, because today in their office, it was casual Friday in this most casual of cities. Would I go with them to a party? The little wall had worked its magic. Rio is a boisterous city.

(CROSSTALK)

REEVES: This is what a normal weekday night sounds like in one of my local restaurants. Even the crickets outside...

(SOUNDBITE OF CRICKETS CHIRPING)

REEVES: ...Seem to be yelling. On the little wall, you can actually hear what people are saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Inaudible).

REEVES: The wall is like good pub. And like a good pub, it has regulars. Maria Bethania has been coming here for 20 years.

MARIA BETHANIA: (Through interpreter) I am always here, always, every day.

REEVES: The wall's a great place to find friends, says Bethania.

BETHANIA: (Through interpreter) People embrace you. Brazilians really embrace people.

REEVES: The little wall is in an upscale neighborhood on a peninsula overlooking Rio's Guanabara Bay. Sebastiao Barbosa, a 50-year-old AC technician, is here fishing. The bay is badly polluted, yet there are fish and squid and even turtles. For Barbosa, every minute spent on the wall is therapy.

SEBASTIAO BARBOSA: (Through interpreter) Because daily life out there is tough. It's violent. Rio is complicated.

REEVES: Sometimes that tough and violent world washes up on the little wall. Caretaker Jonas de Paula is another regular. He sits on the wall every day and catches up with the gossip. De Paula says a few weeks back, he turned up at the wall to find people feverishly diving in the water and fishing out bundles of bank notes. People around here believe this was stolen money, he says.

JONAS DE PAULA: (Speaking Portuguese).

REEVES: The treasure hunt made the local news. The media theorized that the cash had been stashed under a rock in a bag that was torn open in a storm. They ran photos of people joyfully displaying their sodden swag. Some collected the equivalent of more than a thousand dollars. If you believe rumors running along the wall, others got 10 times that.

This is another reason the little wall is like a good pub. It produces stories. I will be going back. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.