(Photo: Christian Albuquerque)
Student Christian Albuquerque offers these first impressions of Rio:
For myself, a son of Brazilian immigrants, and a dual citizen myself, coming to see Rio for the first time is important, it’s an opportunity for me to do something I consider culturally significant, as if somehow being here can help me connect to my roots. The first two weeks here in Rio have been as full as I could have ever imagined, and I’m sure this journey of Brazilian pilgrimage I am embarking on will be something I remember for the rest of my life. My very first impressions of the city have consisted of two things, and I imagine that these are fairly consistent for all who visit the cidade maravilhosa (marvelous city) for the first time. First, Rio is as much a bustling urban arena as you will find anywhere in world, with a Manhattan-like vibe that suggests it is a place where things happen and people have places to be. Secondly, it has this duality of landscapes that converge upon the city, starting with the beautiful lines of beaches from Copacabana to Leblon, and of course the forest-covered mountains that circle the entire metropolis.
If I were to describe to someone 10 things that entertain me, I can confidently say 9 of them would be about soccer. I am a bit of a fanatic, and if you don’t know Brasil is the most soccer-crazed country on the planet, adding yet another reason for me to come. I arrived during the week of the Olympic men’s soccer final, with as scintillating a match up as one could ever hope for: Brasil against Germany, the Germans being the nation that embarrassed Brasil on their own turf in the World Cup two years earlier. People tried to deny the impact of their last match, saying it was a new team and new tournament, but in the minds of every fan was one thought: revenge and redemption for Brasil. A friend of mine gave me the opportunity to attend the match at the Maracanã, one of the most famous stadiums on earth, and the game ended 1-1 at the end regulation play, and then overtime, as neither of the teams could find a winner. Tension in the arena rose to a palpable level, as the match would have to be decided on penalty kicks. People clutched their crucifixes and covered their eyes, using every superstition in the book to try and give the boys in yellow an edge. In soccer, any team’s number 10 is usually their best player, and this tradition was started by the legendary Brazilian Pele, soccer’s Michael Jordan. The significance of the bearer of number 10 for the Brazilian national team cannot be understated. Neymar, the sacred Brazilian number 10, the player of his generation responsible for carrying the torch of Brazilian flare that so few players could hold, confidently struck the game-winning penalty, and in an instant erased all the problems in his nation for just a few hours. The streets brimmed with euphoria for that night, and I will forever remember that day.
If Rio de Janeiro is anything, it is a city of ghosts, in that it is a place where the past and future find no separation, a city where the old and the new exist side by side. This duplicity of Rio is undeniable, the legacy of Brasil’s colonial past in the city center evidenced in magnificent old buildings directly next to state-of-the-art skyscrapers where some of the world’s most lucrative businessman sit in their corner offices. I arrived in Rio during a time when the nation’s first female president has just been impeached, seemingly unjustly, and political corruption persists as perhaps the most dangerous enemy to progress in Brasil. I couldn’t help but realize how in just two weeks, I had already seen the amazing and the perplexing, all happening at once. That feeling I got the first day I arrived that this was a place where things happen was already being validated. The old, the new, the rich, the poor, the holy, and the cursed all find themselves fighting for significance each day in this city. My only real fear is that Rio has far too much to offer than what I can absorb in one semester, but I guess that is a good problem to have.