Magazine article Book

The Rio World: Known for Dionysian Revelry and Breathtaking Bird's-Eye Vistas, Rio Isn't Just the Home of the Girl from Ipanema. This Decadent City Also Has a Literary Side

Magazine article Book

The Rio World: Known for Dionysian Revelry and Breathtaking Bird's-Eye Vistas, Rio Isn't Just the Home of the Girl from Ipanema. This Decadent City Also Has a Literary Side

Article excerpt

THE NOVELIST PAULO COELHO, Brazil's most famous living author, recently wrote that Rio de Janeiro is "a city where men and women come in all colors and in all creeds, and never argue because of that--but are constantly killing each other for worthless things, like the best samba song or the best soccer team." Rio, he continued, proves the essential truth of a certain William Blake proverb: "The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom."

Coelho, who has written many of his novels, including The Alchemist, in his house overlooking Rio's fabulous Copacabana beach, knows what he's talking about: Rio is indeed a place of extremes. It's home to Maracana, the world's biggest soccer stadium. Carnaval, one of the world's biggest parties, a days-long affair that turns the city into a kaleidoscopic whirl of decadence and celebration. The spectacular statue of Christ the Redeemer, which towers more than 2,300 feet above the city from its perch on Corcovado mountain. It's a place where the bikinis are as tiny as the mountains are high, and where the wealth in the city below contrasts with the wrenching poverty of the favelas, the hillside shantytowns that are home to one-fifth of the city's residents.

Rio's small but vibrant intellectual community is centered in the fairly well-to-do neighborhoods on the city's southeast side, an area comprising Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon. Some of the city's best writers--the novelist Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro, for instance--live in Leblon.

Book signings are very popular in the city, says Luiz F. Valente, a Rio native who is now a professor of Portuguese and Brazilian studies at Brown University. A signing often serves as a gathering spot before a night of eating, drinking and conversation. Livraria da Travessa, a bookstore in Ipanema, is one of the centers of Rio's intellectual life, Valente says. (Ipanema, of course, is best known for having inspired Antonio Carlos Jobim's bossa nova classic "The Girl From Ipanema.") Members of the city's literary community often meet at Livraria da Travessa for a signing and then head off for dinner or cocktails. The ensuing chatter is always lively. "The art of conversation is really valued as a big part of the culture," says Valente. …

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