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Why Rio de Janeiro is Ready for the Future and to Try New Ways, One Carnival at a Time

No tourist visits Rio de Janeiro – the eternal “Marvelous City” – and leaves unmoved. Founded on March 1st, 1565, the Brazilian city has a great past, as the Federal District, for almost a century before the capital was transferred to Brasília. Beyond its famed Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and Christ the Redeemer statue atop Mount Corcovado, the city’s history also carries layers of slavery and suffering. Today, these are being reconveyed by Black culture intellectuals and personalities as both a reason to be proud and question the status quo. The port area in the city’s center is home to the Cais do Valongo, an archeological area that Unesco granted the title of World Heritage Site for its evidence of the arrival of enslaved Africans in the Americas. Today, it boasts a wealth of cultural, gastronomic, and artistic offerings.

Christ the Redeemer

The second-largest metropolis in Brazil – behind São Paulo – Rio is known for being a city that combines breathtaking nature, a relaxed lifestyle, and a desire to do things differently. Rio de Janeiro has seen trends launch, places become hype, and plenty of beachwear come to life. Now, post-Covid, Cariocas – natives of Rio de Janeiro – are discovering new venues and reoccupying public places that have always been spaces of encounter and, at times, resistance. Rato Branko is a collective dedicated to promoting art experiences, events, exhibitions, and collaborative initiatives of cultural and artistic production. Conceived by visual artists Raul Mourão and Cabelo, it is located in a shed in the bohemian neighborhood of Lapa. It has hosted alternative scene concerts with the likes of artist Domenico Lancellotti along with DJs active in Rio’s nightlife, such as Nepal and Facchinetti. Additionally, it opens an exhibition space for new-generation artists, such as Mariana Falcão and Trovoa collective. Another feature is the intersection between fine arts and fashion. For example, the fashion designer Isabela Capeto recently celebrated her brand’s 21st anniversary with a fashion show and party in the venue overlooking the street, following the trend of an interdisciplinary encounter between artistic expressions.

For Carioca fashion designer Ana Wambier, the city’s nature is an event itself. With her partner Daniela Sabbag, the Wasabi creative director is thrilled every time she arrives in Rio: “Leaving the airport, after driving by the Linha Vermelha and the Rebouças Tunnel, I arrive at the most breathtaking landscape I have ever seen anywhere in the city. The view of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon is of unequaled exuberance. The same feeling strikes me upon driving by the Aterro do Flamengo, with the view of the Sugar Loaf and the surrounding hills. During the summer, Rio’s highly contrasted and saturated colors seem to pop out of things and objects and impact us definitively.” Carioca fashion, moreover, has been maturing over decades. It has long evolved past essential beachwear to create a cosmopolitan urban style. The editor-in-chief of Vogue Brazil, Rio-born Paula Merlo shares, “Rio is the best example of fashion as a lifestyle. How Cariocas live their daily lives is fashion. You can’t possibly leave the city without seeing the sophisticated prints of The Paradise duo, Lenny Niemeyer’s bikinis, the ultra-chic tailoring of Angela Brito (who was born in Cape Verde but settled in the city years ago), Farm’s joie de vivre, and Glorinha Paranaguá’s handmade handbags.”

Escadaria Salerón

This interchange of arts is an essential part for the artistic director of the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro (MAM Rio), Keyna Eleison. The first Black creative director of the institution, Eleison has been injecting new spirits, themes, and artistic representation into the exhibitions and events of this true modernist temple, together with her fellow creative director, Spaniard Pablo Lafuente. For Eleison, truly experiencing Rio means getting away from the beaches of the South Zone and taking the road to Magé, a municipality in upstate Rio de Janeiro with a robust natural exuberance. It is nestled at the beginning of the Serra dos Órgãos National Park. Another tip from Eleison is to visit the MAM: “In addition to hosting several wonderful exhibitions, it is beautiful inside and out, as it was designed to be part of Flamengo Park.” The museum – by architect Affonso Eduardo Reidy – is a milestone in modern world architecture, with its iconic “pilotis,” a vast open space and the integration with the surrounding landscape and gardens, designed by landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx. For gastronomic tips, Eleison recommends the Pescados na Brasa restaurant. Based in the Riachuelo neighborhood, in the suburbs of Rio de Janeiro, the restaurant features cuisine from the north of the country, more specifically from Pará, and combines it with a very Carioca touch. “It is fantastic, you can’t miss it. If you experience this part of the city, you better understand the social construction of Rio. To know the city, you must go beyond the obvious. Eleison also has fashion favorites: “Uzuri Acessórios, made by designer and art curator Thayná Trindade, brings out the brilliance and beauty of the Afro-Brazilian heritage. Meanwhile, Fatima Lomba – a businessperson who for 20 years was ahead of the multi-brand Novamente – opened the store Na Sala Novamente. It sells its own line and clothes from new talents and designers she introduced to Rio shoppers, such as Glória Coelho, Fause Haten, and Reinaldo Lourenço.”

Fashion is created daily in the streets, and an environment increasingly gathering fans from different generations with diverse styles and trends are the samba circles, which have also been democratizing areas of the city, often overlooked by authorities. The Praça da Harmonia, a square in the Gamboa neighborhood in the Central Zone of Rio de Janeiro, has been the birthplace of carnival blocks, which come out during the holiday season and in off-season carnivals, like this year when there was a second carnival in April. The traditional Cordão do Prata Preta celebrated 18 years this November with a samba circle that lasted well into the night. More recent carnival blocks, such as Loló de Ouro, created by artists from Rio’s culture and television, such as comedian Gregório Duvivier, have also been bringing a youthfulness to carnival marches.

Cariocas don’t just live to party. The local gastronomy has been graced with new chefs and restaurant openings to liven up the local palate. Having adopted the city in 1979, French chef Claude Troisgros’ most recent foray into contemporary cuisine is Mesa do Lado, which, as the chef describes it, is more than a restaurant. It is a unique and innovative “gastrosensorial” experience that, through haute cuisine, stimulates all senses: taste, hearing, sight, touch, and smell. Troisgros and directors Batman Zavareze and Césio Lima provide diners with a complete sensorial adventure. Enter Mesa do Lado through heavy red curtains to enjoy a tasting menu. Over two hours, eat and drink to a music track created exclusively for the occasion; watch projections on the walls with images of the Troisgros family, with actor Camila Pitanga reciting a poem and family recipes. Along with his own ventures, Troisgros recommends new restaurants in town: “Ocyá, on Ilha Primeira, right at the beginning of Barra, is a remarkable experience. The chef and fisherman, Gerônimo Athuel, works with fresh and delicious seafood. The waterfront location of the restaurant is a plus,” he says. As for the new venture by Rafa Costa e Silva, the chef behind the Michelin-starred Lasai, Troisgros comments, “The Crypto Kitchen brings together Rafa’s unquestionable talent with this technological take on bitcoins and cryptocurrencies in general.” Costa e Silva considers the new restaurant a Brazilian bistro, with the menu available all day long.

Copacabana Palace

Two benchmarks in luxury hospitality in the city, the Fasano and the Copacabana Palace, remain at the top of guests’ minds when choosing where to stay in the Marvelous City. Hotel Fasano, with its laid-back luxury, is primarily a place of the utmost discretion, with its impeccable customer service consistently recognized as exceptional. The services offered at the spa, such as massages, drainages, and wellness rituals, are all sought after by celebrities who stay there, such as Madonna and singer Eddie Vedder, who require being attended by Fabricia Nogueira herself, the spa manager at the brand’s hotels. Fasano guests are privileged to enjoy the iconic rooftop infinity pool – a must visit for its stunning views. The Copacabana Palace, affectionately called “The Copa,” celebrates its centennial in 2023, renovating its status as the most iconic beachfront hotel in Brazil. Its historical glamour is alive with every step; its famous guests include the likes of Tom Cruise, Justin Bieber, Robert DeNiro, and the late Princess Diana. Notably, the palace hosts the annual carnival ball of Vogue Brazil. Another option for a stay is Emiliano. Launched in the city in 2016, it has the unique and integrated concept of a luxury hotel combined with a beach resort with a privileged location on historic Copacabana Beach. The Emiliano Rio offers a high standard of Brazilian sophistication, exclusivity, service, and comfort.

Soon summer will begin, the season that best represents the Carioca spirit. And with it comes Rio’s carnival, the greatest spectacle on earth. To name it so is no exaggeration. In Rio, carnival is serious business. The party generates R$ 4 billion in Rio’s economy. It involves at least 45 000 formal workers yearly, in addition to the entire team that begins – upon completion of one year’s carnival – to work on developing ideas, and making clothes, accessories, and machinery for next year’s parade. This is also the time for many families and individuals alike to emotionally release from the previous year, purge their pains, and experience this popular celebration’s delights. With it will come countless wonders reminiscent of the lyrics by Chico Buarque, one of the city’s most acclaimed composers: “Tou me guardando para quando o carnaval chegar,” I am saving myself for when the carnival comes.

Originally published in the December 2022 issue of Vogue Arabia

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