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The 457 to Insight

Opinion, by Pedro Widmar

RIO DE JANEIRO – My girlfriend often describes me as a conspiracy lover by nature, and a cynic by nurture. And maybe for that reason I’ve been hesitant to acknowledge the efforts of our local government in the past months to improve areas of the city which seem frozen in time – a couple of decades back.

Pedro Widmar, author and contributing reporter.
Pedro Widmar, author and contributing reporter.

The change is no doubt greatly attributed to Rio’s upcoming hosting schedule: Olympics, World Cup, etc. Friday morning as I stepped onto the 457 in Ipanema going towards Abolição my head was swimming with ideas for my next blog, and for the first time my page would list accomplishments in local policy as opposed to scandal and criticism.

Not that there is a shortage of either, but as a literary journalist I’ve found that I prefer to tell a happy story, when one is available.

I am a resident of Ipanema, and as such I would be the first to admit that I don’t get to the other parts of the city with great frequency. But as I had an appointment in Todos os Santos to have a wet suit made for a spearfishing competition I will be participating in this weekend, I was forced to enter Zona Norte.

So off I went, pen and pad in hand outlining some ideas for my post. Invigorated by the bustling city the words practically wrote themselves. But as I crossed the tunnel between Laranjeiras and Catumbi, the letters fell from my page as I was suddenly reminded that there is another part of Rio.

My favorite Brazilian writer, Lima Barreto, was a life long resident of Todos os Santos. Perhaps for this reason I was reminded of his words as the bus twisted and turned through some of the most impoverished areas of the city towards my destination. And as I thought back to Barreto’s chronicles I realized little has changed for these neighborhoods since the writer used to walk the city streets nearly a century ago.

I am amazed by the Prefeituras’ innovative efforts in some areas. The public urinals, which are actually a retro adaptation of the same sort of mechanism common in Europe in the Seventies, have shown a capital city with the will to take meaningful steps towards change. It’s still to be seen whether these will be available after Carnival, and though so far this act and others like it seem to be isolated incidents, it’s a significant first step.

And now back in my Sunday chair in Ipanema my journey seems like a distant memory. It’s hard to imagine that only a few kilometers away from us, and perhaps conveniently hidden behind a few mountains, there is a place where five cents means something. A place where it isn’t unusual to see streets without lighting and houses without sewage.

And as I prepared to write my piece this week, I couldn’t help but pause to reflect that this city, if I can refer to us as one unit, still has a long way to go.

Pedro Widmar is a published author and journalist. He is a lover of Rio de Janeiro and wants to see it rightly called a “Marvelous City” once again.

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