The Big Paradox of Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro or Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City), as the locals call it, might be one of the most naturally beautiful cities you will ever see. Most that visit Rio de Janeiro fall in love and will always dream of going back. I have been there several times and enjoyed it a lot. You can see my post with All the Tips you Need to Have a Great Time in Rio here.

Nevertheless, everything in life that seems too good to be true usually is. Rio de Janeiro too, has its dark side and I am not even talking about the dangerous and violent world of drug trafficking and the fight against it so well depicted in famous Brazilian movies like City of God and Elite Squad.

The sad part that I am talking about this time is that the essence of the place is not quite what it seems to be. Firstly, locals do not always take as good care of the marvelous city as they should, which is why you can find garbage lying around and floating in the sea. You all probably know the problem with pollution in Rio de Janeiro, especially due to the talks around Guanabara Bay in relation to the Summer Olympics held this year.

It looks like the city that is best known for its natural beauty, in one of the geographically most breathtaking locations for a city, is actually doing everything to end with its famous charm. Where is the sense in that?

What broke my heart and inspired me to write this post was how one night when we were walking on Ipanema beach and dipping our toes into the sea, we discovered a dead giant sea turtle washed on the shore. It was a gloomy sight. The yellowish-brown turtle was so strong and beautiful, the biggest by far I had ever seen in wildlife. However, somehow it had ended up dead washed onto the shore of Ipanema Beach. A probable theory of the cause of its death is that it had eaten a piece of plastic or garbage floating in the sea that killed it, and then the tide eventually carried the lifeless body of the majestic creature onto the city shore.

Moreover, that is not the only example of how the (still) so wonderful looks of the city do not match its actual content and how the exterior is valued much more than anything else.

Lagoa, situated by the beautiful lake Rodrigo de Freitas, is an affluent residential neighborhood that boasts with incomparable views. This place is picturesque and it seems like an enormous privilege to be able to enjoy a view like this just by looking out of your window every day. Nevertheless, the lake itself is so polluted and stinky that no one even dares to enter it. Even local taxi drivers advise tourists strongly against dipping their toes in the toxic water.

Again, something does not look quite right here. It seems like everything is about keeping up with appearances, whereas no one cares what this beauty is actually made of, as long as the prestige of incomparable views remain. Even the smell that gives away what is actually going on on the inside can be diminished to non-important by pretending it does not exist.

Thirdly, the abyss of parallel realities makes Rio look even more like a Potemkin village. There are extremely fancy and expensive neighborhoods in Rio (like Lagoa, for example) with some of the most expensive square meters in the world. Right next to them there are favelas, large slum areas, with no pavement, official electricity or water system and mostly avoided and considered dangerous by the wealthy. There are two completely different realities existing in the same city side by side, yet in the day-to-day dynamics of the city people do their best to overlook the existence of such an abyss an act as if it was not there. Pretty much the same way as they ignore the nasty smell that escapes lake Rodrigo de Freitas.

For the 2016 Summer Olympics the city even constructed a barrier between the road from Rio de Janeiro City to the International Airport claiming that it was to block out the noise in the benefit of the inhabitants of the favelas on the both sides of the road. Some claim, however, that the barrier was actually meant to block the unsightly view of the favelas from the foreigners arriving for the Olympics.

So you see, a pattern is starting to take form where – when the city cannot deal with its problems, it tries to sweep them under the rug and hopes that no one notices nor speaks up. And it looks like they mostly do not.

Therefore, the big paradox of Rio is – how can it be so, so breathtakingly beautiful on the surface, yet so controversial (screaming social inequality & violence) and rotten (pollution & corruption) when you look deeper inside. And how can so many plainly ignore this ugly interior?

How many dead turtles (not to mention dead kids, as this is a whole another topic) does it take for Rio de Janeiro to realize that appearances are never everlasting and that authentic beauty and sustainability lie in taking care of what is inside?

What is your opinion? Do you think that the paradox of Rio de Janeiro is a specific problem of the Marvelous city or is it a metaphor for and an uncomfortable reflection of the whole society?


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