In Rio De Janeiro
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE LARGEST PORTUGUESE CITY IN THE WORLD—A LOOK AT THE HARBOUR OF RIO, AND A VISIT TO ITS BOTANICAL GARDENS—A WALK ON THE OUVIDOR —STRANGE STREET SCENES—AUCTIONS AND LOTTERIES—A VISIT TO THE MARKETS—LIFE IN THE RESTAURANTS AND CAFÉS —WHAT GOOD COFFEE IS—A NERVOUS NATION, ALWAYS ON THE TWITCH.
RIO DE JANEIRO is next to Buenos Aires the largest city in South America. It has 700,000 inhabitants, while Buenos Aires claims 100,000 more. Buenos Aires is by far the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world: Rio de Janeiro is the largest city in which the people speak Portuguese. It has more people than all the cities of Portugal combined, and the country it governs contains three times as many Portuguese as there are in Portugal itself. It is the capital of Brazil, the metropolis of half the land and half the people of the South American continent; it is, moreover, the chief financial and industrial city of what is now the greatest undeveloped industrial empire in the world.
We Americans go to Europe by the hundred-thousand every year to gratify our love of strange sights and beautiful scenes. We leap over the Atlantic, one after the other, like a flock of sheep following their leader over a fence, never turning aside to see if there are not better pastures or more agreeable fields nearer home. The result is that we miss the wonders of our own country and continent. South America is far stranger than Europe, and it has scenery that will vie with any on earth.
Take Rio de Janeiro, for example ; it is one of the most pic. turesque of cities. It lies on a beautiful bay, at the foot of great mountains, which rise like a wall with their tops in the clouds behind it. These mountains, which are covered with a tropical vegetation from base to summit, are of curious shapes, one being a sugar loaf, 1,300 feet high; another a hunchback; while others look like great forts and massive battlements. I have seen the Bay of Naples and the Golden Horn at Constantinople, but the harbour of Rio surpasses anything on the Mediterranean or the Bosphorus. Shaped like a pear, it is 100 miles in circumference, and almost everywhere more than 60 feet deep. All the ships of all the seas could anchor within it and have room to spare. It is dotted with islands, upon some of which fine buildings have been constructed, so that they apparently float upon the water.
Rio itself is full of strange things. The average traveller, scared by the ghost of yellow fever, comes to it, his brain throbbing with quinine, and with the film of fear over his eyes. He walks through the streets with a smelling-bottle under his nose, and shoots in and out of the town without knowing its beauties. To me Rio's streets are pictures. I wander in and out of narrow lanes as crooked as the cow-paths of Boston. I see houses, which are centuries old, whose foundations were laid before Boston came into existence. I find beautiful parks, clean and well kept, and in them the most royal vegetation out of Paradise. There are bamboos here which are 50 feet high, whose feathery arms interlock and make regal avenues in which you are shielded from the heat of the sun. There are flowers growing wild which we raise in our hothouses, and there are royal palms whose branches wave in the winds more than 150 feet above the ground.
Rio is the home of the royal palm; you see it all over the city. The trees are as round and straight and smooth as the most beautiful column ever chipped by a sculptor. They rise in symmetrical shafts of silver gray from r 00 to 150 feet without a branch, and end at last in a canopy of beautiful green fern-like leaves. Some of the residences have rows of royal palms at the entrances to their gardens. They do not need marble columns, for nature furnishes these trees in their place.
One of the finest avenues of palms is in the botanical gar-dens, but there are other parks, of which you seldom hear, that have trees quite as fine. The other day I passed through a street in the heart of Rio in which there were four rows of these lofty trees. The grove was at least a mile long, and each palm was on an average r00 feet high. It was the most wonderful evidence of the God-like in nature I have ever seen.
The city of Rio de Janeiro covers about 9 square miles; it lies on a low plain between the mountains, and the harbour extends back to and for some distance up the hills. The streets go up and down, cross one another at all sorts of angles, making blocks of as many different shapes as those in Washington. The old part of the city is very narrow and quaint, some of the streets near the wharves being so low that they are flooded by every rain that falls. In this quarter are the slums of the town, where yellow fever is rampant in summer, and where the stranger almost takes his life in his hands when he goes through. Large families are to be found living in one room, and everything is squalid and dirty. This part of Rio is so badly arranged as to sanitary matters that the very stones breathe miasma. The sun never gets a fair chance at the streets, for they are so narrow that the street-cars almost graze the sidewalk. The car-drivers are no respecters of persons, although I doubt that the numerous one-legged men of Rio have all been made so, as some claim, by losing their legs by the tram-cars.
A little back of the slums is a vast quarter in which most of the business of Rio is done. This is also an old part of the city; some of the houses are moss-grown, and almost all are quaint and picturesque. Here are the chief clubs, the famed restaurants, and the most attractive shops. It is here you find the Rua do Ouvidor, the chief shopping street, the gossiping-place, the Rialto of the Brazilian capital. It has the best stores; it has the great newspapers, and the best of everything that the Brazilians think good. Here are thousands of men and boys who come for nothing else than to shake hands and talk, to see and to be seen. It is on the Ouvidor that the politician holds his reception. Here the candidate comes to feel the pulse of the people, and here revolutions and uprisings are hatched. I was walking down the Rua do Ouvidor the other day with our Minister to Brazil; we were on our way to visit the houses of congress, and I urged the minister to hurry, fearing that we might be too late. The minister replied:
"There is no danger. We are in plenty of time, and I am sure congress is still sitting."
"How can you tell ? " asked I. "Where is the building? Does the Brazilian flag float from it as our flag floats from the capitol when the houses are sitting ? "
"Oh, no," replied the minister; «you can't see the houses of congress from here. They are more than a mile away in another part of the city, but I know that congress has not yet adjourned because there are so few silk hats on the Ouvidor. Every senator and deputy wears a tall hat, and all rush for the Ouvidor as soon as the session is over."
There are things on the Ouvidor, however, which are quite as interesting as the politicians. The streets are filled with strange characters. At times you imagine yourself in Naples; at others in Paris, and again in the Moski at Cairo. The Ouvidor is as narrow as the Moski; it is indeed so narrow that by law no animal or wheeled vehicle is allowed to enter it. It is lined with one, two, and three-story houses, the walls of which are painted white, blue, brown, pink, yellow, and all imaginable colours. The roofs are so irregular that they cut the sky-line, looking like the ragged edge of an old saw. The houses on the opposite sides of the street lean toward each other, as in some of the old cities of Germany.
Every building has a flag-pole extending out so far from its second-story windows and at such an angle, that those on the opposite sides of the street almost touch in the centre; they form a very thicket of poles and make a canopy over the crowd be-low. Between the poles, from building to building, are arches of iron gas-pipes running from one side of the street to the other. These are used to illuminate the Ouvidor on feast-days, for the Brazilians are fond of displays of flags and illuminations, and they celebrate continually.
It is under this canopy that we move through the Ouvidor jostled by a crowd composed of all nations. There are Italians, Portuguese, Spaniards, French, Brazilians, and English. There are swells wearing silk hats and long coats, and there are half-naked negroes, with loads on their heads. There are lottery peddlers on every street corner. They pester us offering tickets wherever we stop, and if we enter a restaurant they will follow us there and thrust their tickets into our faces. The Brazilians are a nation of gamblers. The country is honeycombed with lotteries, and everyone bets on something or other.
Among the curious sights of the street are the hucksters. There come two men each with a baby-crib on his head. The crib is lined with a red flannel blanket, and as we look we listen for the squall of the infant within. As the men come closer we see that the cribs hold bread, and not babies. Each contains many small loaves, and the man goes with his wares from block to block, carrying a trestle with him, upon which he places the bread-crib while he waits for customers. Chickens are peddled in much the same way. A score of fowls are put in a wicker crate and the huckster walks from house to house with the crate on his head, the chickens crowing and fighting as he goes through the streets.
But let us look at the stores. The Ouvidor has fine show windows; walking through it is like passing through a museum. Here is a jewellery establishment; what a lot of diamonds and precious stones are displayed ! Brazil is one of the best diamond markets in the world; the people are said to care more for their dress than their stomachs. You can see this better by looking at the tailor shops and millinery stores. The styles come from Paris, and the goods are marked with such prices that cold chills run down your spine as you look. Think of paying 10,000 and 20,000 a yard for silks, and of common dresses marked 2,000, 3,000, and 4,000 per yard. What can the figures mean? If they mean cents they would bankrupt one to buy any of them. Don't be alarmed, however; they are not cents or dollars. They are Brazilian reis of which one thousand are worth fifteen cents of our money, so that you get seven thousand reis for a dollar. I changed two hundred gold dollars at the bank and received in exchange more than a million and a quarter reis. This seems to be an enormous amount, but at my present rate of expenses the sum will not last me three weeks. The fact that the goods are marked is no index of how they are sold. Everything goes by dicker, and the wise buyer always offers less than is asked. A large part of the business is done by auction. I found it the same in Argentina. There is scarcely a street in Buenos Aires or Rio de Janeiro which has not several auction establishments. Everything, even drugs, is sold at auction; you can bid on all sorts of articles from a pill to a palace, and from a plant to a plantation.
The Rio markets are not far from the Ouvidor. They are right on the bay, so that the fish are brought in boats to the stone wharves and there sold in lots. Here the hucksters come with their baskets for the supplies which they peddle about from house to house; from here are also taken the fish that supply the stalls in the markets. Most of the peddling is done by Italians, who carry fish and vegetables in baskets hung at the ends of poles that rest on their shoulders.
Let us go into the markets; they are housed in long buildings back from the water. We find them filled with all kinds of fruits, vegetables, and meats. There are tons of onions, carloads of tomatoes, and peppers of all kinds, from the big green sort we use for pickles to chillis, little red pills of a fiery nature that will take the skin from your stomach and tongue.
How queerly they sell things here ! Onions are put up in strings about two yards long, the stems of the onions being interwoven with straw. What fine onions they are ! Those over there are as big as your fist ; they come from Portugal, and if you ask you will find that great quantities of things are imported. Grapes are brought by the ship-load from Portugal. They bring from thirty cents to three dollars per pound, according to quality and the state of the market. There are besides fine apples from Spain, carefully wrapped in paper, and bring from sixty to ninety cents a dozen. We wonder at the extent of this importation, for Brazil, if she were so minded, could raise everything for herself. She has an excellent soil and her climate is so varied, according to altitudes, that she can produce almost all varieties of fruits and vegetables.
Meat is sold by the kilogram. It is cheap, steak bringing about eight cents a pound. It surprises one to note that dried meat brings more than fresh meat. It is worth ten cents a pound, and is the food in general use among the common people and indeed among all classes. It is brought by the shipload to Rio de Janeiro from Argentina and Uruguay, being corded up in the stores as we cord up hides. The meat is sold in flat sheets, each about one or two inches thick. It has a strong smell and is somewhat salty. When sold it is cut up in strips and weighed out by the kilo. Another high-priced meat is fat pork. This is stripped from the hogs, salted and done up in rolls of about a foot in diameter and two feet in length. Slices from the roll are cut off for each customer, according to order. The fat is used for cooking with beans, which with the carne secca, or jerked meat, form a part of almost every Brazilian meal.
There are restaurants and cafés near the market; indeed, there are cafés everywhere in Rio. Brazilians drink coffee as the Germans drink beer; they drink so much that it gets into their complexions, and every other man you meet is coffee-coloured. Some are jet black, some are brown and some sallow, but all are darker than nature made them. The usual price for a cup of coffee is a cent and a-half, and for this you get coffee fit for a king. It is freshly made, and so strong that it stirs your nerves like a cocktail. According to a naughty Brazilian proverb, good coffee should be " as strong as the devil, as black as ink, as hot as hell, and as sweet as love." I have not had a great deal of experience with hell and the devil, but from what I have heard of them, I imagine Brazilian coffee is like them in these.
It is perfectly black and is poured from the stove directly into the cups. The usual cup is about as large as an egg-cup, and the black fluid is of the consistency of Vermont maple syrup as thinned by our dear New Englanders for the market. As to sweetness, this is produced by half-filling the cup with cane-sugar, which is sweeter than the beet sugar we buy in the lump.
Drinking such coffee has a serious effect on the nerves, and as the Brazilians drink all day long they are among the most nervous of people. They are never still; if you see a man in a café with his feet on the floor, nine times out of ten one of his legs will be found bobbing up and down as though he were running a sewing-machine. If he tries to rest his muscles he can do so for only a few moments before they begin to twitch and move about in all the antics of Saint Vitus's dance. Another thing which is conducive to nervousness is smoking. Adjoining every café is a cigarette shop, and nearly everyone you meet has a cigarette in his mouth. The people smoke between the courses at their meals, and the majority of the men, women, and children are saturated with nicotine.