It might be a prerogative of the favela I'm staying in, but it appears that the fabled beauty and dress sense of brazilians is limited to bare chested men and overweight, scantily clad women with big asses. Any time during the day. The national snack seems to be fried dough with sugar or cheese. Or both. Even though there are plenty of public spaces with fitness equipment, both readily used and in good shape, the fried snacks seem to have the upper hand.
It does appear that, specifically the women, dress better, that is, show more skin in more flashy outfits, in the evenings, but that's not at all necessarily a good thing.
And, tattoos, virtually everyone sports tattoos. Women seem to have a knack for putting an image on their backs, near a shoulder with, I suspect, the name of their kid. But that's just one type of tattoo or many. And some are completely covered.
The situation is a bit better in the south of the city. The further south you go, Cariocas, inhabitants of Rio, look and dress better. This goes on until you reach the far south, the legendary beach of Ipanema, where the objective appears to be for each to outshine everyone else's beauty, where you go to see and be seen.
The whole southern area feels like a slightly-off Mediterranean tourist destination. Multi story carbon copy apartment buildings (but Art Deco!) with somewhat run down, reasonably authentic and terribly popular restaurants and bars on the ground floor.
And, at least a few of these restaurants are properly authentic, Garota de Ipanema, where Jobim and Vinícius composed the Bossa Nova classic The Girl from Ipanema.
In fact, outside of the favelas, the city mostly feels decidedly European. Whether it's the Art Deco, occasional art nouveau and neoclassical, or the ethnic makeup of the city's inhabitants, it's not easy to internalize the fact that Europe is many thousands of kilometers away.
Also limited to the favelas is the regular sound of fireworks. Not really used much to celebrate joyous occassions, they're deployed by drug dealers and runners to communicate with each other under the noses of the UPP, the Police Pacification Units, who constantly, heavily armed and wearing bulletproof vests, patrol the streets of the slums that are lucky enough, or not, to have been included in the new Brazil.
But, sometimes, the fireworks are really gunshots.
Here, in the run up to Carnaval and the prolonged celebration of Brazil being part of the BRICS, and going through a prolonged economic rise, the general mood appears to be decidedly positive, if perhaps also somewhat guarded. Though the latter might be more related to the underlying currents of violence than anything else.
But it's the evangelical churches and lotto stores that draw the biggest crowds, anywhere in town. Signs of a still struggling economy.
In the Zona Sul, sitting in a cafe, a girl quickly walked past, leaving a small piece of paper on my table with a few roasted nuts on them. Leaving them for what they were, she came back a few minutes later to sell me more of them in a small packet rolled up like an elongated finger. She had been giving out free samples.
A note on ethnicity
Brazil, and I suppose the big cities in particular, is a surprising cultural and ethnic hodgepodge. Besides the mix of indigenous, Portuguese and black, there is also a large amount of other nations represented in the ethnic makeup of the country.
Having been called the most influential Brazilian politician of the 20th century, Getúlio Vargas was also the country's longest serving president, first as dictator, then elected, president for a total of 18 years until his suicide in 1954. Vargas is a typical Hungarian name and, it turns out, Brazil has a population of some 100.000 ethnic Hungarians, although some estimates put it at double that.
But, 100.000 is peanuts. German Brazilians make up a grand total of some 12 million, on a population of about 190 million. Not too far behind an estimated 15 million black Brazilians.
And Brazil has the largest contingent of Japanese outside of Japan, totalling some 1.5 million. Their immigration was fuelled by the abolishment of slavery in Brazil in 1850 and the end of feudalism in Japan, both resulting in a need for cheap labor and a way out of poverty.
A lot of Italians also immigrated around the same time as the Japanese started coming in, and for similar reasons. Their numbers are now at around 4 million.