January 8, 2013
The period around New Year is the great unifying time in Rio de Janeiro, and the beach is the great unifying place, more than any other in both cases. Everyone is on the beach at midnight as the New Year begins, and everyone is equal on the sand, in the sea and under the fireworks. All types of people are there mixed together, from the rich Zona Sul types of European and Mediterranean ancestry to the poorer people of the Zona Norte and favela communities, often of African and indigenous blood, all colours and all backgrounds are united by one thing – they all leave their litter on the beach.
Copacabana Beach on 1 January apparently has the largest single regular clean-up operation on the planet, and this would be no surprise to anyone who has spent that night, or a Saturday or Sunday afternoon at the beach in Rio. The sand is almost covered in rubbish with New Year champagne bottles embellishing the general waste of crisp and cigarette packets, flyers, beer and soft drink cans, plastic bottles and bags galore. At the end of a regular afternoon you can find all these things and even occasional used tampons and nappies if you are lucky. The justification that it keeps somebody in a job, heard regularly from people across the economic spectrum, just doesn’t wash. People get paid to clean the streets and your car, but throwing your litter around in them doesn’t make any more sense either. Perhaps the poorer people don’t know any better and the richer people don’t take their maids to the beach to clean up after them, I don’t know, but generally if you see people taking their litter away with them from Ipanema Beach, they are almost guaranteed to be gringoes. Not always though, because only today a Brazilian mother and daughter were filling up carrier bags between them with other peoples’ litter, three bags full between them and they’d hardly left their canga.
This is not the behaviour of the average middle class carioca though, the only people you find collecting litter on the beach usually are the cata lata people. It has long been my feeling that those who collect your aluminium cans from the beach are generally the most respectful, courteous people in the whole of Rio. It feels like almost the only ones sometimes. Having watched the wonderful Waste Land film about the project of artist Vik Muniz in Jardim Gramacho, I had to expand this feeling to include people who collect litter all around the city. Jardim Gramacho was the city dump on the edge of Guanabara Bay in the Zona Norte, the largest waste facility in South America and possibly even the world until it closed in 2012. No surprise that Porcaria de Janeiro produces so much waste with the uncaring attitude of most residents to leaving litter in beautiful places and recycling none of it. Even the children’s games and the religious ceremonies of Rio leave litter everywhere. Kids leaving broken kites on every street, while the macumba rituals leave the beaches full of candles, bottles, plastic cups and containers full of food for the rats and pigeons to enjoy.
Hopefully, if and when Tiao and Zumbi from Jardim Gramacho enter into the political world of Rio and possibly even the Zumbi Nation of Brazil, they might help to change those attitudes a little. I won’t spoil the film for anybody but it is as uplifting as it should be depressing, and another of Brazil’s Great Films of the past decade or so.
In the meantime, the beaches fill with litter which blows into the sea, the turtles and rays are poisoned by it, the drains block with it and cause all kinds of storm chaos, flooding and maybe even contribute to the landslides that are becoming a regular feature of life around the state. A little more education (especially for the educated cariocas) and lot more recycling facilities would help. Rio is expecting a whole load of visitors from abroad in the coming years, and if the proud cariocas want to show the best side to their city and their state, then the first thing that they should do is to stop visiting those beautiful beaches and leaving them looking so ugly. A small step to help turn Porcaria de Janeiro back into the marvellous city that it once was.
You can visit Ricky’s blog at http://redmist-redmist.blogspot.com/
Previous articles by Ricky:
Understanding Brazil: Holding Hands
Understanding Brazil: Statues & Self-Worth
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes Part II
Understanding Brazil: The Pub
Understanding Brazil: Protesting
Understanding Brazil: General Elections
Around Brazil: Oktoberfest Parade in Blumenau
Cultural Brazil: The Alambique
Around Brazil: Whale-Watching in Santa Catarina
Brazil: Tainha Time
Deported from Brazil? Part 2
Deported from Brazil? Part 1
Brazil: The President in Florianópolis
Swine Flu in South America?
The Best Club in Brazil…?
The Great Brazilian Animal-Off (Land)
Understanding Brazil: Giving Directions
Understanding Brazil: Driving
Understanding Brazil: Farra do Boi
Brazil: Catching Flu’
Around Brazil: Garopaba
Understanding Brazil: Funerals
Brazil: Bernie the Berne
Around Brazil: Journey to the Amazon Jungle
Around Brazil: Crazy Town Ceremonies
Around Brazil: Crazy Town
Around Brazil: Manaus
Around Brazil: Santarem & Alter do Chao
Around Brazil: Amazon Swarms and Amazon Storms
Understanding Brazil: Playing Pool
Around Brazil: Gurup
Around South America: Peninsula Valdes
Around South America: Patagonia
Around South America: Montevideo, Uruguay
Around Brazil: The Amazon
Around South America: Bariloche, Argentina
Understanding Gringoes: Drinking
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 2
The Great Brazilian Fruit-Off Part 1
Understanding Brazil: The Kids
Brazil v Argentina: Buying Beer
Understanding Brazil: Mosquitoes
Around Brazil: São Luis
Teaching English in Brazil
Around Brazil: Lenois Maranhenses
Understanding Brazil: The National Anthem
Around Brazil: Barreirinhas
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara to Barreirinhas
Understanding Brazil: Shopping Centres
Around Brazil: Jericoacoara
Around Brazil: Chapada da Diamantina/Lenois
Brazil vs. Argentina: Statues of Christ
Around Brazil: Salvador
Brazil vs. Argentina: The Buses
Around Brazil: Morro de São Paulo (& Itabuna)
Understanding Brazil: The Workmen
Around Brazil: Praa Pateo do Colegio
Around Brazil: Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Rio de Janeiro to Porto Seguro
Around Brazil: Cristo Redentor
Understanding Brazil: The Sellers
Around Brazil: Ilha de Gigoia
Brazil Journeys: São Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
Understanding Brazil: Dogs Part 2
Brazil: A Lie-In in Downtown São Paulo?
The Best Job in Brazil: Ankle Specialist?
Understanding Brazil: Dogs
Brazilian Places: Ilha do Santa Catarina (Floripa)
Classic Brazilian Journeys: South to Florianopolis
Understanding Brazil – The Shower
Brazil: Boats on the Amazon
Brazil: Understanding Novelas
Brazil: Bus fires in São Paulo – always a bad thing?