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Saturday, January 17, 2009

Goodbye, Rio. Hello, Sao Paulo!

By Pia Catton...

Between the coxinha (chicken croquettes) and fresh acai (the anti-oxidant super fruit), Rio isn't a bad place to nurse a hangover. The beach, however, is. So off I headed to the leafy, bohemian neighborhood of Santa Teresa. Though I was informed repeatedly that I faced certain mugging, I felt safe in knowing I was meeting a local, a friend of a friend of a friend who lives in the area—nothing like three degrees of separation. Nothing bad happened.

Santa Teresa, once a haven for aristocrats, has crumbling buildings, decorative wrought iron and cobblestone streets that give it a French Quarter feel. We popped into the museum dedicated to Raimundo Otoni Castro Maya, an art collector who built a modernist house overlooking the city. The best of the art was neither the minor Picasso nor the Modigliani, but the 500 scenes (displayed in drawers) of early 19th-century Rio de Janeiro painted by the Frenchman Jean Baptiste de Debret. The lithographs served as snapshots of the New World for the folks back in Paris. And judging from these images, Rio has always been as bustling, fast and exotic as it is today.

Jean Baptiste de Debret

After a restorative lunch of feijoada, the traditional Brazilian black-bean stew, I headed back to the tents of Fashion Rio, where I learned two things: I had to depart at 5 am for my 8 am flight to Sao Paulo and "You can't leave Rio without going out to samba!" As it's impossible to argue with a Carioca celebrating her birthday at a samba club, a merry crew was duly rounded up. We made our way to a rustic club, Antiqua Sappore, in the neighborhood of Lapa, where the drinks are about $3 and the samba band keeps going all night. I had a full body sweat going all night, too, but I did make my flight.

Within hours I landed in Sao Paulo, had a quick nap at the hotel and feasted on another round of feijoada. This one was along the Praca Benedito Calixto, a park with a fantastic flea market on Saturdays. Prices are low, and the variety is enticing. Handmade scarves and jewelry range from 5 to 25 Real, but the remnants of technologies past—brightly colored telephones, a purple refrigerator and what must have been the first television in South America—are the more amusing attractions. Silver, too, was in large supply. So if you need that extra place setting, hop on a flight to Sao Paulo. As for fashion, stay tuned. First, another nap.

Flea market

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