The kilometres-long arc of sand glitters under the rays of the late afternoon sun. The green-blue sea breaks in white sprays of surf, ridden times and times again by kids using themselves as surfboards. Men and women flock in peaceful joy to the foreshore, unconcerned of their physical appearance: youngsters with body modelled by football, capoeira and manual labour stand next to middle aged professionals with bulking pot bellies, whilst women of all ages and levels of fitness go for the same bikini model, the one seemingly made out of dental floss. Boys and girls of all ages and races are busy playing volley, football or hybrids of the two. Further inshore, guys in wetsuits stroll together, harpoons slung matter-of-factly from their shoulders: they definitely look the part of sport fishermen but whether they actually were out doing it – and got something – is a different matter.
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My parents learned very soon that taking me to the seaside was a big error: something in my genes recognises the idea of lying under the sun for hours, immobile but for the occasional turning, as something deeply against the laws of nature; as a result, I was pretty much incontrollable, up to the point of nearly drowning once.
Despite that, I still love going to the beach and to enjoy time there. And no other city I have been has as much of the white stuff (no, not that white stuff), and we such great quality, as Rio.
Over our permanence, we visited mainly three praias, as they are called locally – Vermelha, Copacabana and Ipanema – plus a brief interlude in the small, and almost deserted, Urca; what we saw was a city at ease with itself, a populace unafraid of peeling off clothes and enjoying the sun without the prudishness that afflicts many Europeans or, conversely, the need of showing off that affects many others. Everyone seemed to be carrying very little – perhaps it was a case, perhaps the hard-earned lessons from arrastoes, the mass robberies carried out by favela kids every now and then, but there weren’t any stereos blasting Pitbull, or families staging a full three-course meal on the sand. And thanks God for that.
I walked along the waterfronts, aware of my pale skin turning redder and redder by the minute, but savouring the many spectacles of beach life unfolding before my eyes: the groups of fathers clapping their sons’ achievements in riding the waves, the groups of footballers who were oddly all amassed into a single slot of Ipanema, the swimming classes of Vermelha, the oily joggers running up and down Copacabana hoping to be admired by the throngs of on looking girls. It might have been only a weekend in what passes for winter down here, it might have only been luck, but those days on the beach showed me a human, relaxed and at ease Rio de Janeiro. A place where friends would carefully wrap plastic cling flim over their mate’s plaster-cast leg and involve him in a game of football. A place where a six-lane road got reduced to three over weekends, leaving the other three for dogs and cyclists and roller skaters and pedestrian to roam free, and no motorist complained.