Sometimes it’s not the music you hear but where you hear it. I heard Marcos Valle’s ‘80s boogie dance tune “Estrelar” while driving in rush-hour traffic through the San Fernando Valley. It didn’t really connect. Then I heard it while walking along the shoreline at Ipanema and it seemed to capture the spirit of Brazil.
3 pm on a Saturday, sun bright and blazing, bottle green water the same temperature as human blood, "Morro Dois Irmãos" (Two Brothers Hill—that iconic granite mountain that presides over this iconic beach) gleaming and majestic, the sugary sand a sea of red umbrellas and bodies in every shape and size, the rush and retreat of shorebreak tickling my toes.
A man in a Speedo and a woman in a dental-floss bikini whack a frescobol (Brazilian paddle ball) back and forth with ace dexterity, their dark muscles flexing, their hips gently swaying.
Four teenage boys kick a soccer ball in a circle. The ball bounces off heads, bellies, shoulders, heels, thighs, backs. I’m reminded of the Harlem Globetrotters. They play with “ginga,” a distinctly Brazilian style that is part capoeira, part samba, all tapping into the deepest recesses of our individual souls.
A man in Lawrence of Arabia robes sells kebabs. Another man carries a mobile bar on his back. Standing in knee-deep water and suddenly decide you want an icy cold caipirinha? He’ll whip one up and walk it out to you.
In the surf, a goofy foot catches a streaking head-high left, races along the trim line, punts a lateral air reverse of the Gabriel Medina genus. Rio is home to some of the wedgiest beach breaks in the world. A few miles south, in the A-frames of Barra da Tijuca, flocks of early teenagers sharpen their air games with dreams of world titles in their heads. Such a shame that there will be no WSL Championship Tour event in Rio this year.
A pixieish, freckle-faced girl squeals as a surge of water knocks her down like a bowling pin.
A heavily pierced and tattooed guy with a blue Mohawk dashes for the water, boogie board under arm.
A couple make out with a fervor that you rarely see in the US, and when you do, it’s only a matter of seconds before someone shouts the proverbial “Get a room!” Here in Rio, it’s perfectly okay to shut eyes, gnash tongues, and meld bodies in public. You see it in parks, at bars, in restaurants, and especially here at the beach. The couple lay in the sand a few yards from water’s edge. People walk around them, over them, the couple don’t care, they might as well be in the privacy of their own home. She wears a pink bikini. He wears…I can’t tell, her body pretty much covers his. There are four Skol beer cans next to their heads, and alongside them an old radio. It blares “Estrelar” in all its zooming and optimism-inducing and Brazilian spirit-capturing glory.
Have a listen and feel that Brazilian spirit for yourself - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTPaDbt_USA