Monday, 7 January 2013

Around Brazil – Porcaria de Janeiro

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 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 there 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 Lands 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.


Anonymous said...

Yes it seems Rio has the same problem as Sao Paulo and probably the rest of the country. most Brazilians just don't give a shit about anyone else and treat their country like a rubbish tip. You ask a Brazilian about their country and they are proud, patriotic and love their country but go on to treat it like a dump, this way is a disgrace.! it's not that at all. I believe that word is just a cop out. The people who are educated driving their R$100,000 cars who do know better are at times the worst offenders. With their silver spoons and bums wiped for them, they lived like princes do in england with their maids and have the mentality that they can just pay for someone to pick up after them. There is only one thing that will fix the pproble and one thing that will fix the majority of Brasil's problems. MULTA ..not just a sign that says you will be fined but people actively being fined. BEing fined big money and if it's not paid JAIL. The states could actively employ thousands of Brasilians to actually enforce the laws and generate valuable revenue that could be used to improve the conditions for the poopest of their citizens. But i guess this is not a priority. Drunk drivers and those talking on phones while driving constantly kill or injure others ...who cares ..It's more important to place hundreds of people on the roads booking motorists for driving outside of rodizio times. With this mentality Brazil will continue to be the wild west and if you plan a visit, learn to look the other way as it isn't near, or going to be in our lifetime, anywhere near a first world country.

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Svobodnik said...

I first arrived in Brazil on New Year's Day - 1980. I remember walking excitedly down to Copacabana beach and finding mysterious bits of flowers along the shore. What I found out later is that they make rafts of flowers for an offering to the sea goddess Iemanjá.

In light of your article what is surprising is that I didn't see great amounts of likely garbage on that New Year's Day. Had the cleaning crews already meticulously sifted the sand? I remember seeing the cleaning men throughout the year working Copacabana on a regular basis.