Tuesday, February 15, 2011

THE GIRL FROM IPANEMA: A story of beach, babe and booze

The Beach at Ipanema with Dois Irmaos Peak in the background

"The Girl from Ipanema" ("Garota de Ipanema") is a famous bossa nova song, a worldwide hit in the mid-1960s that won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965. It was written in 1962, with music by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Portuguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. English lyrics were written later by Norman Gimbel.

The first commercial recording was in 1962, by Pery Ribeiro. The version performed by Astrud Gilberto, along with João Gilberto and Stan Getz, from the 1964 album Getz/Gilberto, became an international hit, reaching number five in the United States pop chart, number 29 in the United Kingdom, and charting highly throughout the world.  

Ipanema is a seaside neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro. Most of the land that Ipanema consists of today once belonged to José Antonio Moreira Filho, Baron of Ipanema. The word "Ipanema" comes from the old Tupi language, meaning "bad water." In this case, it means bad for fishing, since the waves die too close to the sand, pushing fish away.

Farme beach in Ipanema
Surfers at Arpoador Point

The song was inspired by Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto (now Helô Pinheiro), a fifteen-year-old girl living on Montenegro Street in the fashionable Ipanema district in Rio de Janeiro. Every day she would stroll past the popular Veloso bar-café, not just to the beach ("each day when she walks to the sea"), but in the everyday course of her life. She would sometimes enter the bar to buy cigarettes for her mother and leave to the sound of wolf-whistles. In the winter of 1962 the composers watched the girl pass by the bar, Helô a beautiful brunette attracted the attention of many of the bar patrons. Since the song became popular, she has become a celebrity.

Heloisa Pinheiro

The original song lyrics, written in Portuguese, describe how a beautiful girl from Ipanema inspires the World around her. 

"Olha que coisa mais linda, Mais cheia de graça, É ela menina, Que vem que passa
Look at that beautiful thing, more full of grace, she is a girl, who is coming by

Num doce balanço, caminho do mar
in a sweet swing, towards the sea 

Moça do corpo dourado, Do sol de Ipanema, O seu balançado é mais que um poema
Girl with a golden tan, from the sun of Ipanema, your swing is more than a poem 

É a coisa mais linda que eu já vi passar
is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen go by 

Ah, porque estou tão sozinho, Ah, porque tudo é tão triste,
ah, why do I feel so alone, ah, why is everything so sad

Ah, a beleza que existe
ah, the beauty that exists 

A beleza que não é só minha, Que também passa sozinha
the beauty that is not only mine, who also goes alone

Ah, se ela soubesse, Que quando ela passa, O mundo sorrindo se enche de graça
Ah, if she only knew, when she passes by, the World smiles, fills with grace

E fica mais lindo, Por causa do amor"
and gets more beautiful because of love

Today's Girls in Ipanema
Ipanema and Arpoador Point in the background
The LGBT beach at Farme de Amoedo, a colorful area of Ipanema

The beach is divided into segments by marks known as "postos" (lifeguard towers). Beer is sold everywhere on the beach along with the traditional cachaça. There are always circles of people playing football, volleyball, and foot volley, a combination sport of volleyball and football originated in Brazil.

In the winter the surf can reach 9 feet. The water quality varies with days of light-blue water to a more murky green after heavy rains. Constant swells keep the water clean. The water is colder than you would expect since this is the tropics but when it is 40C (100F) no one really cares !

One of the more interesting area of the beach is situated near "posto 9" at Rua Farme de Amoedo, well-known for being a gay-friendly and easily identifiable with the rainbow flag flapping in the air. That's where one can see the Boys from Ipanema in action rather than the traditional Girl icon.  

A sea side cafe/bar served beer, fresh coconut water, caipirinhas and other Brazilian favorites.

Ipanema is adjacent to Copacabana beach, but is distinct from its neighbor. It is relatively easy to navigate because the streets are aligned in a grid. Private infrastructure has created world-class restaurants, shops, and cafes. Ipanema is one of the most expensive places to live in Rio. One of them, Garota de Ipanema, is the actual bar where the two writers of the famous song composed it. You can expect to stand in line to get the privilege of sitting at the very spot.

At the forefront of the beach culture are the many surfers and sun worshippers who socialize daily at the beach. Every Sunday, the roadway closest to the beach is closed to motor vehicles and local residents and tourists use the opportunity to ride bikes, roller skate, skateboard, and walk along the ocean.

Garota de Ipanema bar on Rua Prudente de Moraes. The first lyrics of the famous song are inscribed on a commemorative plaque on the wall above the bar.
A sunday morning on Rua Prudente de Moraes
Ipanema's Rua Prudente de Moraes
Sunrise over Ipanema

One of the classic examples of the formation of favelas in Rio Janeiro is the ajoinging favelas of Cantagalo, Pavao and Pavaozinho, in which the poorer population settled on the hills close to the fastest growing areas.

At the top is one of the best views in Rio, with Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and the beaches of Ipanema and Leblon. The social contrast is very evident in this part of the metropolis, where lower class residents live close to one of the richest neighborhoods in the city.

In spite of being located in an upscale area of Rio, it faces all the typical problems of needy communities. Residents suffer from the lack of infrastructure, and until a short while ago they had to submit to the rules of the Comando Vermelho (CV), the criminal group that controlled drug trafficking.

The complex formed by Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho holds a population of some 17 thousand people. A study of the Cantagalo favela showed that 94% of the residents had water and sewerage service and 86% had a telephone. The study also indicated that 80% of the residents were born in Rio.

The location allows its residents easy access to the Central Zone and its jobs. Young people from this community are generally better informed, as they are close to the city’s cultural centers. However, they are also close to known areas of prostitution, like some streets and discos in Copacabana.

Morro do Cantagalo with the favelas on the hillside
The Arpoador Point at the end of Ipanema

Dois Irmaos Peak at the end of Ipanema
The Cantagalo and Pavão-Pavãozinho complex has attracted social initiatives. At the top of the hill is a large building, called the Brizolão, where entities that try to promote improvements and educational projects for the residents of the community are located. In addition to government and UNESCO actions, there are projects by NGOs that were already established on the hillside, like the Criança Esperança Project and AfroReggae with its program “Dançando para não Dançar” (Dancing so you don’t Dance to the Wrong Music).

Athletes and artists promote social activities in the communities. Among these are the members of the Cirque du Soleil, documentary maker João Moreira Salles and ballerina Ana Botafogo. There is also an Integrated Public Education Center (CIEP). The school is the headquarters for classes and presentations on civic involvement, computers, circus, sewing, capoeira, dance and boxing. Alongside the professors, the police themselves help to administer the space.

Another initiative brought tourists to Cantagalo for New Year’s Eve 2007. The idea was a success, and for New Year’s Eve 2010, several tourists watched the fireworks from atop the residents’ houses, in Cantagalo. Community leaders are also developing the Favela Museum, with outdoor tourist routes that tell the community’s story and value local culture.

In July of 2010, a series of elevators was inaugurated at Morro do Cantagalo, connecting the hilltop community to the subway station of General Osório, in Ipanema. In addition to the elevators there is also a lookout, called Mirante da Paz (Peace Lookout). This construction contributes to a further integration between the community and the rest of the neighborhood and boasts a fabulous panoramic view from its 65 m high vantage point.

Come Explore Ipanema for yourself while vacationing in RIO !