April 19th, 2015



As far as I was concerned, Ipanema beach was known for only two things: Tom Jobim's 'girl' and the Sunday 'hippie market'. It was Sunday. We were going to the market. We walked south along Copacabana to the fort that sits on the promontory. We could have paid to see the museum at the fort but we still would have had to leave the beach to get to Ipanema. Indeed, the first beach south of Copacabana is the tiny surfing bay of Arpoador and Ipanema only starts at the point that the street rejoins the beach. And there, at the start of Ipanema beach, stands a lifesize painted brass statue of Tom Jobim with his guitar over his shoulder and all the paint rubbed from his shoulder by posing tourists. Before coming to Rio I had imagined Stan Getz's lyrics to be simply a translation of Vinicius de Moraes' original Portugese lyrics but I learned that Norman Gimbel had written the English version as something much freer. The Portugese original says nothing of her height or the samba. Instead of being 'tall and tan and young', the girl has a sweet swing of the sea with a golden girl body from Ipanema sun. Both lyrics are quite brilliant but they are very different.

So, the lyrics of the famous song were not as I thought. And nor was the market. Instead of being on or by the beach it is in a square beneath trees beside a metro station a block back from the front. Again, this does not diminish it; it changes it. Before going to browse the stalls we drank chilled water outside a little cafe bar at the corner of the square watching buses and pedestrians pass. Amazônia Soul specialises in açaí na tigela (the sweetened cold slushy pulp of the fruit of the Amazonian açaí palm) but there was no way that I was going to propose that we ate more sugar.

The market stalls sold well-made clothes, leather goods, jewellery, furniture, and other crafts amid the aroma of fresh-cooked spicy street foods. A few stands sold traditional musical instruments and in the centre of the square a band played enthusiastically as a gleeful dancer capered between them with amazing energy in the heat. Around the band were the displays of many local artists. The paintings tended to be bright and stylised; they ranged from the competent to the masterly and with prices seeming to range between £10 and £100 they were good value.

On our way back to Copacabana, we tried to find a way through without using the road. We climbed the rocky mound of Arpoador to see the impassable military perimeter fence of the fort. Perhaps, we thought, there is a way through Parque Garota de Ipanema (Girl from Ipanema Park). There is not. Beside some steps we found a lovely low cave with its roof decorated with golden stars. At the top of the steps was a view point and two graffiti-decorated concrete skateboard bowls. Steps led downward on the far side but these only took us back to Arpoador beach. Back in the park we passed a small playground as we found our way to the northern exit. We were still just east of the fort. All our walking and climbing had done no more than save us the short walk around the Arpoador Hotel.

Back in the apartment I collapsed in a sweaty heap and snored over the hum of the air-conditioning. Refreshed, I helped W as we packed our bags, distributing our belongings more for fit than access because they would not be needed again until we got home.

On our wanders we had spotted a sushi restaurant near the apartment just off Avenida Atlantica on rua Bolivar. It was crowded when we arrived but there was a table for two by the window and a varied menu had us engrossed. I could not persuade W of the merits of octopus but there were plenty of set selections that avoided this contentious delicacy. When we placed our order, the waiter persuaded us to try salmon meiji as a starter. It was a winner: six small warm salmon rolls stuffed with cream cheese and shimeji mushrooms marinated in an Indian spiced sauce. We then shared the 46-piece 'Combinado Lapamaki' selection. The quality was not as high as at Umê Sushi but it was better than much English sushi. And it went down well with a bucket of five bottles of Bohemia, the local lager that claims to be the oldest beer brand in Brazil. Five bottles between us; not five for me.