08 February 2007

Synchronicity On The Beach

photo from NYT, 6th Feb '07

As I was eating my tofu burrito yesterday, I was casually skimming the previous day's newspaper and came across a story on Brazil's beaches. I had been drafting an essay for my new zine, with the principle thesis being that The Beach is the ultimate arena of liberation. A place free from much of the constraints of modern life, where one can re-connect with nature and everyone can be equal in speedos. As I mentioned in the previous post, Terry Gilliam was inspired to pen Brazil, after witnessing an old man seeking escapism on a Welsh beach by tuning into some Brazilian music on the radio, as an industrial nightmare, lit up his rear. Brazil is, if nothing, about the quest for liberation from the tedium of working deep inside a uninspiring bureaucratic machine, the rigid authoritarian structure of society and class inequality.

Reading the NYT story, I was at first encouraged by quotes such as 'Brazilians like to say that the beach is their country's most democratic open space.' I though to myself, that this story was a sign of synchronicity and that it justified my plan to write about the beach in this manner. But then the article went on to suggest that 'some beaches are more equal than others.'
Perhaps, the old man on the Welsh beach should have been tuning into a different station, as apparently, the class and societal divisions of Brazilian society are just as rife on the beach.

From Tuesday's (6th Feb 2007) New York Times:
Drawing Lines Across the Sand, Between Classes

Brazilians like to say that the beach is their country’s “most democratic space.” But some bodies — and some beaches — are more equal than others.

In the Brazilian imagination, the beach has traditionally been regarded as the great leveler, “the place where the general, the teacher, the politician, the millionaire and the poor student” were all equal, said Roberto da Matta, an anthropologist and newspaper columnist who is a leading social commentator. “Their bodies were all made equally humble,” he said, by the near-naked proximity of “one body with others, all of them without defense or disguise.”

But here in Brazil’s postcard city, where the summer vacation season is in full swing, the hierarchy, in which both class and skin color play a part, is clear to all. The beaches facing the ocean in elite neighborhoods on the south side and those who frequent them rank higher than those on the north side, fronting the polluted Guanabara Bay.

In Rio, 59 beaches spread out along 110 miles of sand. Even the city’s most elite beaches, Ipanema and Copacabana, and their lesser-known extensions, Leblon and Leme, are informally subdivided into sectors, demarcated by a dozen lifeguard stations called postos, each about a half-mile from the next. Each posto, numbered 1 to 12, has a culture of its own, appeals to a different “tribe” and can be inhospitable to interlopers.

Brazil has nearly 5,000 miles of tropical coastline, and “by law, the beach is always public property and never private,” said PatrĂ­cia Farias, author of “Grabbing Some Color at the Beach,” a study of race relations on Rio’s beaches. “The discourse is always one of, ‘We all live together democratically,’ but the second, unspoken part of that is ‘but it has to be by my rules.’ ”

-Read the whole story here.