Lost Samba – Chapter 01/01- Waking up in Copacabana
No one expects to meet Queen Elizabeth at school in Rio de Janeiro, but here is how the story went.
It was a cloudless November dawn in Copacabana. The city was already in that marvellous time of the year when it prepares for the summer. The first rays of sunshine began to lighten the line of trees bordering Rua Siqueira Campos waking up the street birds, their calls echoing between the buildings, welcoming the orange horizon far-off across the sea. Everything was very calm; down at the beach, waves slid forward and retreated in a soothing rhythm of lengthy splashes. Meanwhile, high up on the twelfth floor of one of the buildings facing that morning choreography, the haze created by the infusion of the sun’s heat and the salty water down below would have embraced my sister and I were it not for the air conditioning in our room. But instead, we were still comfortably tucked in bed, dreaming away.
The alarm clock rang out at six thirty sharp bursting the comforting bubble of sleep. Laziness tried to pretend nothing had happened, but Sarah – my sister, five years older than me – not only turned on her bedside lamp but also made a noise that was impossible to ignore to find her clothes. After this, she went off to take a shower almost ignoring me.
As soon as she opened the door, like an evil cloud in a cartoon film, hot air flooded into our room and the temperature under the blanket became unbearable. Fighting the blinding clarity and the horrible heat a disembodied lazy arm that did not seem to be mine stretched out to switch on the radio lying on the floor beside my bed, a Sharp transistor set, no bigger than a small chocolate-box, made of white plastic and with an aluminium grille covering its weak, tinny-sounding, loudspeaker.
I managed to turn the dial to Radio Globo and, still with my eyes half-open I was in synch with the city’s spirit. This was the favourite station amongst maids, porters and other ordinary people. The presenter, Haroldo de Andrade, had the voice of an opera singer and hosted a show with Roman Catholic and spiritualist overtones, broadcasting news, trivia and interviews with football, samba and soap opera stars. It was interactive, and listeners from all over the city called in to voice their opinions on the issues of the day. During the intervals, Haroldo played jingles and the latest hits, while the station’s astrologer, Alziro Zarur, read out his forecasts with mystical oriental backing music. I was the only one in the family who loved that programme – no one could understand how or why, but I did.
“That junk!” – as my sister referred to my favourite radio programme – was on when she came back from the bathroom wrapped in a towel. Irritated by my laziness, Sarah asserted her seniority by changing the station, switching off the air conditioner and opening the wooden shutters next to her bed. The strong light shattered my delicious morbidity, and it was hard to decide what was more annoying: not being the eldest, having her waking me up so brutally, or simply being obliged to get up so early. Anyway, the cruelty of Sarah’s energy, the hot, humid, air and the early blue sky sealed my fate. I had no choice but to take my turn and get ready for the important day ahead.
There was a pleasant hot breeze out on the veranda when I went out in my pyjamas to take a look at the beach. The day was glorious. We lived on the top floor and I loved to stand there, daydreaming high above the street amongst the plants, the canopies and the hammocks. I had grown up there and this was my playing ground, In the distance, there was the open Atlantic Ocean, while in the opposite direction, at the end of the street, was the Morro do Cantagalo (Singing Rooster Hill), covered with trees that almost hid the favela, or slum, clinging to its slopes.
Sarah stepped onto the veranda to remind me that I could not make myself late. She detailed my to-do list: I had to take a shower, brush my teeth, comb my hair, dress my school uniform impeccably, and put on uncomfortable polished shoes. All of this I hated with a passion.
The maid was already awake and preparing breakfast in the kitchen. Maria had a talkative and well-humoured nature and was always laughing at our gringo habits. She also liked Radio Globo but, in the early morning, in order to get things done in time, she listened to Radio Relógio, the clock station that told the time every second minute after monotonous adverts and useless information. “Did you know? The African rhinoceros has two horns; the bigger one is in front and the smaller one is behind. Did you know?… Beep, beep, beeeep…. Six o’clock, forty-two minutes, and zero seconds…. Beeeep.”
After completing the annoying morning tasks, I was ready to join the family under the canopy on the veranda. We all liked to have breakfast around the plastic folding table Mum always covered with an elegant tablecloth to camouflage its cheapness. In the presence of my Dad, Maria was always serious. When I arrived, there she was wearing her bright uniform that contrasted with her dark skin, being careful not to spill anything and putting on a stern face in order not to allow her playful side to show in front of the man of the house. Maria finished serving our Anglo-tropical breakfast of boiled eggs, hot milk, thick brown bread, porridge, jam, bananas, papaya, freshly squeezed orange juice, honey and butter.