Boats in Botafogo Bay

By Rob Packer

Yachts in Botafogo Bay at sunset.

Can Money Buy Style?

By Rob Packer

As part of the off-and-on blog series of  “tourist knick-knacks that are funny until you look at the price tag” (see this silver gorilla on a surfboard in Mexico), here are some tropical birds in semi-precious stones that Brazilian kitschmeisters Amsterdam Sauer keep in their shop at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

While the workmanship is evidently impressive, the results show—as with so much in life—that less really is more. A pink bald eagle touching down on an outcrop of quartz (or whatever it may be) might be a bold visual statement, but as far as I’m concerned it  sits somewhere on the line between bathetic and downright hilarious. Well, actually mostly hilarious and I couldn’t help wondering if the strategy behind the shop’s location is that the beautiful view numbs your credit card hand and makes you start thinking about clearing out that space on the mantelpiece for a colourful new addition.

What do you think?


Here is a coast; here is a harbor;
here, after a meager diet of horizon, is some scenery:
impractically shaped and—who knows?—self-pitying mountains,
sad and harsh beneath their frivolous greenery,

from ‘Arrival at Santos’, Elizabeth Bishop

Photos from two trips to Sugarloaf Mountain this year. The best thing about a visit up the Pão de Açúcar—apart from the view obviously—is the little piece of forest that hovers at the top of the mountain nearly 400m above Guanabara Bay: it feels like spending an afternoon on Laputa from Gulliver’s Travels. Only without anyone trying to extract sunlight from cucumbers.

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Urca Window

By Rob Packer

A window in Urca, the bairro of the city just under Sugar Loaf Mountain.


By Rob Packer

In most of the languages I know, you describe the process of working out where you are on the map or in relation to your surroundings with a variant on orientation: Orientierung in German, orientación in Spanish, ориентация (orientatsia) in Russian and so on and so forth. The word comes from oriens, the Latin word for east, and creates an image in my mind of people lost in a forest or on the steppe bumping about in the dark until the sun rises and the riddle is solved. According to Wikipedia, the actual origin of the word is has an even more metaphysical feel to it, coming from the mediaeval tradition of putting east at the top of the map and Jerusalem at its centre, such as in the Hereford Mappa Mundi. The tradition of setting churches (and Roman temples) on an east-west axis could be an alternative.

The exception is Portuguese, where the word I’ve most commonly seen is nortear, taking its directions as most modern maps do today. This isn’t to say that orientar doesn’t exist in Portuguese (it does) and by the same token, nortear does in Spanish, although I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it used. So why the difference?

I like to think of it as a holdover of the language’s own history embedded within its DNA: according to the Real Academia Española of Spain, the Spanish nortear is mainly used at sea, where mariners have to navigate on the earth’s fixed axis. And the word has its origins in norte, a Germanic word, which (and this is pure speculation) makes me think of it as a word that sprung up from people communicating with each other in the vernacular, which probably dates it later—a more learned Latinate equivalent would be something like boreate or septentrionate. But in Portuguese, you could nortear your way around Rio de Janeiro just as easily as you could mathematics. It may or may not be the case, but I like to imagine the word echoing down from the pre-longitude Age of Discoveries, Vasco da Gama, Henry the Navigator and all the others, whose astrolabes would have orientated them in terms of their latitude, but would not have told them how far east or west they were.

Stop in SoHo

By Rob Packer

Rui Barbosa’s Garden

By Rob Packer

Photos taken on a rainy afternoon in the Rui Barbosa House-Museum in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro.

Division to the Bridge

By Rob Packer

A Life-Time First

By Rob Packer

The first time I came to Brazil was only two years ago, but in all that time I’ve never been to one of the country’s true passions: futebol. Until tonight, that is.

We went to Fluminense, one of the Rio teams, against Ponte Preta from Campinas. The experience was—in a word—mind-blowing.

Here are some photos:

Under the Fluminense flag.

Dressed for the match.

The crowd begins its celebrations as Fluminense goes from 1-0 behind to win 2-1

Yellow in Queens

By Rob Packer

I was in Astoria, Queens yesterday checking out the Noguchi Museum and the Greek restaurants. Both were incredible, but just as understatedly beautiful was this corner of Queens in yellows, orange and blues. Maybe it was the pastel shades or Mexican panadería down the road: there was something about it that reminded me of the D.F.

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