Rainy Rio

By Rob Packer

British beachgoers look for holidays with “sun, sand and sea”; while Spanish speakers look for “sol, brisa y mar” (sun, breeze and sea). The reason for this should be clear enough for anyone who’s spent any part of the summer staring out over the yellow plains of Castile from Madrid desperately hoping for a breeze; or, on the other hand, to any unsuspecting visitor to Brighton expecting fun with a bucket and spade. I say this from experience: I was taken, unwarned, to Brighton when I was about five and have never forgiven the place for it.

I have no idea what the Portuguese rule of three for the beach is (if you do, please put it in the comments), but what do you do in a city famous for having sol, mar, breeze, sand and everything else, when it’s a rainy day in Rio? The tourist brochures might keep quiet about it, but Rio actually does have double the annual rainfall of somewhere like London. Thankfully this is quite often fast rain, rather than northern Europe’s leisurely drizzle, but cloudy days do come around with about the frequency of, oh, Brazilian public holidays: so much so, that they almost always coincide.

So what to do on a cloudy day in Rio? Some tell me that everyone goes to the mall (true); others that no one knows what to do, stick distraught heads under pillows and stay at home (no way to check); and the hardiest will still go to the beach (they do I’ve checked).

None of these options is really as good as going up into the mountains and seeing how beautiful they are under cloud.

This last weekend added another option: FLUPP, the Literary Festival of the UPPs—an offshoot of FLIP, the Paraty Literary Festival—that aimed to bring literature to Rio’s newly pacified comunidades. The views swept 270º from Corcovado to the airport in the north of the city, but the real action was inside the tents with writers and poets like Manuel Vilas (Spain), Patrícia Portela (Portugal), Kei Miller (Jamaica), Allan da Rosa and Ferreira Gullar (Brazil).


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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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.

Fire at Dusk

The Forecast Called for Rain

By Rob Packer

And this is probably the cloud to do it.

Spring in Germany

By Rob Packer

A chestnut candle.

The rhythm of the seasons is different everywhere and more used to more gradual changes in seasons, the continental shifts in Germany seemed shockingly drastic. After an Easter weekend spent in Munich, I remember my first day of cycling to work, turning left into a Schöneberg backstreet and stopping my bike. I’d taken a wrong turning. But had I? Where? I retraced the route in my mind: it seemed right. But the road looked nothing like what was here last week. The light was different: greener, viscous, darker. But no; the five-storey houses and the parked cars were the same. I carried on cycling and then realized. Spring had come to Berlin like an unexpected wave sprays you on the beach, and as suddenly as the electric storms that would clash without warning over the city in the summer to come.

Nearly ten years later, I stepped off a plane in Leipzig into an evening that smelled of honey. There might have been a whiff of kerosene in the bouquet, but suddenly time had concertinaed upon me. In two hours, I’d travelled forward in seasons from a blustery London airport to a balmy Leipzig spring; but also back in time to that post-Easter morning in Berlin and also back 17 years to my first—and only other—time in Leipzig. My timing was perfect to meet the seasons.

I’ll write more about Leipzig and Berlin soon, but here are some photos that I hope will convince you that Germany and spring really do go together—and not just in a song from The Producers.

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April Blues

By Rob Packer

The rain of the last few days let off to end in a clear spring evening and this revealed patches of bluebells and forget-me-nots, yet more signs of the modulations of colour that mark the changing seasons in Britain—although nothing on the magic of bluebell woods at this time of year.

I’m not sure whether these are English, Spanish or hybrid bluebells, though. Leave a comment if you know.

Floripa Sunset

By Rob Packer

In one of its tourist slogans, Florianópolis (Floripa for short) is La Ilha da Magia (The Island of Magic). After what feels like a whole week of rain and chilly nights, the magic has been wearing thin. Today, though, the sun came out and ended the day with a great sunset on the Beira-Mar, before heading home to battle exploding aubergines and rock-hard chickpeas to make baba ghanoush and hummus.

The best sunsets are supposed to be the ones where you can see the sun dipping behind the horizon. Even so, this was a good one as the sun ducks into a cloud over the Santa Catarina mainland.

Looking towards the mainland.

The view east to Agronômica.

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