This fond reminisce of life as it was in 1930's & '40's Rio was written by Johan Domenie, Class of '47

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Some of us were born in Brazil. Some in Rio de Janeiro - yes, we may even
have shared the same crib at the British Strangers' Hospital. Some were
second or third generation "Brasileiros"! Others were born in Argentina,
Ecuador, New York, Pennsylvania or Texas and migrated to Rio in the 30's,or 40's. We came from a great range of nationalities: American, Brazilian, British,
Canadian, Danish, Dutch, Ecuadorian, French, Portuguese, etc. Some were
fluent in English, others stumbled over their first English words as they
entered the school. The British! American system of weights and measures
created problems for those brought up in the Metric system. Our parents
came from all walks of life. Yet, rather than being an impediment to learning and creating new bonds of friendship, we found that the variety of our backgrounds forced us to understand and help each other. What do we know, and what do we remember about growing up in Brazil? What brought us all together? How was life in Brazil in the 30's and 40's?
It is possible that as far back as 32,000 years ago humans settled in Northern
Brazil. It is likely that Vicente Pinzon, a Spaniard, touched the Northern
Coast of what is Brazil today in 1500. We were taught that Brazil was
discovered by Pedro Alvarez Cabral in 1500 and claimed all the land for
Portugal under the terms of the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494). About
1,000,000,native Indians, mostly Tupi, Guarani, Carib, Arawak and Ge lived
in Brazil when the first Portuguese explorers arrived early in the 16th Century.
Today less than 200,000 survive.
The first permanent Portuguese settlement was formed in 1532, and in 1538
the first of 5,000,000 slaves arrived in Brazil mostly for the cultivation and
production of sugarcane. At about the same time the Portuguese Crown
granted 12 individuals feudal powers over large blocks of land called
"capitanias". The interior of the country was explored by the "bandeirantes" -
the flag bearers. Soon gold and diamonds were discovered in Minas Gerais
and the race for the development of the interior started. This was brought to
completion with the construction of many highways into the hinterlands in
the 1960's which coincided with the move of the Capital from Rio de Janeiro
to Brasilia. In 1807-1808, during the Napoleonic Wars, Dom Joao VI of Portugal
brought his court to Brazil to seek refuge from the French Armies,
transferring the Capital of Portugal to Rio de Janeiro. When a revolution
within Portugal threatened to dethrone the king he returned to Lisbon, leaving
his son, Dom Pedro in charge of Brazil. In 1822 Dom Pedro was ordered to
return to Portugal by his father. The message was received by Dom Pedro on
the banks of the Rio Ipiranga and his famous response was: "Diga que eu
fico". As a result Brazil declared its independence from Portugal in 1822 and
Dom Pedro I became Brazil's first Emperor. He abdicated in favor of his son
Dom Pedro II in 1831. During Dom Pedro II reign Brazil enjoyed great economic prosperity and expanded its territory to the South and West (The Paraguayan Wars 1864-1870). Even so pro-republican sentiment was rising. Slavery was abolished in 1888, and the next year the Army overthrew the Emperor. In 1894 the first civilian President was elected: Prudente de Moraes (now we know after
whom the main street in Ipanema is named!). Coffee and rubber were the
mainstay of Brazil's economy and actors such as Sarah Bernhart and Enrico
Caruso performed at the opera house in Manaus.
Political unrest led to a 1930 revolt led by Getulio Vargas, and most of us
will remember that in the mid or late 30's we had some unscheduled school
closings due to mini counter-revolutions. (Whereas the Paulistas and
Mineiros were always involved in these events the Cariocas preferred to take
the opportunity for an extra day at the beach!). Getulio was overthrown in
1945 but was re-elected in 1950, only to commit suicide when the Army
demanded his resignation in 1954.
Brazil's name is derived from the Portuguese word for the reddish color of
"brazilwood" an important export during the 16th Century. Brazil today is the
fifth largest country in the world in terms of area, and who among us would
ever have guessed in 1947, that by now Brazil's exports no longer relied on
coffee or rubber. Instead it has become a major industrialized nation with the
production of steel, oil and aluminum; factories producing automobiles,
refrigerators, weapons systems, aerospace, shipping and computers; exporter
of processed foods, clothing, medical supplies, and drugs.
At the time we were in grade school, Rio de Janeiro probably had a
population of 1,000,000 inhabitants and the country 60,000,000. Today the
figures are 6,000,000 and 180,000,000 respectively.
So, I repeat: "What was life like for us growing up in Rio de Janeiro in the
30's and 40's?"
In the early thirties Copacabana was dominated by the Hotel Copacabana at
one end and a few high rises near Posto 6. By the mid 40's you could count
the number of private houses remaining along the beachfront on your two
hands. There were no high rises in Ipanema in the 30's. We have a picture
taken in 1929 of our home on the corner of the Prudente de Moraes and
Maria Quiteria in Ipanema showing that neither street was yet paved!
Life was simple and many trades' people hawked their wares walking down
the streets. Most of these men were Portuguese who lived on "the other side
of town" and came to the Zona Sul (as Copacabana, Ipanema and Leblon
became known) via a "Second Class" streetcar. Rio - at that time - had an
excellent public transportation system centered on streetcars run by the
British "Light and Power Company", which also ran the slow, but clean and
punctual, gray diesel buses. The regular streetcars were painted green, but for
those people who needed to transport goods, food, furniture, large packages
or other merchandise the company operated special streetcars painted brown
which also pulled open flat cars on which such goods could be loaded.
"Second Class" was a very effective and convenient form to transport
merchandise within the city. The original streetcars had been financed through the issue of "bonds" - and, typically, the Cariocas promptly nicknamed the new form of conveyance "Bondes" - I never heard anyone refer to them as anything but that. In addition the streetcars were open on both sides and had transverse seating the full width of the car. These seats could be flipped over when the streetcar reached the end of the line so that the seats would face forward again. To get on and off the bonde it had two full length "running boards" which were also used when the streetcars became too full: male passengers would stand on the running boards holding on to special uprights. In addition the conductor
would use the running boards to move forward and backwards to collect
fares. This would become a real monkey business in the rush hours when the
running boards already held four layers of hangers on. When the streetcar
approached another streetcar coming from the other direction, or when it had
to pass a stopped truck, the motorman rang his bell alerting everyone to
squeeze in or risk being swept off the streetcar. In later years, in order to
prevent accidents the streetcars were closed off with wire mesh on the
left side. The Cariocas promptly named these new streetcars "gaiolas"!
Another aspect of getting off the streetcar deserves special mention. The trick
was always to get off as close to ones destination as possible and not wait
until the streetcar came to a halt at its designated stop. This was especially
important if you and fifty other passengers were trying to be first in line for
the movie house. This involved jumping off the running boards while the
streetcar was still in motion. Cariocas made this a real art by landing
But, back to the trades' people in the mid-thirties; during a typical week we
might have the following trades men passing by our house offering their
wares or services:

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