I knew Herbert from before Uni, we had both studied at the Colegio Andrews and belonged to the same group of friends. In our freshmen’s class, as we started to meet new friends we ended up belonging to the same crowd again. When the group started to frequent each others’ house we discovered that, differently to everybody else, he lived alone with his older brother in Copacabana.
His address was close to the neighborhood’s main traffic artery, the ever congested Nossa Senhora de Copacabana Avenue. Although a bit uninviting at first his flat was very unusual; it had originally been the porters’ premises and was built like a house on top of its roof. As Copacabana’s construction laws stated twelve as the maximum floors a building could have, his “house”was inserted in a bizarre landscape of rooftops and tv antennae with vertiginous drops to the street down bellow. This madness was surrounded by untouched hills on one side and by the presence of the ocean on the other. During the day it was like being in the country; the serenity up there contrasted with what went on bellow. Far away “ neighbors” carried on with their lives: we could see women putting clothes to dry, guys looking after their bird cages and children playing football and flying kites. At night it was as if we were the only ones in a deserted village free from the city down below.
It didn’t take long for the mixture of that unusual setting and the absence of intruding parents to transform that magic spot into the “gang’s” meeting point. After class, nothing serious to do? where should we go? Herbert’s house. In a night with no parties, where should we go? Herbert’s house. The party is no good? Let’s phone Herbert to see if he is in. Had a row with the girlfriend? where to go? what to do? phone Herbert… You get the picture.
As Cannabis became more popular, the fact that the house was on the last floor and that the illegal and strong smoke went up unnoticed by unwelcome noses made it even more popular. This was a time when Rio’s South Zone’s youth was discovering Bob Marley, and that fell down like a glove on a frozen hand. It was our ritual to go to the “house in the sky”, put on Reggae as loud as possible and stay admiring the surrealism of that place.
On one special afternoon I visited Herbert for our usual Marley session. While feeling the cannabical “enzimes” acting numbing our thoughts, we had a revelation and noticed the Cantagalo hill in a way that it had never been seen before. It looked like a Chimpanzee’s face!!! (see the picture above). We had a Cheech and Chong epiphany that has lasted until the current days. From then on his house became called the “Chimpa”. It became a code we used in every second phrase, “Let’s meet at the Chimpa”, “You won’t believe what happened at the Chimpa last night!” “This new Bob Marley song! So good… we have to hear it at the Chimpa.”
After so many years, with all our friends having all sorts of successful careers, some living abroad, we still hail Copacabana’s sleeping giant Chimpanzee.