I have just come back from Rio de Janeiro and took these pictures. I hope you like them!
The next sign that we were on a wrong path was more tragic. On Christmas eve, Kadu was celebrating with his mother and his son when went to the bathroom for an extra-long line. As the powder hit his circulatory system his heart did not resist the artificial over-stimulation, which resulted in a cardiac arrest that killed him on the spot bringing tragedy to his family, spoiling the Hotel’s festivities and making everyone think twice about what they were doing.
Not long after that, the negative wave hit me again, but this time in full. I was about to deliver the precision scale that had been in my room for weeks back to its owner. Because I was late for a class at the university I had to take a taxi. On the way there we came across a police “blitz”, where a policeman stopped us and asked me to get out of the car. I left the scale in its bag inside but he told me to get it out and open the bag. As soon has he saw what was inside he asked for my I.D. card and called his colleagues. After I was surrounder by four or five of them, I showed my documentation as well as my university card.
“Why are you carrying a precision scale?” asked one of them.
“I use it for my studies, officer; I am a student at the Federal University.”
“Let me see that, student card again” He examined it “Hmmm.. what do you need a precision balance for if you are studying economics?”
The policemen stepped away and talked for a while until the first one came back to me. “Where do live?”
The next thing I knew, I was in a police car surrounded by cops with other four police cars following behind us, heading to the Hotel. When we got there it was a sunny and, as this was on a weekday around lunch time, most of the other tenants had gone out. I was in the captain’s vehicle, and when we stepped out I could see that he liked the place, and while he tidied his clothes, his body posture expressed the satisfaction of having caught a good kill.
“Nice place to live at, rich boy! Let’s go into your room and see what you have there.”
The policemen stormed into the hotel unceremoniously; they didn’t say anything at the reception and we went straight up the stairs and into to my room. With nine cops inside the space where I lived, slept and did my things I was very worried about how that day was going to end. Although they only had a scale as evidence, they could invent anything they wanted and it would be my word against theirs. Ever hear of planting evidence?
As one would expect, they began a game of good cop versus bad cop, one of them telling me that the captain was a cool guy who only needed some “collaboration” to let me go, and his nodding back saying that I could get five years.
“You know what they do to young rich boys like you in prison, don’t you?”
The captain and a few other officers sat on my bed while others searched the room. Soon my “friend” a big black cop, who almost got me believing he was nice and that I could trust him, came out of the bathroom with a vase in his hand. He looked very happy and started to rub his butt on to a colleague’s crotch and said.
“OK, have fun with this black hole!”
I was even more confused about his reaction but he showed me the vase I realized that they had found the weed seeding that I was planting outside the bathroom.
He gave me a wide smiled and said, “I promised him that the day we found one of these he could do whatever he wanted with my backside!”
The others laughed. Now that they found had hard evidence and didn’t need to resort to planting some, I was a lame duck. They reconvened and after a few minutes the “good” cop called me to the side and said.
“Look the captain told me that he will let you go if you pay the team five thousand cruzados (about a thousand US dollars).” He looked at me in a patronizing way, lifted his shoulders and continued. “There is nothing I can do; he is the Captain.”
I didn’t have that kind of money on me but I knew that a neighbor, a rich guy from the south of Brazil did. They let me go to his bedroom accompanied by the “nice” cop and when I knocked he opened the door and I was relieved that he was there. With an officer standing next to me and four police cars in the Parking lot, it didn’t take much for him to guess what that was about. After telling him how much I needed and guaranteeing that I’d be able to pay him when I received my salary, he was superb, accepted my word and handed a check without hesitation.
With the bribe in hand, we went back to my room and after the Captain examined the check, the cops left telling me to be careful with drugs as they were bad for my health. It took some time form to hear their cars leaving the hote. I just sat there completely dumbfounded. Relieved for not going to jail but gutted by what had just happened, a knock on the door took me out of my state of shock. It was the manager telling me that Olavo, the owner of the hotel, wanted to talk to me. I knew him well enough to say hi every time I saw him, but we had never stopped to have a conversation. He was in his early sixties and had the air of a playboy, legend said that he had lost, and was continuing to loose, all his money in gambling. He was sitting on a comfortable leather chair behind a classical office table in his office, the only air-conditioned room in the hotel. He invited me to sit down, asked the manager to leave the room and began to talk. He was not angry, but he was firm.
“So your name is Richard, right?”
I reclined in my chair, weighing the shit I was in and replied. “Yes, I live in the room next to the staircase on the third floor.”
“I know, you have been living here for a year and a half already, it’s all here in the papers.” He gave a deep sigh and the pleasantries were over. “Well… As you know, the police were here in the hotel. While most of them were in your room three of them came in here to talk to me about you.”
“Oh… I am sorry about that!”
“No… No need to be sorry, it is what it is, luckily you are still free.” He leaned forward and put his elbows on the table. “The fact is that they threatened to close down the hotel because I was harboring a drugs dealer.”
“Look, I know that you are not a drugs dealer and that they were after your money. You are just a good kid hanging out with the wrong people. The reality is that the officers who were here asked for nine thousand cruzados to keep their mouths shut and keep the hotel’s reputation. Now that is a lot of money.” I was going to say something but he cut me short. “I won’t ask you to pay me back this money, although if I called in a lawyer I could, the only thing I am going to ask you to do is to leave my establishment by the end of today.”
There was no argument against his request.
Rosa and I had to move that same night to Tania’s, who was living in the worst address of Copacabana, the infamous Galeria Alaska, but his is another story.
My saga became famous; from all the crazies who had ever lived there, I had been the only person to be expelled from the Hotel Santa Teresa. An accomplishment that will never be repeated as the hotel was bought later on by a French group and is currently one of the most exclusive and best ones in Rio, where rock stars such as Amy Winehouse and other big shots stay when they go to Rio.
If you don’t believe it visit their site: http://www.santa-teresa-hotel.com/
After a year, the hotel became a mixture of home, club and circus; we enjoyed that neighborhood as if we were in a village and only left Santa Teresa for work or for special occasions. Whenever we could. and the weather permitting, we’d hang around appreciating the view, chatting and making music. Meanwhile, as in any human gathering, groups began to form and, perhaps because of our financial limitations, Rosa and I stayed stuck with the bohemian one but continued to have good relations with everyone else. On meal times, all factions came together and greeted each other in the lobby, where the old folk played cards, the divorcees showed off their latest girlfriends and Rico, a pianist/actor played tunes on the hotel’s old piano.
These were the mid-eighties, and cocaine consumption was rampant. When Luis Melodia’s producer, Sergio, came to live in one of the better rooms the partying became heavier. The girls who served us in the dining room lived in the Morro dos Prazeres favela so the supply of the white stuff was never a problem. It didn’t take long for our noses to be constantly running while we locked ourselves together in each other’s rooms, talking like crazy before going out to town to party. Rosa and I were the youngest of the group and it was great to hang out with our new well-connected and more experienced friends. Because I was very skinny and somewhat green, there were many attempts to snatch her from me, but as far as I know, no one ever succeeded.
A few months down the line, a heavy surfer type called Kadu moved in and it did not take long for him to join the gang. He had split up with his girlfriend and for some reason he shared his room with his mum and his young son. He was two years older than me, 27, and his brother was a proper drug dealer who constantly went to New York on “business”. As we had similar backgrounds; both of us were exiles from Ipanema. Soon we became mates and the friendship was blessed by his mum, an upper class lady who felt comfortable to tell me how horrified she was with the level of the people in that hotel. With him, my consumption became serious and as money started to become an issue, strange ideas about buying and selling the white powder began to cross my mind.
Meanwhile, at college a colleague came up with a “business” deal he was trying to set up with an American who wanted to buy a large quantity of blow to take back to the U.S. In my naivety, I thought this was a good opportunity to make some extra cash and asked around in the Hotel if anyone had a contact who could get me 250 grammes of cocaine, a respectable amount. Petit, a famous illustrator from Sao Paulo whose leg had also been affected by polio, lived with his straight girlfriend in one of the good rooms. He was one of the most popular characters in the hotels who despite his handy cap was always in a good mood and drunk. He put me in contact with Gamba, a toothless black guy from the Sao Carlos favela with Mike Tyson’s build but taller. We met in the car park one night; I gave him a thousand hundred US dollars and he said he’d be back with the stuff in two days.
The goods took much longer to arrive than he had promise and my friend at university and I began to get nervous. We put pressure on Petit but he did not know where nor how to find, Gamba. When the stuff finally arrived, we got a precision scale to weigh it and there was only about half of what we had ordered, one hundred and fifty grammes. We made a desperate attempt to find him, but that night there was a raid and the streets around the hotel were alive with police cars and with officers stopping everyone who dared to pass by. We did mage to circulate, knocked on a few doors but as soon as we mentioned the name Gamba, they turned away or closed their doors in fear.
There was no other option other than mixing the stuff with something else. The next day we bought vitamin C pills and boric acid and added them to the content. As we sat there like junky scientists doing our thing, it was hard to convince the rest of the guys not to dive into the pure stuff and I almost got into a fight with Kadu to make sure this didn’t happen. Anyway, we refrained from consuming our merchandise and managed to get the mixture convincing and ready. In the end because the coke wasn’t as good as our customer expected we had to give the American a huge discount and barely broke even. Our plans to commemorate our debut as dealers were reduced to finishing up the small portion we had kept for ourselves.
Signs from heaven began to appear saying that we were doing the wrong thing.
The first one was a car accident. I was about to graduate in Economics at the UFRJ and to do so I needed to complete obligatory the university’s Physical Education program. I had left this problem in the back burner because of my heavy life style that involved living at the Hotel Santa Teresa tenant, being an English teacher, a college student and guitarist in a rock and roll band all at the same time. As the graduation date approached this issue became serious because if I did not get the credits, I simply would not graduate. A chance came up; they organized a hike to the Pico da Tijuca, the highest point in the Tijuca forest and whoever went on it would get the grade and pass. This was just what I needed, but there was a problem: Getting there. The closest bus stop was a one-hour walk away and without a car I would have no means of meeting the group at the assembly point at the beginning of the trail which was located deep in the forest.
Maria do Carmo, a quiet journalist and psychologist who lived in the hotel was volunteered to lend me her beetle for that morning. I was very grateful for her being kind enough to save my academic life despite not knowing me very well. Not only on from the academic point of view was the outing good news; this was going to be an amazing trek through Rio’s dense forest on a sunny day, a healthy break from all that craziness. I arrived there in her blue beetle at seven-thirty am and by ten we were already had already reached the peak. The air was clear, the sky was cloudless, the weather was perfect and the view was magnificent and up there everyone was ecstatic for seeing Rio de Janeiro in all its glory. We all came back in a great mood and I was looking forward for lunch and an afternoon by the hotel’s pool.
Santa Teresa a half an hour drive away through the forest. After signing the teacher’s roll call, as soon as I got back into the car I took out a joint and put Bob Marley on the cassette player and drove through the narrow roads. As I was about to arrive at the place where tourists go up to the Christ Statue, I went round a curve while a coach was coming in the opposite direction. It was an awkward moment because the road was very narrow and I had to squeeze between the tour bus on my left and the rock wall on my right. While we were crossing each other, it felt like driving in a narrow corridor. At that moment, a car overtook the bus and we had a frontal collision. Although both of us must have been going at twenty kilometers an hour, the crash was strong enough for me to break the front glass with my forehead, and made a significant dent on Maria do Carmo’s car’s bonnet.
I got out of the car fuming and trying to think what I would tell when I got back to the hotel. I was OK, no bones damaged, but the site of the car in that state made everything go red, so I went up to the driver preparing to beat the hell out of him but could not believe when I saw that he was a friend of mine.
“Rique, it’s you?! Sorry man!”
“What a prick! It could only be you! What the fuck was passing through your head man?!”
He could only admit his fault and apologize. On the positive side he agreed immediately to pay for all the expenses.
Then there was the case of the borrowed bass guitar. Out of the blue Heitor, our drummer, called me up to say that Charles, our manager and mentor, wanted to hook us up with a great singer. The sixteen-year-old vocalist happened to be Tim Maia’s nephew, Tim Maia being the godfather of Brazilian Soul and Funk a tropical mixture of Barry White, by competence and looks, and James Brown, by attitude.
As our Bass player, Duda, was travelling it fell on me to replace him. I had to ask around for a borrowed bass and managed to borrow one from my English course colleague, Erwin. It was a fake Brazilian made Rickenbaker but with a heavy and jazzy sound. I took it to the hotel, showed it off and trained with it a bit until my fingers got used to the thicker strings and I was ready for the rehearsal.
Tim Maia’s nephew, Ed Motta, would grow to become a big name in Brazilian music, also singing funk and soul, classier but less charismatic than his uncle. For us in the Charle’s studio in the Morro de Sao Carlos favela, he was just an overweight but massively talented teenager looking for a band. The rehearsal went really well with us playing known songs, some of our funks which he improvised over and simply jamming. However, we never heard of him again. it must be said that Duba, our guitarist, was great at solos but not as great with rhythms, in particular funk, that was my specialty, so perhaps the band may have been too heavy for him.
When I got back to the hotel, I put the bass in the room and found Rosa playing cards with some old ladies at the reception. We were late for a concert I had got free tickets for at the Circo Voador, Rio’s coolest venue in neighboring Lapa. She excused herself and we left for Barao Vermelho’s concert which was great. The house was packed, the energy was perfect and the band was inspired which allowed for a fantastic Brazilian Rock night.
When we got back to the hotel the room door was open and Erwin’s bass was missing. We searched like crazy, a friend from the hotel drove me up and down Santa Teresa to see if we caught anyone walking around with a bass guitar case, but neither helped. The next morning, we asked the hotel manager to search in people’s rooms but he refused, which annoyed me but there was nothing I could do. We asked around but nobody seemed to know about my colleague’s instrument. The end result was that I was forced to buy him a new bass and that I began to mistrust people in the Hotel.
The first time I went to the Hotel Santa Teresa was in the sequence to a party in a venue next to the Morro dos Prazeres favela. Despite the imaginary and real dangers of partying next to a favela, this was one of the best places to organize bashes in Rio; it was called the Casa (not Hotel) Santa Teresa and was like a club at the top of Rio de Janeiro’s hills protected from the surroundings by a tall wall and barbed wire camouflaged by rows of tropical trees. On its grounds there was a swimming pool, a couple of sport fields facing the fantastic view of the far away favela huts clinging on to a Hill with Rio’s city center in the background and then the Guanabara Bay and the Órgãos mountain range at the horizon. At night, with the thousands of little lights stretching away into infinity that view was especially beautiful. That particular event was offered by an organization to protect the Amazonian natives. They had rented the place and had promoted their party by handing out fliers throughout Ipanema beach and other places where the “usual suspects” went.
The place was packed with familiar faces. Everyone loved that venue and while Bob Marley, the Police, the Cure, Billy Idol and Brazilian bands were blasting out of the sound system, we could sit on the grass and chose which side of the glowing city to contemplate from that vintage point almost inside the Tijuca Forest. Maira, the blond girl from the beach was there and this was my chance: after a lot of mutual staring in other parties, gigs and at the beach, I finally took the courage to approach her.
The straight forward approach worked and her response was much better than I had ever expected and after some small talk the passion took over and we were making out. With stars and butterflies dancing around us, we danced a bit and then we sat by the pool. After a couple of romantic hours under the moonlight taking in the blue-eyed beauty that I had been dreaming of for such a long time, I managed to convince her to spend the night together in a Hotel. Both of us had gone up to the Casa de Santa Teresa in friends’ cars so to get out of there on our own we would have to catch Santa Teresa’s tram, the only means of transport at that time at night. The last tram that was about to leave, so we had to find our friends to say goodbye and rush out of the party to catch it.
We ran down the alley leading to the main street, rua Almirante Alexandrino. The old tram was waiting there under a dim light surrounded by tropical trees. It was at its final stop, where the town ended and the forest began. The tram was empty and soon after we hopped in, the conductor approached us, charged our fare and turned on the old machine. He pulled a clunky lever and the bonde started moving and as it gathered speed, it wobbled along old metal tracks. It was completely opened to the elements and as soon as we got moving the cool and perfumed evening breeze surrounded us. I was charmed not only by the nostalgic aura but also by Maira in her flowered, hippy like dress. I could barely believe that she was there holding my hand and that I could now kiss her whenever I felt like. Halfway into the trip, just by chance, I noticed a small placard written Hotel Santa Teresa at the entrance of a parking lot. We asked the driver to stop at the Largo dos Guimaraes, walked up the cobblestone street and went to the reception to ask how much a room was.
It was different to a normal hotel, there was no barrier at the gate and we were hesitant to walk into that deserted terrain with two or three unimpressive cars scattered around. Anyway, we made our way until the old house’s reception. The clerk was awake, he was a skinny bald man in his mid-fifties wearing glasses and was watching a rubbish program on a black and white TV set. He told us that they only rented rooms on a monthly basis and did not accept overnight couples. A bit disappointed, but still dying to be alone with each other we went back to Almirante Alexandrino street and after waiting a long time for a taxi, we decided to walk down to Gloria where there were plenty of one-night rooms to rent. We went hand in hand down the steep hill enjoying the air that smelled great due to the night-blooming Cestrum trees.
The night was great but our relationship didn’t last long; there was another guy in her life, a possible wedding involved and she opted for her parent’s choice. Anyway, the hotel in Santa Teresa stayed in my mind. By curiosity, I had asked how much the monthly rent and realized that it was accessible for my English teacher job. I could imagine myself living there, close to the city center with easy accesses to the beach neighborhoods and at the heart of the bohemian life of that traditional district.
Although it was removed and very few people I knew lived there, Santa Teresa was a fired the imagination of a young carioca – a native from Rio. Although there were no nightclubs and it was not exactly trendy, it had character and was different to anything else in town. The magic of that district was that it seemed to have been frozen in the past, a reminiscence of a Rio de Janeiro that was no more, a fresh breather from the tense, economically depressed South Zone and the Americanized Barra da Tijuca.
The nightlife there was more for the older crowd; people with financial independence who could afford a car. If you didn’t live there, you needed your own means of transport to go there and back at night, as the public transport ended early and most taxis simply refused to go there because of its precarious streets and its closeness to the Morro do Prazeres favela. Rents were cheap and perhaps because of this, there were many young people, mostly alternative, moving there. At night, there were many hippy-like venues with live music and long haired waiters without uniforms, a big novelty in Rio de Janeiro. There were also a few vegetarian places – a rarity in that carnivore city – alongside traditional restaurants that had been there forever, such as the Bar do Arnaudo, with Brazilian north-eastern food and the Adega do Pimenta, an excellent German restaurant.
The opportunity to move there came a couple of years later when Mum re-married. As you already know, I could not stand Ricardo, her new husband and I needed to leave home. On the other hand, Rosa, my girlfriend, was living in a very shabby rented room with an unbearable landlady breathing up her neck. We were dying to live together, not only because of our love story but also by mutual necessity. After a month or so of looking at apartments that were either too expensive or too crap, I suggested the Hotel Santa Teresa, which was cheaper, more central and more attractive than anything we had seen. In addition, it had the advantage that the rent included three meals a day, clothes washing facilities, a pool and a lot of odd and exciting people to keep us company.
The Hotel Santa Teresa was the Brazilian version of Hotel California The guests were divided roughly into three groups: divorced middle-aged men, who occupied the best rooms, pensioners dumped by their families and the crazies and the quirky young professionals like ourselves There was a fourth group composed by unclassifiable characters who seemed to have jumped out of a parallel universe. David, an unemployed Jewish guy in his late fifties who everyone suspected had been a torturer during the military regime who would nag and annoy everyone for their left-overs after our meals in the decrepit dining room. There was also Dinho, a mentally impaired boy dumped there by his family and who we adopted as our mascot. There was also my next door neighbor an ex-psychiatrist for the air force with a very deep voice and a Rudolph Valentino look, he was gay and took an endless stream of young lovers to his bed that happened to be right behind mine on the other side of the thin wooden wall. There was also an American heavy metal guy full of tattoos, a rarity in the mid-eighties, living with his gorgeous Brazilian mulata girlfriend. He ended up leaving after a fight with the gang of divorced guys. There was also Ricardo Ramos, a direct descendant of Graciliano Ramos, one of the greatest Brazilian writers of all times, a very interesting guy and great company, especially when he was drunk and/or high.
There was also a Lula, the future Brazilian president, look-alike, who lived right beneath and who was next door room neighbors to a guy from a favela with a polio deformed leg whose rent was paid for by his high up judge gay lover. In another room there was a woman in her fifties who must have been very attractive when she was younger. Her peculiarity was that she never allowed or invited anyone in her room and never gave her underwear to wash or dry; a mystery that brought up a lot of speculation. In one of the best rooms there was a young captain who had been sacked by the army because he had denounced a general for corruption. Next to his room lived a German ex-monk and then an Argentinian art dealer, a yachting instructor, a theater producer and a guy who was later put in jail for being involved in jewelry swindling. Legend said that Arto Lindsay, a famous American dancer close to the tropicalia movement, Luis Melodia – a big name in Brazilian popular music, Rita Lee – the godmother of Brazilian rock and many other famous people had lived there.
The experience of living in what we called the Hospicio (mental house) Santa Teresa was like the one of being part of a club where different generations and diverse types of people interacted with each other. We slept under the same roof, had the same address, paid the same next to nothing rent, shared the same tables eating the hotel’s terrible food, and used the hotel’s facilities – mainly their old school card playing lounge and their pool – to chat and to play cards, chess and all sorts of other games. For the service personnel it must have felt like working in an asylum rather than in a hotel. Besides the bizarre requests they had to attend to coming from that weird mixture of people, they gossiped without stop among themselves and with guests. An event that brought everyone together was the world cup of 1986. Although the Brazil of Zico, Falcao and Socrates was kicked out by Platini’s France, the drinking and the partying made us blend almost as an extended family. After the tournament, most of us stopped going to the beach on weekends and, instead, stayed back at the hotel enjoying ourselves sunbathing by the pool.