Babilônia, where I am staying in Rio de Janeiro, boasts enviable views of the Atlantic and Copacabana.
Though half of the paint has been scraped off the mural, enough of the words remain to make out the slogan underneath the police patrol post next door to me: “Bienaventurados os pacificadores, porque serão chamados filhos de Deus.”
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
It’s unsettling to see one of the beatitudes of Jesus of Nazareth used so euphemistically to describe a “pacified” community. Pacifications are usually much less benign than the worn mural suggests, but police took over the streets of this comunidade (favela) in 2009 without firing one shot. Police cars patrol the streets and men in uniform saunter up the steep walkways with a greater recent intensity because of drug-related violence earlier this year which caused a dip in tourism to the morro (hill). But the residents of the two communities that share this hill can’t pack their bags so easily.
The mural also depicts two people. A blonde girl smiles and waves. Next to her is a police officer, also smiling and waving. The racial politics of the mural is at odds with what I’ve seen of this community—I haven’t yet seen blond children running around. Instead, a racial spectrum runs from this hill to the exclusive Copacabana residences just five minutes down the road. The poorer, predominantly Afro-Brazilian population lives on the hill in informal housing; the wealthier, whiter population lives in high rise apartments that face the Atlantic shore.
The mural abuts a well-kept ball court with basketball hoops where young teens play football into the night under bright lights. And there’s a playground where moms watch their kids on the slides. And there are bright orange public trash bins that are serviced by the municipal government. And the curve where I’m staying has something like three or four hostels. And a dozen taxi-motos share a base at the bottom of the hill, ready to transport you up for R$ 3—not only do they wear helmets, they have one they make you wear, too. Safety first. And Babilônia’s neighboring Chapéu Mangueira contains prize-winning bars and restaurants, including Bar do David, which has repeatedly won Comida di Buteco awards for the creative Carioca dishes invented by its eponymous owner.
In other words: this is a microcosm of Brazil’s ironies.
p.s. If you’re looking for advice or a how-to:
* The hill is steep, but paved where I am. Wear good walking shoes.
* Take an uber to get back at night.
* Absolutely go to Bar do David’s and have a caipirinha de maracujá.
* Buy an adapter for your electronics–from the airport (not like me) or from the lady on the street (like me) for R$ 5.