Today I decided to explore the neighborhood of Catete, just 5 minutes by Metro from Botafogo. It was originally part of the older part of the city, made up of Centro and Lapa, and has somehow managed to maintain the beautiful traditional architecture alongside modern residential buildings, and has a certain charm you won't find in Centro or Botafogo, though it is a mix of the two.
I went to two museums: The Museum of the Republic and the Museum of Folklore Art. Before I describe my visits, I want to point out a few things about the museum-visiting experience in Brazil (perhaps it's just Rio). First, though there seem to be audio tours available, no one ever offers you the option; apparently you have to ask for it yourself. At the second museum a guy offered me a "book" that I'd return at the end, and I turned it down but later found out there were basically no explanations of anything in the museum. Secondly, there are no signs to guide you around the museum in a coherent manner. Instead, there are security guards, one per hallway and room. In the first museum they were actually paying attention, but in the second one they were talking to each other and on the phone some of the time, and the other part of the time literally following me around. It's not the most pleasant of experiences, since you feel like they're expecting you to do something wrong, and especially since they were really unhelpful in the first museum and I thought I'd missed a part, even though I hadn't. It seems like such a waste of money, but security here is always a big deal, and this is how they like to deal with it.
First, I went to the Museum of the Republic. The building from the front isn't terribly impressive; it looks a lot like architecture in Buenos Aires and some parts of Rio's Centro. It was a palace built in 1866 by a Portuguese coffee baron family, and later became the Presidential Palace between 1896 and 1954. It has been restored to its original splendor and I have to say, definitely wins a Rachel Recommendation for a Rio must-see. It also includes a theater, separate exhibits, a lovely cafe, and a large beautiful park/gardens behind it.
The first floor had an exhibit discussing the construction of the mansion and the original family that lived in it, including some beautiful artifacts, like clothes, jewelery, ivory and precious stone umbrellas, and fans. The second exhibit on that floor is a temporary one, and one of my favorites. It was "Profiles of Brazilian Women in Republican History." We have lots of women heroes in American history, but the number and diversity of Brazilian women heroes, since the early 1900s, is truly an achievement, considering the incredible machismo, prejudice, and social norms that were not only realities in the beginning of the 20th century but even at the end. For example, did you know that divorce was only legalized in Brazil in 1977???
So the exhibit features a timeline of all powerful women in international history, and has special features of Brazilian women from the early 1900s until now, including all the first ladies, architects, feminists, doctors, religious leaders, pilots, poets, academics, musicians, human rights leaders, suffrage leaders, scientists, painters, engineers...the list goes on. It is truly impressive -- except the exhibit is only in Portuguese. The exhibit also includes artifacts of jewelery, clothing, hats, and other trinkets. The last part of the exhibit is a wall full of names of professions, and an enormous old-fashioned mirror on the opposite wall. Gostei :)
There were so many women I was impressed by, but here are two that stood out in my mind. The first is Zuzu Angel Jones, a fashion designer born in Minas Gerais in the 20s that grew up in Bahia and then started her career in Rio. She was a pioneer in Brazilian fashion and even exported her line to the US. Everything was going well for her until the 1970s, when her son was disappeared and murdered by the military regime, since he had been a militant against the dictatorship. From then on, Zuzu poured her energy into a campaign to recover her son's body, even involving the US government. She delivered a letter to Henry Kissinger, asking for his help, since her son was an American citizen by birth (his dad was American). From what I can tell, he didn't help. She spent 5 years on a campaign against the regime and looking for her son's body. She began incorporating political symbols into her clothing, the first "political clothing line" in history, using an angel symbol to symbolize her son. This became her weapon against the dictatorship. But in 1976, she died in a mysterious car crash at the age of 55. It was only later revealed that the regime was responsible for her death. A movie was made in 2006 here about her, which me (and you!) should all see!
The second woman who stood out was Ana Cristina Cesar, a poet born in Rio in 1952. She wrote her own poetry but also liked English literature, and studied in England. When she returned, she began to translate Emily Dickinson and Sylvia Plath poems into Portuguese. But ironically, she had a lot of Plath-like tendencies, and jumped out of the window of her parent's apartment in 1983, killing herself.
Next, I went to the two upper floors of the museum. which had the most beautiful, exquisite, and over the top ceilings and walls and decor and stained glass you've ever seen. Walking up the stairway and craning your head to see the top is truly a sight to behold.
The second floor is a lot of the social rooms: the chapel, the dining room, various salons, etc. They are stunning. Yes I DID NOT bring my camera yet again but I'm stealing some pictures from the website. The explanations are minimal, but the rooms are so beautiful that they speak for themselves. My favorite was the Arabian room, completely decked out in the most ridiculous Middle-Eastern tiles and design from ceiling to floor. the third picture in this series.
Then I made my way up to the third floor, a dimly lit exhibit dedicated entirely to Getulio Vargas, President of Brazil from 1930 - 1945 and one of its most beloved and hated. He was the populist president, similar to Peron in Argentina. He was born in Rio Grande do Sul in 1882, and worked his way up as a politician. In 1930, he lead the "Revolution of 1930," a bloodless coup d'etat and became the leader of the nation. He was a nationalist, pro-industry, semi-fascist and anti-communist and had strong support from the middle class and tenentes (military strongmen), but not from Sao Paulo's growing upper class, which would later form a radical opposition party against him. He worked on expanding industry and installing fascist-style programs to coopt all social classes into his policies. His Estado Novo, begun in 1937, established Vargas as basically a dictator, abolishing opposition parties, militarizing the state, and imposing censorship. In 1954, he killed himself with a revolver in his bedroom, leaving a suicide note citing his inability to control the situation of military men close to him threatening his power and trying to kill him.
The exhibit features lots of artifacts, information, and photographs of Vargas. Some of the most impressive of the ones from his funeral, when thousands upon thousands showed up for the unveiling of his coffin and marching in the funeral procession, men and women weeping, women fainting, and people flooding the presidential palace. There is an exact replica of his bedroom from the night he died; his bed looks so painfully small. And the most controversial part of the exhibit is a small glass case that supposedly contains the revolver Vargas used to kill himself, the bullet used, and his nightshirt. I am slightly dubious about the shirt. There is definitely a bullet hole near where the heart would be, and then a large cut on the other side of the shirt, but the blood stain is about the size of a quarter. Unless they scrubbed the heck out of that shirt, I cannot imagine that little blood resulting from shooting oneself in the heart. It is powerful to see, nonetheless.
The view from the third floor
You must see this museum if you visit Rio. See more pictures by clicking on the mansion here.