Rio de Janeiro Is A Party Town
The Copacabana Palace in Rio de Janeiro is arguably the best hotel in Latin America and a historic destination for the rich and famous. I splurged and stayed there on a recent trip to Rio. The beach across from the Copacabana Palace, besides being the most famous stretch of sand (after Ipanema, that is) in all of Rio de Janeiro, if not the world, is reported to be the gay cruising place for mature men and bears after sunset. (If you don’t know what that means you are reading the wrong article babe.) So I was surprised to find a crowd gathering the night of the Persiad Meteor shower. Something was up. This knot of mostly locals wasn’t dressed for the gay scene, and they didn’t look like a science club waiting for the sky show, either. There was a sound system set up, and a look of expectation in their faces. It was going to be a party! One of those impromptu "events" Copacabana Beach is also known for.
The Lady In Red
Suddenly a drag queen strutted up from the below-ground rest rooms with a microphone in "her" hand. We were on one of Rio’s beautiful black and white tile sidewalks with traffic whizzing by, watching a drag act. The people formed a large circle. All the warnings to avoid crowds were ignored as we joined mostly natives, and a few tourists from the big hotels on the beach, to see the show. The first singer, in a tight red fringed dress and enormous platform shoes, strutted her stuff, lip synching an obviously popular Portuguese song we didn’t know, but everyone else seemed to. When it ended she started a comedy routine. She did most of her act in Portuguese, which we don’t speak, and we took the brunt of her (I’m assuming here) good-natured jokes about gringos.
We Didn’t Speak Portuguese
All of the obvious tourists, including us, were asked, in English, where they were from and if they spoke Portuguese. A negative answer brought a long string of Portuguese and laughter from the mostly native audience. To be fair, an Asian looking girl was singled out first. She was asked to repeat a sentence that was designed to tongue-tie a ’stereotypical’ Asian. She foiled the humor with perfect pronunciation. Then she was asked if she preferred the men or the women, and won the crowd when she said she’d have to look both over first to decide. Next, a straight couple from Florida were engaged in conversation, but were quickly dismissed as ’too boring’. That left us.
Given the sexual nature of the event, these men were in dresses, after all, and the beaches cruising reputation, we were correctly identified as gay. It was (incorrectly) assumed we were a couple. Judging from the crowd’s responses to the rapid-fire Portuguese monologue, which included sexual gestures recognizable in any language, we were the butt of several jokes. Still, it was all in good fun.
Liza With A "Z"
As a reward for being good sports, the lady in red introduced "Liza Minelli" who lipsinked "New York New York" to the delight of us all. Then "Marilyn Monroe" in white satin gown and glittering jewelry sang "Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend". All typical drag show fodder so far, and pretty impressive for a beach act. Then the "Lady in Red" appeared again acting as the MC. We were happily taking pictures when she and Liza invited my friend to join them on ’stage’. He tossed me his camera and called me into the limelight to take some close up photos. Of course his camera was still processing the video he’d just taken of them, flashing "memory card full" and mine said "change batteries." The moment was lost without a photo of him hamming it up, arm-in-arm (or - more accurately - he had his arm around each cupping their ’breasts’) with two drag queens. Mind you, this was still mature men & bear country, without any animals or middle aged men in sight (except me, of course.)
A Sexual Adventure?
The beautiful thing about the people from Rio is that they can range from the fairest blondes to the darkest blacks, and all be Brazilian. (And we thought we had a lock on the ’melting pot’!) A voice from behind me said "Nice photos, man. Are you from New York?" I turned to find a light-skinned man with a strikingly handsome young black man standing next to me. It turns out that some of the humor had to do with us seeking sex with huge black men. We didn’t know it and laughed along with the crowd, but these guys wondered if it was serious. I looked at them closely. Sometimes the trouble you can get into in a foreign country when you don’t speak the language isn’t really any trouble at all. However, in this case we were just out for some clubbing, not a sexual adventure.
Pipers Have To Be Paid
As we politely declined the advances our cab arrived. I grabbed the opportunity to suggest we depart, but before we got away, "Liza" shoved her purse in front of us and said "Give, baby! You have to pay for the photos." And rightly so; pipers have to be paid, after all. Spunky lad that he is, my young friend happily said he’d pay, but that he didn’t get the photos and wanted another. So there I was again, with his camera functioning properly, snapping shots of him stuffing ten reales notes into her cleavage, successfully, this time. (I mean, me with the camera. The cleavage stuffing took a few tries. There was a wardrobe malfunction, or something.) Then we headed out to the Lapa district and club Rio Scenarium.
Obviously you have to be ready for anything. Things move quickly in Rio de Janeiro, but not always as planned. My young friend, with his camera and my pictures, is gone, but the memory lingers.
To learn more visit the Rio Visitors Bureau
Every day of my stay in Rio was sunny and filled with fantastic sights - both of natural wonders and skimpy bathing suits - and every night brought a new adventure like the one above. I’m home now, but my heart is still in Rio. Oh, and in case you were wondering, it was too overcast to see the meteor shower.