Rio Journal; Where New Rich Adopt a U.S. Kind of Stylishness
By LARRY ROHTER
This city's most conspicuous symbol has always been the giant
statue of Christ that stands atop Corcovado mountain. But out in the Barra da Tijuca, the part of town where Rio's
newly moneyed reign, a rival is now being erected: an 88-foot-high replica of the Statue of Liberty made of plastic and
In a neighborhood that already boasts a pair of apartment buildings that resemble upright
versions of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the structure going up at the entrance to a new entertainment mall called the New York City
Center probably should surprise no one.
But to the guardians of established values here, so blatant an
imitation of and homage to the United States comes as an affront, proof that the 200,000 or so residents of the Barra are a
different, embarrassing breed of Brazilian.
''The Barra da Tijuca can now be deemed the most ridiculous place in the world,
exceeding even Miami,'' a newspaper columnist, Tutty Vasques, wrote in Jornal do Brasil, a leading daily here. ''Bad taste is
going unchecked and is careering out of control down the Avenida das Americas,'' the main street of the district, turning the
Barra into ''something that makes even the new rich feel ashamed.''
Separated from the rest of Rio by a ridge of mountains, Barra da Tijuca
barely existed 20 years ago but is now the fastest growing area of the city that has always set the cultural pace for the rest of
While Rio's traditional neighborhoods recall Lisbon, Rome or Paris, the atmosphere
in Barra da Tijuca is more like that of American Sun Belt cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, Houston or Miami -- and
''This is another country out here, one that takes Los Angeles as its model,'' said Jose
Maria Herdy de Barros, acting president of the Barra Association of Commerce and Industry, which represents more
than 700 businesses in the area. ''What we have tried to do is copy the best things about the United States without adopting the
To the dismay of Brazilian nationalists, the good things apparently include the English
language, as evidenced by malls called Barra Shopping, Barra Garden, Barra Point and Barra Square.
Residents shop at stores -- some advertising ''sales'' instead of the equivalent
Portuguese word -- called World Top Lock, Bike Box, Bad Kid, Royal Canine, Fight Center, Water Planet and Fast Way. And they live
in apartment buildings with names like Oceanfront and Golden Green.
While that sort of thing may be common in the rest of Latin America, it has not always
been so here. Brazil's elite has traditionally had an ambivalent attitude toward the United States but adores all things French,
which helps explain the profusion of luxury beachfront apartment buildings here that have names like Maison du Soleil and Chateau
d'Amboise or that honor French cultural icons like Mallarme, Baudelaire and Degas.
The Barra da Tijuca, on the other hand, is the domain of a new class of self-made
men and women who in the last five years have come to be called the ''emergentes.'' The word literally means ''the emerging ones''
but is often used in a pejorative sense, especially by those who inherited their wealth, to mean something like social climber,
nouveau riche or arriviste.
If any one person represents the Barra da Tijuca and the emergentes in the public
mind, it is probably Vera Loyola, 52, the owner of a chain of restaurants and bakeries who proudly describes herself as ''the muse
of the new society.''
A flashy character in a recent television soap opera was inspired by her, and the business
magazine Di nheiro has described her as ''a successful businesswoman who makes exaggeration a powerful marketing tool.''
''The idea that you can only get culture from going to Europe is really just so out of
date,'' Ms. Loyola said in an interview at her home, which is decorated with porcelain vases and paintings that include a large
self-portrait. ''There is no reason to hide the fact that you like to go to Miami or that you feel more comfortable being among
Americans than with the French.
''I don't have a 400-year-old name, and I don't feel there is any reason to admire those
who do. I worked to get where I am, and I'm not afraid to admit it. I'm real, I'm authentic, and if high society can't handle that,
it's their problem.''
Emergentes, as Ms. Loyola explained it, would rather go skiing at Aspen than Gstaad, and
even when they travel to Europe they prefer, like her, to stay in American chain hotels, because ''they are more modern and
comfortable'' than their local European rivals. She even dispenses such advice on behavior and fashion to fellow emergentes in a
weekly newspaper column in none other than Jornal do Brasil.
But it is not just the fusty elite that looks down on the Barra and its residents.
Many middle-class residents of Rio also complain that the area feels alien to them when they venture past the huge ''Smile,
You're in the Barra'' sign that greets visitors and into the malls and multiplexes that have largely displaced Rio's
traditional entertainment and shopping sites.
''It's sterile out there, like a desert,'' said Waldir Carvalho Gouveia, an engineer and
resident of Ipanema. ''That place is so Americanized that there aren't even corner bars where you can hang out, and you can't get
from one place to another without a car, because they don't have sidewalks anywhere.''
Barra residents, in turn, have their own set of complaints about the way the city
treats them. Resentment runs so high that a movement to separate from the rest of Rio and become an independent
municipality emerged about a decade ago. The complaint was that the neighborhood was paying too much in taxes and not getting
enough back in public services.
Like it or not, though, the city's center of gravity is clearly shifting to the Barra.
Rio's Mayor, who was born in the Leblon district, now lives in the Barra. The country's leading television network
has moved its main production studio there, which has encouraged its biggest stars to buy houses nearby. And the American
Consulate, which has occupied the same downtown office building since the days when Rio de Janeiro was Brazil's
capital, is also contemplating a move.
With the Barra's population expected to grow to one million within two decades,
some residents hope that all the carping will keep newcomers away. The Barra way of life is so delicious, they say, that
even those who mock and claim to shun it in reality secretly crave it.
''Oh, they're just jealous,'' said Soraya da Matta, a doctor who moved her practice and
her family to the Barra from the lower-middle-class neighborhood of Meier nearly 15 years ago. ''We've got more space for
our kids out here, less crime and traffic, and a lot of shopping centers and entertainment close at hand. We have a better quality
of life, and the old fogies know that and resent it.''
Correction: October 5, 1999, Tuesday
A map yesterday with an article about the Barra da Tijuca neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro,
where many of the city's newly rich people live, situated it incorrectly. It is in the southwest part of the city, not the
Organizations mentioned in this article: