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(For those of you not familiar with Arara, she's our correspondent in Brazil...able to squawk in flawless Portuguese and capable of ingratiating herself with all our potential interviewees, the bird's a tremendous asset to Maria-Brazil.)

Interview with Priscilla Ann Goslin

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Priscilla Goslin is the author of our favorite guide to Rio de Janeiro, a small compendium of tongue-in-cheek advice for the unsuspecting tourist arriving in that most marvelous and maligned of cities. This gringa turned carioca has agreed to share some of her insights and stories with Maria-Brazil, to our absolute delight. We photographed Priscilla hugging a tree at Rio's Botanical Garden, one of our (mine and hers) favorite places in the world.

How to Be a Carioca was first published in June of 1992 and is currently in its 27th printing. A new updated edition of the book is in the works for release in 2006. You can order the book from the book's web site.

Arara - Priscilla, how did a nice girl from Minnesota end up making her home in Rio?

Priscilla - My Dad was a pilot for PanAm, based in Rio, when I was born.

Arara - So, you just missed being a REAL carioca, then...If your Mom had been in Rio...

Priscilla - Yeah, and later on my husband transferred From Los Angeles to São Paulo, then to Rio, for his work, and my second son was born in Rio in 1973, so we have a REAL carioca in the family, after all! And finally, in 1982 I moved back to Rio, worked at first as senior art director for a large ad agency, then started my own design studio, then self-published How to Be a Carioca...My carioca son goes to school in San Diego and my gringo older son lives with me in Rio...

Arara - Do you feel pretty much that you're a carioca now?

Priscilla - Definitely. I'm a carioca by soul and by option. Cariocas are very exotic in that they wear their emotions on their sleeve; they touch, they're expressive, they're open...This warmth is extremely seductive AND contagious, and I like to think that it has rubbed off on me. When in Rio, I assimilate the carioca lifestyle as much as possible. I feel quite at home standing at the corner boteco, having a chopp or a cafezinho, standing in line at the post-office, standing in line at the bank, standing in line at the movies, etc.

Arara - We have to explain here that people in Rio seem to spend an awful lot of time standing in lines...You even have a chapter in your book about that...

Priscilla - Yeah...it's a national pastime in Brazil...(laugh)...Anyway, it's when I go the States on vacation that I tend to feel like a fish out of water. After so many years in Rio, I have a bit of difficulty relating to the American life style and feel like I'm always doing something wrong...Am I jay-walking? Will I be arrested for harassment if I hug and kiss someone? I know that I'll never truly be a carioca, the gringo accent lingers on, but I feel very comfortable with relaxed nature of the city and the irreverence so characteristic of the carioca. Whether I'll spend the rest of my life in Rio only God - and my bank manager - know...

Arara - Priscilla, what do you do when you're not teaching people how be a carioca?

Priscilla - Professionally, I'm a graphic designer and I average 14 hours at the computer (add on time for Web surfing...) but I do find time to rock climb, play golf, write...

Arara - Well, Rio is a wonderful place for rock-climbing, you said yourself, you can do it right out of your backyard, with all those mountains...I'm going to show your picture, OK?

Priscilla - And for five years I've been compiling a bilingual illustrated dictionary of carioca slang and US slang. Over 2000 entries to date and growing. Very funny stuff with literal translations, phonetics, and equivalent slang in opposite language. One day it will be published (maybe 1997?). And I'm also "giving the change" (dando o troco, literal translation...) to the cariocas and writing the opposite guide book for their travels to the US. Working title is How to Be a Gringo.

Arara - How about the companion calendar to How to Be a Carioca? It was hilarious...

Priscilla - Although very successful, the calendar was only published once, for 1993. Carlos Carneiro, my dear illustrator of the book, migrated to Arizona in 1993 and left me high and dry with my own chicken scratches to contend with. Haven't been able to replace him yet...

Arara - I wish I could show a picture from the book here...I really like this one, because it's exactly how I feel about public phones, the famous "orelhão" - big ear - in Rio...How can people ever HEAR anything with that cacophony in the background??? (Brazilians are now buying mobile phones by the millions, so we wonder if the orelhão is a dying breed...)

Arara - Priscilla, what inspired you to write this book in the first place?

Priscilla - Oh, the inspiration came from the carioca himself and that special smile which is only his. It's a smile that impresses me and will continue to, always. It's a smile that exposes his soul, his desire to win against all odds. It's his weapon against our daily challenge to survive in a mega city. This joy for life is the soul of the carioca. The reason I wrote the book is that I wanted to give the visitor to Rio the opportunity to feel, at least briefly, the essence of the life of the natives of this marvelous city, let's say "vestir a pele do carioca", wear the skin of the carioca...By doing so, the visitor has the opportunity to understand a little more what the true beauty of this city is, beyond the obvious, such as the gorgeous beaches, Corcovado, the contrasts, but also the carioca's immense sense of humor and creativity. To be a Carioca is an art form. Just the simple act of going to the beach like a true carioca is a ritual like no other in the world.

Arara - I agree, and I'm so glad you spell it all out in the chapter The Carioca Summer...The paraphernalia, deciding where to sit, making the little mounds of sand with your feet - for your head - before you lay down your towel or straw mat, etc. etc.

Priscilla - And each beach has its "tribe", meaning the group of people who frequent that part of the beach. For example, mothers with children, the society set, reefer smokers, gays, each "tribe" has created their spot on the beach. A carioca might live right in front of the beach and still struggle with the traffic a half hour to another beach where his tribe hangs out. Even though I live a block from the beach in São Conrado, I go to the beach in the Barra da Tijuca at the barraca do Pepeu point. And like a true carioca, I subscribe to the entire ritual to a T. Is there any other way?

Arara - Well, that was going to be the next question...So we'll go on to a related subject. Rio doesn't really have a winter to speak of. And yet, it seems to be a city of summers...new bikini styles and designs, new fashions, even in language, seem to spring up in the summer months...one can feel this excitement in the air when November comes...

Priscilla - Sure, there's an excitement in the air in November. But that same excitement can be felt at any time in the year when the sun comes out after a few days of clouds or rain and the carioca can once again embrace God's masterpiece. There's a saying that "Deus é brasileiro" (God is a Brazilian), but the carioca has no doubt that He was born in Rio...

Arara - Priscilla, when you're not being irreverent, tongue firmly planted in cheek, is there anything at all that you find annoying about the carioca cultural peculiarities?

Priscilla - While the traffic in Rio is organized chaos, it's also a dichotomy. Cariocas on wheels tend to be cordial and helpful. By means of hand signals familiar to any true carioca, they will go out of their way to tell you that your lights are on, your door is ajar, that your tire is low, or that they need to cross lanes in front of you. But at the same time they will tailgate you while flashing high beams to force their way past, make a point of not letting you change lanes in front of them, accelerate in your direction at pedestrian crossings, etc., in other words, the charming irreverence, in this case, becomes abject irresponsibility to himself and others. But then I've seen this in Italy, in France and Morocco, so maybe it's not just a carioca thing after all. But I'll confess that I feel safer attached to Sugar Loaf mountain by a carabiner 300 meters off the ground than driving in Rio.

Arara - In that same serious mood, can you tell us what is it about the carioca way-of-life that made you stay and make Rio your home? Some people may read your book and come to the conclusion that the place is a total madhouse...

Priscilla - What to one is madness, to another is excitement, contrast, creativity, challenge, growth, the unexpected...

Arara - To millions of people around the world, Rio is a bit of a mythological place...with girls from Ipanema and unbelievable carnaval parties. Of course, there's that too, but can you say something about the REAL city and the REAL people?

Priscilla - Well, I dedicated my book to the hard-working carioca whose sense of humor makes Rio such a delight...These are the real people behind the myth. Cariocas by nature are generous, spontaneous and happy. Cariocas are strivers and winners while at the same time they don't mind caring deeply about the superficial. They have rhythm in everything they do and have a high sense of the ridiculous, and above all, they believe that everything takes care of itself (and it does...) (laugh) The real city is areas like Lapa, close to downtown, with its narrow streets and antique shops and old, funky restaurants where you get great food and plenty of ambiance. It's also places like the walkway which begins at Praia Vermelha where one can walk around the base of Sugar Loaf. Since it's a military area, it's completely safe and it's exclusively for pedestrians. The views of the bay as you walk are spectacular. Rio has countless little niches tucked away where the old Rio is still preserved. The REAL Rio is the people, the quaint, the nature, the contrast, the warmth...

Arara - I agree...I love Cosme Velho and Laranjeiras and Tijuca..Santa Tereza and the streetcar...Since you mentioned old restaurants, you have a chapter - with a very funny illustration - on eating out in Rio which I love particularly, because you mention that carioca institution, the botequim or boteco, which is where I love to eat when I go there...there must be hundreds of them, as you say, teeming with atmosphere...Besides the excellent restaurants of Rio, of course...Can you name your favorite botecos?

Priscilla - Sure thing...there are botecos and there are botecos. For a stand-up beer and a quick snack of tira-gostos, I recommend Bracarense in Leblon. For a sit-down caipirinha and tira-gostos I recommend Caneco 70 on the beach in Leblon (primarily for the view). For casual food, the Degrau in Leblon, and for sunset seafood, to Lokau in the Barra. My very favorite spot in Rio is my verandah which overlooks the ocean and is surrounded by forest complete with mico monkeys and monarch butterflies, with lunch prepared by my cook, Raimunda. Sorry I can't accommodate all web surfers...

Arara - Gee, Priscilla, that reminds me of Tom Jobim' s backyard...Maybe I'll move next door to you...We love the Degrau in Leblon...I've had the same waiter every time I go to Rio for the past 20 years...the waiters are a big part why I love going to restaurants in Brazil...it's like Italian waiters...those guys are professionals and proud of their jobs! Well, I hate to have to say goodbye to you for now...but I'll see you soon and we can go have caipirinhas on the beach...I remember being there once for New Year's Eve...

A series of measures taken by the city's administration that include a multilingual special police force on the beaches, have considerably improved things for tourists in Rio in areas such as Ipanema. Copacabana is still very problematic, not to say outright dangerous. Of course, common sense always dictates that you don't wander around carrying expensive cameras, your passport, large amounts of money and jewelry. Act like a carioca: all you need on the beach is a few reais for coconuts and such, a beach wrap, and suntan lotion. Have a wonderful trip!

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