This is my first day in Rio. I am focused on the area around the track stadium, in the suburb of Engenho. My first column is on Sebastien, the manager of the food stand at the train station at Engenho. Sebastien went out of his way for me last night, and I appreciated it. Here is our story…
My travel to Rio was a bit of circumnavigation. I had to head to Frankfurt first (a meeting), then, off to Rio. Two flights, 24 total hours of flying. My first flight was relaxed, sharing a row with a US serviceman on vacation. Nice young man, who warned me he would sleep most of flight and did just that. I wrote, watched two Bourne Movies and London Has Fallen.
My second flight was full of athletes from Austria, Belarus, Norway and Italy. Sitting in front of me was a large Polish athlete who could push his seat all the way back in order to fit in his seat. I felt a bit squashed and there was not much room, so, I slept and watch movies.
I am staying near the Engenhao Stadium, in the suburbs, as Brazilians call it. Reminds me of a bit of Greece and also older neighorhoods. Found nice place through Airbnb, which looks ominous on outside, and is wonderful, cool apartment inside, very near the stadium. My host took me around the neighborhood, and pointed out the important stuff: super mercado, cafes to eat at, and ones not to eat at.
I am not the most observant person, when it comes to my surroundings, however, I am, after reading stories, quite observant here. One of the easiest airports to travel to, for Olympics. Galileo airport had final accreditation process right before baggage. In front of me was Henrik Ingebrittson, one of the fine brothers from Norway who are shouldering many of the hopes of their country in Rio. We all had just woken up, after nearly thirteen hours of travel.
Baggage was a bit more frantic, but, truthfully, bags were there and soldiers and police were there to keep out pick pockets. After a Starbucks coffee, and making sure I had anything, I found a Kafe shop and purchased a real Espresso con Leche. I sat with a young lady and asked her about how to get taxi and if my address made sense. She was quite helpful, and directed me to best taxis.
My taxi ride was quite fascinating. Never have I seen such beauty and such poverty in one ride. I keep going back to a tall series of brick houses, with bricks crumbling on top, and obviously someone’s home. Clothes drying, as the wind picks them up on their rope, which crosses a pile of rubble. One can see either tin or cardboard across top of the wall, and this was someone’s home. Most people are spending their entire days just trying to make it through the day.
What does the Olympics mean to them? A sense of national pride as one watches a volleyball match, between Brazil and Canada, late into the night, over a shared TV? I am not sure.
My forty-five minute ride in a taxi had some slow traffic. I watched as motorcyles came up along side the car, and I was wondering, will they try and rob me, as I was told? Either they were not interested in my lack of iphones or computers or the old travel bags I was using. Or, perhaps, I was making somethign of nothing.
My host was quite nice. He took me not only around my apartment home for the next two weeks, but around the neighborhood. I learnt which shops to go to, which cafes to frequent, which to not. The supermercado was gigante, and I found what I needed: salad stuff, a loaf of bread, a pound of cheese and some mortodella (bologna). The people I saw in the store were nice, a few pointed out I was American, as my host proudly introduced me as the “American writer. “
The neighborhood has old houses, reminds me of Greece a bit. A working class area, with small shops selling one thing (shoes, boots, clothes), plus small cafes, and people getting their needs for the day from the large super market. People gather to talk and have a coffee, and the longest line was at the national lottery office.
The stadium, Engenhao, has already hosted football during the Olympics. A train station is right outside the stadium, providing best access to the rest of Rio. Buses are available for media and fans, but, they take much time in the Rio traffic.
I visited the Stadium around 4.30 PM in the evening, after a short nap. I forget dusk would come around 6 pm, and I had been told to be careful after dark. I stayed in the stadium, recording my first audio on the games, and also taking some pictures as Omega technicians test the timing equipment and carpenters feverishly work to finish their work.
I wandered around the stadium, finding the media work area and figuring out where I would be when not working in the stadium. I love working in Olympic stadiums. Sitting in my work area above the finish line, I have a wonderful view of all events, and in between watching, I write, I twitter, I instagram, and I even work on Facebook.
Upon leaving, I was hungry. I found a tiny cafe at the stairs of the Engenhao train station. I noticed a police officer sitting down, having a sandwhich. I smiled and he smiled back. I was taken back to my childhood and my grandfather, Earl Robertson, a police officer in Saint Louis from 1948 to 1972, who told me if you see police or fireman eating somewhere, you know the good is good and reasonably priced (he said “cheap”, but that was Grandpa Earl, a man of some complexity).
I sat down at the bar and ordered a water and a sausage. That is when I met Sebastien. A man of about seventy, with worn hands and face, but kind eyes. He spoke Portugese quickly, as if he did not breathe in between speaking. My Portugese comes from Eduardo and the gang at the Santa Clara Cemetary, where I was a guard and dug graves for several summers in college. Eduardo taught me a little Portugese, and would tell me stories with pantomine, cracking me and the entire crew up. He could mimic anyone. He also had kind eyes.
Sebastien was the proprieter of the tiny cafe, serving snacks, beer, mixed drinks and some food to take home, like lasagna. We somehow communicated and he warned me to be careful walking home tonight. He then pulled out a sizable knife to show that he does not suffer fools, or those foolish enought to try and rob him. I thought, with so many soldiers, national police and others around, such folks would have to be insane.
Sebastien had his cook make me a small pizza, with cheese and fresh tomatoes. Hungry, I enjoyed the fresh pizza and observed the people lined up to take the bus home, after train rides from their jobs. The neighborhood, right near the stadium, would be safer for the next two weeks, with the addition of many young soldiers, armed with automatic rifles, and several types of police.
Sebastien introduced me to some of his regulars. A mom with a son in a Star Wars shirt, who had her son try his English on me. He was good, but shy.
But it was Sebastien who I focused on. He was a man who spent his entire day waiting on his customers, telling a joke, selling a pizza, sausage or perhaps some lasagna to take home. A few minutes for a beer at the counter, his customers look for a hello, a beer, and then, the bus home.
My walk home took only a few minutes. I walked by a church, even with fences around, still open in the evening. Most people passing by me were carrying food for dinner, and rushing home. Once I got back, I watched the Olympics in Portuguese, and enjoyed a night of writing, napping and preparing for the next two weeks.