When you're talking Rio de Janeiro, it's hard not to mention Carnival, the epic party during which the world descends on Brazil, especially Rio, for a few precious days each February. While lots of people love Carnival, it's not for everyone. Plenty of Cariocas (Rio natives) head for the hills to escape the crowds. When they return, they find a city in transition. March is about to begin and the "Aguas de Marco" aren't far away. This is the rainiest month in Rio and the waters that wash away the residue of Carnival also usher in the school year, a return to work and all of the things that September means for Americans.
In Essence, Aguas de Marco encapsulates that very Brazilian concept of "saudade." Although there really is no great translation for "saudade" in English, it basically refers to a feeling of melancholy and nostalgia. It is about longing for the past and for places and people who have left or who are no longer with us.
In fact, one of Brazil's best known standards is named for this short season. The song is about everything from the weather to the immaterial and I've managed to accumulate 18 different version on my iPod. A range of musicians has recorded the song over the past 40 years, both in English and in Portuguese.
This March, I spent some time in Rio, a city I first visited nearly 15 years ago and haven't been to in several years, and I was impressed by what I encountered. The city feels different. It is safer, cleaner and more cosmopolitan than I remembered. Of course, much of this is due to the Brazilian economic boom and Rio's prominent roles in the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. As a result of these factors, I found a city that was less focused on saudade and instead fixed on the future. The slideshow below contains some snapshots of Rio as it exists today.