Monday, October 6, 2014

The Boy From Ipanema

I'd only sacrifice my layout for the man who paid for my graphic design education.

The song 'The Girl From Ipanema' came out in 1964 and was a worldwide hit by 1965. Wanting to capitalize on the pop culture moment, some professors at the University of Virginia decided to pinpoint the location mentioned in the song. They had several theories, but in the end, a student was able to tell them the answer, having lived in the Rio neighborhood. At least, that's how my dad tells the story...  

I've mentioned it on this blog a couple of times before, but a brief recap - after World War II, my grandfather worked for the government. The family was posted overseas twice, and their first (and favorite) post was Rio de Janeiro. My dad was ten or eleven when they arrived. His youngest sister was only a toddler. When they returned to Washington D.C. after three years, she asked my grandparents when the family would be going "home".

LBR, I would want to go "home" too.

My dad and aunt had been told by people who'd been to Rio in recent years that the area had completely changed - that there was little chance that the house where they lived was still standing. Curious, I decided to do some digging. I got on Google maps and checked out the old address.


It didn't take long to find - the house was still there! It was now a medical clinic, dwarfed by the tall buildings on either side. There had been definite changes over the years - I wasn't even 100% sure it was the same building, but Dad seemed to think so.

So when it came time for me to visit Brazil for the World Cup, I made preparations for a secret side-trip. I made copies of a few old photos, stuck them in a plastic baggie, and tucked them in my journal for safe-keeping.

On the day we visited Ipanema, I shared the pictures with my friend (and host in Rio) Debora. As we walked from Copacabana to Ipanema, we compared hotels to the buildings in the background of a picture of my dad on the beach. Meanwhile, Debora kept an eye on her phone, watching for Rua Joana Angelica. Once we reached the street, we left the beach and walked toward the lagoon, looking for number 229. A block from the end, we found it!


The building no longer looked like a clinic - it was clear from the debris outside that work was being done. I snapped photos of the house, and Deborah snapped photos of me with the house. I was grinning like an idiot.


As I went over to the entry to take more pictures, I noticed a man and a woman sitting in chairs near the front door. I'm sure they were wondering what on earth I was doing, so I went over to introduce myself. In mangled Portu├▒ol, I tried to tell them my father had lived there when he was a kid. But I was in luck - the man spoke perfect English, having lived in Massachusetts!

He introduced me to the woman sitting there - she was the architect who was renovating the building. He was its owner. They were reconverting the building to a residential space. The owner invited me to come inside and have a look at the place.

The downstairs had clearly been divided into offices and was pretty torn up, but the upstairs gave me some idea of what the place had looked like. When I came back downstairs, the owner told me they'd just been talking about my family when I'd arrived! Really?


He went on to say they'd just been discussing all the former tenants who must have lived here through the years. It was a magic moment. I gave them the copies of the photos of the house as it used to be. Having been wondering what was taking so long, Deb came over and joined in the conversation too.

The architect looked at the pictures and pointed out to us where the old arched entry had been plastered over, and could still be faintly seen. That was special to me, as it really showed that despite the changes, it was still the same place in its bones. As we made our goodbyes, thanking them profusely, the owner invited me back any time. "It is your house!" he said.


I'm so lucky that I have both my parents, alive and in my life. I don't need to seek out bits of the past to make a connection with them - all I have to do is make a phone call. That said, it was pretty cool to be able to come home and share the pictures with my dad!

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