New Year in Brazil: get the party started
Brazilians need no excuse for a celebration it's part of the national spirit. Fashion designer Inacio Ribeiro, below, tells Ian McCurrach where to have fun
Sunday 30 December 2007
We Brazilians are famous for being people who love to party it's part of our spirit; we want to capture and celebrate life. We are always cheerful and upbeat. In fact, it's often the case that the poorer we are, the sunnier our outlook on life, which to outsiders seems kind of perverse. Whenever I go home now I discuss this with friends and we've come to the conclusion that we don't take life for granted. So if we have anything in our life that is good, no matter how small, we celebrate it.
The British habit of complaining and moaning all the time came as a shock to my system when I arrived in London 20 years ago to study fashion design at St Martins. I couldn't understand it. At first I thought it was meaningful, but then I realised that it's just conversational sport. You see, in Brazil we tend to ignore the bad things in life or laugh about them and talk life up big time. As Suzanne, my wife and business partner, says: "Brazil has an amazing landscape but the best thing about the country is the people and their spirit. When they arrive at one party, they already want to know where the next one is."
The best cities for partying are usually considered to be Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, but they are so, so different. Sao Paulo is such an immense, vibrant city a bit like the Brazilian equivalent of New York. The Paulistas that's the Sao Paulo locals are extremely sophisticated go-getters, which means that the nightlife there has become like the scene in any other international city. It has lost its roots.
Life in Rio on the other hand is more about the beach culture. The parties tend to start on the beach as the sun goes down and continue through the night. There's a great rivalry between the two cities. Cariocas the Rio locals think of themselves as the original beautiful Brazilian people and it's easy to see how happy and content they are with their own little laid-back paradise in Rio.
New Year's Eve in Rio is amazing, if a little cheesy and clichd. We call New Year's Eve Rveillon, like in the French. And the one Rveillon experience that every Brazilian wants to gain at least once in their lifetime is to celebrate it in Rio. About two million people dress in white and descend on the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema before midnight. Revellers light candles, put them in little paper or polystyrene makeshift boats and send them off as an offering to Iemanja, the goddess of the sea, so that they can have a good year to follow. Then, at midnight, the sky bursts with the most amazing fireworks displays and the party continues on the streets till sunrise.
Being Brazilian and having partied on the beach, the cool way for me to spend New Year in Rio now would be from the balcony of a friend's house on Avenue Vieira Souto, the coastal road running along Ipanema beach. That is also where you find the new Fasano Hotel, which has a wonderful rooftop pool that was just made for partying.
Another great place to see in the New Year is the party at the famous Copacabana Palace Hotel. If you can't afford a ticket to the event itself, go for breakfast instead.
I have to admit that my best-ever New Year's Eve was spent on a farm, having a quiet, intimate party with a group of friends. I feel very at home in those sorts of surroundings because I grew up in the countryside. Some friends invited me to their colonial farm, which had once been a coffee plantation, and we had a huge dinner party in the grounds down by a river. There was no light. No light at all. Not even candlelight. Just the stars. The sky was carpeted with millions of twinkling stars like you don't see any more. Can you imagine that? It was breathtaking. Plenty of wine was drunk with dinner and there was such an incredible party atmosphere, even without music. We all felt intoxicated by the setting. And when we went back to the house it felt like we were tripping on the stars.
Another great place to spend New Year is Salvador in Bahia. Unlike Sao Paulo, where it's often hard for outsiders to find where the real party scene is, Salvador is an open book it's a city with no secrets. The best place to start is on the beaches and in the bars. The best and closest beach to Salvador is Barra beach, about 15 minutes by taxi from the port. The people are so beautiful and there's such a fresh energy there. You only ever hear authentic Brazilian music, which has African roots. The city vibrates with it. It's really easy to make friends on the beach in Salvador and then follow them and the crowd.
One of my favourite places to eat in Salvador is Paraiso Tropical. It's in a working-class district quite a long way from the centre it takes at least 45 minutes to get there by taxi, but is worth the journey. The guy who runs it is an agronomist and he's put together traditional Bahian dishes using exotic fruits that he grows on a small plot behind the restaurant. The tastes are sensational. It's also worth trying Trapiche, a restaurant down by the old docks, which is built out over the water and has an ultra-modern design. I recommend booking a table on the mezzanine floor, so you can look down on the action below.
Trancoso, south of Salvador, on the Bahian coast, is where I like to get away from it all. It used to be a small fishing village and was a haven for artists and hippies back in the 1970s it remains totally unspoilt. I started going there 20 years ago it was one of the first places in Brazil I took Suzanne. We go back as often as we can because it remains so special to us.
When you arrive at Trancoso you see the long grassy main square, the Quadrado, which is crowned with the little whitewashed 17th-century church of Sao Joao Batista. The church looks down over the top of the cliff to the beaches, which stretch to the north and south. There are lots of small but expensive places to stay, strung out along the coast. The prices are pitched high to stop the area from becoming too mainstream. One of our favourite activities is to hang around the Quadrado and just see what happens. It's a great place to meet people and pass the time of day.
Conversely, Trancoso can also be a place to party if you have friends who have houses there you need to be in the know because they tend to be house parties. And we're talking massive houses, tucked away from prying eyes, deep within the Atlantic Forest, so you wouldn't just stumble across them. The international set who have properties there include Naomi Campbell and Leonardo DiCaprio.
It's also where the Brazilian Daslu family have a house their parties are legendary. Daslu is the famous store in Sao Paulo, which is the Brazilian equivalent of Bergdorf Goodman in New York and the place to grab your best designer party gear.
In fact, we are going to Trancoso this Easter for the christening of our two children Hector, who is nine, and Violet, who is one. For me the place gels the experience of being born and brought up in a small remote town in Brazil and living in the fast lane in London, New York and Paris. If we want to do the sophisticated stuff, we just call Eliana Tranchesi, the owner of Daslu, and we can invite ourselves over to her house and wine and dine with international celebs. Or we can just stay quietly in a simple guesthouse on our own. Trancoso combines the contrasting sides of my life.
If I'm looking for a complete escape, I fly to Fernando de Noronha, the small, remote volcanic island, 350km off the Atlantic coast. Much of the island is a marine and bird sanctuary, protecting creatures such as spinner dolphins and sea turtles, so visitor numbers are state-controlled and strictly limited. This makes it quite expensive to stay. It is exceptionally beautiful, though, with some of the most wonderful beaches, surfing and diving in Brazil. I shall never forget hiking up its central mountain and seeing the whole of the island dropping away beneath me breathtaking.
My generation of Brazilians, who were born in the late 1960s when Brazil was still developing, really appreciate the rustic side to life it's so close to our families' roots. So, for me, there's no better way to celebrate than to build a fire on the beach and make music around it with friends.
That's the great thing about being Brazilian; we can turn the simple things in life into a party.
Inacio Ribeiro and his wife Suzanne Clements launch their first Clements Ribeiro collection for luxury e-retailer couturelab.com in January
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