CHAPTER II. ARRIVAL AND SOJOURN IN RIO JANEIRO.
INTRODUCTION - ARRIVAL - DESCRIPTION OF THE TOWN - THE BLACKS AND THEIR RELATIONS TO THE WHITES - ARTS AND SCIENCES - FESTIVALS OF THE CHURCH - BAPTISM OF THE IMPERIAL PRINCESS - FETE IN THE BARRACKS - CLIMATE AND VEGETATION - MANNERS AND CUSTOMS - A FEW WORDS TO EMIGRANTS.
I remained in Rio Janeiro above two months, exclusive of the time devoted to my different excursions into the interior of the country; it is very far from my intention, however, to tire the reader with a regular catalogue of every trifling and ordinary occurrence. I shall content myself with describing the most striking features in the town, and likewise in the manners and customs of the inhabitants, according to the opportunities I possessed during my stay to form an opinion of them. I shall then give an account of my various excursions in an Appendix, and afterwards resume the thread of my journal.
It was on the morning of the 17th of September that, after the lapse of nearly two months and a half, I first set foot upon dry land. The captain himself accompanied the passengers on shore, after having earnestly advised each one separately to be sure and smuggle nothing, more especially sealed letters. "In no part of the world," he assured us, "were the Custom-house officers so strict, and the penalties so heavy."
On coming in sight of the guard ship, we began to feel quite frightened from this description, and made up our minds that we should be examined from top to toe. The captain begged permission to accompany us on shore; this was immediately granted, and the whole ceremony was completed. During the entire period that we lived on board the ship, and were continually going and coming to and from the town, we never were subjected to any search; it was only when we took chests and boxes with us that we were obliged to proceed to the Custom-house, where all effects are strictly examined, and a heavy duty levied upon merchandise, books, etc., etc.
We landed at the Praya dos Mineiros, a disgusting and dirty sort of square, inhabited by a few dozen blacks, equally disgusting and dirty, who were squatted on the ground, and praising at the top of their voices the fruits and sweetmeats which they were offering for sale. Thence we proceeded directly into the principal street (Rua Direita), whose only beauty consists in its breadth. It contains several public buildings, such as the Post-office, the Custom-house, the Exchange, the Guard-house, etc.; all of which, however, are so insignificant in appearance, that any one would pass them by unnoticed, if there were not always a number of people loitering before them.
At the end of this street stands the Imperial Palace, a commonplace, large building, exactly resembling a private house, without the least pretensions to taste or architectural beauty. The square before it (Largo do Paco), whose only ornament, a plain fountain, is extremely dirty, and serves at night as a sleeping place for a number of poor free negroes, who, on getting up in the morning, perform the various duties of their toilet in public with the most supreme indifference. A part of the square is walled off and employed as a market for fish, fruit, vegetables, and poultry.
Of the remaining streets the Rua Misericorda and the Rua Ouvidor are the most interesting. The latter contains the finest and largest shops; but we must not expect the magnificent establishments we behold in the cities of Europe - in fact, we meet with little that is beautiful or costly. The flower-shops were the only objects of particular attraction for me. In these shops are exposed for sale the most lovely artificial flowers, made of birds' feathers, fishes' scales, and beetles' wings.
Of the squares, the finest is the Largo do Rocio; the largest, the Largo St. Anna. In the first, which is always kept tolerably clean, stand the Opera-house, the Government-house, the Police-office, etc. This, too, is the starting-place for most of the omnibuses, which traverse the town in all directions.
The last-named square is the dirtiest in the whole town. On crossing it for the first time, I perceived lying about me half putrid cats and dogs - and even a mule in the same state. The only ornament of this square is a fountain, and I almost think I should prefer it if the fountain were, in this case, taken away; for, as soft water is not very abundant in Rio Janeiro, the washerwoman's noble art pitches its tent wherever it finds any, and most willingly of all when, at the same time, it meets with a good drying ground. The consequence is, that in the Largo St. Anna there is always such an amount of washing and drying, of squalling and screaming, that you are glad to get away as quickly as possible.
There is nothing remarkable in the appearance of the churches, either inside or out. The Church and Cloister of St. Bento and the Church of St. Candelaria are the most deceptive; from a distance they have a very imposing look.
The houses are built in the European fashion, but are small and insignificant; most of them have only a ground-floor or single story, - two stories are rarely met with. Neither are there any terraces and verandahs adorned with elegant trellis-work and flowers, as there are in other warm countries. Ugly little balconies hang from the walls, while clumsy wooden shutters close up the windows, and prevent the smallest sunbeam from penetrating into the rooms, where everything is enveloped in almost perfect darkness. This, however, is a matter of the greatest indifference to the Brazilian ladies, who certainly never over-fatigue themselves with reading or working.