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  • Dawnelle Salant

Lapa to the Portuguese Reading Room

This morning, after packing up my mom's stuff, we go for one last wander together. We walk up another hill to the famous Parque das Ruinas - the remains of a palace that overlook both Santa Teresa and downtown. We have lunch here - the views are incredible, and then make our way up to the top of the skeleton of walls that remain of the palace. From here we can see downtown; the modern looking Cathedral of Rio, all the office buildings and famous Lapa Arches. As sad I was to leave Copa, I am so glad I have a whole new area of the city to really get to know. That night I go to the airport with my mom and shed more than a few tears when I say good-bye. In the taxi on the way back to my flat, I feel very alone, but also very excited about what lays ahead. When I visited Rio the first time, I knew I wanted to come back here and just be a part of this city, on my own, and experience it as more than just a tourist. And as scary as it is, I've made that dream come true.


The next day, I will admit I am a little lost without my mom. I take a day to just relax and get caught up on some laundry, some grocery shopping and photos. I even find a documentary about Brazil on tv in English; it’s a nice, semi-normal kind of day.


The next morning I get up and attempt to walk to the Colombo Bakery for breakfast. I have downloaded the step by step instruction by google and at first I am ok. I walk down the Selaron Steps, again revelling in the fact that I live so close to the iconic landmark. When I get to the main street at the bottom of the hill, I spend some time photographing the old buildings covered in graffiti. I know some would think the graffiti ruins the architecture, but I think it adds to it. It just seems right here - in downtown Calgary it would look all wrong, but here, it’s like the artists decided to spruce up some old structures and bring them back to life. It works.


I cross over to the Lapa Arches and take some more photos and then follow the next steps to the bakery, but I get hopelessly lost. The directions are clearly wrong, as I have an idea where I’m going, so I hail a taxi and ten minutes later I’m sitting in the ornate restaurant with my Kobo and the best espresso I’ve ever had. I order an omelette with salad for breakfast and just enjoy the time and space. It’s probably the fanciest place I’ve ever had just breakfast and it’s one of the loveliest hours I’ve spent indoors in Rio.


My next destination is the Portuguese Reading Room, and low and behold, my directions are completely wrong again. I eventually make my way to the marble building and enter in silence. I sign the guest book (I’m the only overseas visitor today) and read the rules. I am not allowed to touch the books or be noisy, much like any library/museum. Except this is the most spectacular reading space, and possibly room, that I have ever been in. I feel like I have stepped onto a Harry Potter set and the books are going to fly off the shelves at any second. It’s incredible. There are ropes preventing the tourists from getting too close, but there are a few people sitting in the desks behind them with books. I want to run my hands over the pages of the books, smell them, hold them up to the light and unravel their mysteries. But I have to do with just looking at them from afar.


It’s not a big room, but the ceiling is extremely high and looking up makes me dizzy. It must be at least 3 stories high and every shelf is packed with books. Whoever lined them up so perfectly and evenly must be an organizational wizard. On the higher levels, the book shelves are bordered by pillars and overhangs with elaborate designs, and railings run around the upper levels that are fancy enough to have their own museum. When I look toward the ceiling, my eyes are drawn to a beautiful stained glass window that lets just enough light in to illuminate the majestic space. I have never seen anything like this room. I actually think this is must see on any visit to Rio; I hadn't even heard of it the first time I came here, but it's definitely worth a visit if you ever come to the Marvelous City.





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