Copacabana: The Beach Still Sways to Samba In the daily drama of the world's most fabled beach, visitors should expect the unexpected. Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana still wears a 1960s look, with its low-slung kiosks serving up nickel beers and fresh coconuts -- for now.
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Copacabana: The Beach Still Sways to Samba

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Copacabana: The Beach Still Sways to Samba

Copacabana: The Beach Still Sways to Samba

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Now, a trip to Rio's famed Copacabana. Just the name conjures up images of crashing surf, beachgoers wearing not very much.

But as NPR's Julie McCarthy reports, the Copacabana also produces dozens of small dramas that provide a unique glimpse into the day to day life of Rio.

JULIE MCCARTHY: The newspaper said flags are flying on Copacabana in mourning. Intrigued, I ventured out to the promenade of Rio's fabled beach and find rippling from the roofs of the kiosks that line the shore square, black banners.

I order coconut water at one of the grieving concessions and watch Carlos Alvis(ph) deftly whack the top off the fruit and stuff a straw down the middle. Carlos tells me he's worked here six years, but that this stand, that's been here for 20, is closing.

Mr. CARLOS ALVIS: (Through translator) I'm going to be unemployed and so is the owner of the kiosk.

MCCARTHY: An ocean breeze rustles the flyer on a white table, explaining that these locally owned stalls which lend the Copacabana a Ricky Ricardo 1960s, look are being replaced by more up to date eateries sponsored by Nestle's and Rio's ritziest cafes, the better to attract tourists who can watch bronzed bodies lunge for volleyballs while sipping local libations.

Rio beaches traditionally have been where all the social classes mix. Carlos says Copacabana's facelift jeopardizes that because the pricier new places are beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.

(Soundbite of music)

The impromptu band merrily plays, as if to say no more doom and gloom. Brazilian hospitality vies with poverty. A girl whose head barely clears the tabletop stops to hawk Chiclets. She patiently waits as I finish an interview to clinch her sale. Moments later, two dripping boys shiver up, asking for lunch.

Shadows lengthen from the high rise apartments across the street, and suddenly a policeman pins a young man on the ground. What's he done? I ask. None of your business, comes back the reply. A squad car pulls up and bundles the terrified looking teenager into the backseat.

Rosario Pereira de Cruz sits like an oracle at the kiosk, picking coconut from a shell. He did nothing, she declares. The police are always picking up poor black kids, she says. I ask her what she makes of all the changes on her beach.

Ms. ROSARIO PEREIRA DE CRUZ: (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: Insignificant in contrast to the real problems in Brazil, she says, citing poor hospitals and police violence.

I looked down the avenue to see a massive wall hiding the construction of the new kiosks. It blocks the ocean from view.

Several new kiosks, all alike, have already popped up. The Luis Café allows me into their kitchen. Dug beneath the sand, out of public view, cook Paolo Robert Vendosilva(ph) sees nothing but progress in Copacabana's makeover.

Mr. PAOLO ROBERT VENDOSILVA: (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: This'll open new doors for me and everybody here, he says.

Any local color lost, once the old kiosks go, I ask.

Mr. VENDOSILVA: (Speaking foreign language)

MCCARTHY: That's the past, he says. This is the future, an evolution of Rio. A future a little less welcoming for boys looking for lunch, perhaps, but where the musicians say they expect to keep passing their tambourines for tips and play on.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro.

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