Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon wonders why. Why, oh Why? He gets up every morning and walks some 300 meters to the newsstand where he buys the daily newspaper (the number is significant, read on!)
The thought “Why oh why?” comes from the paper’s front page. There’s always something political, something sporty, something cultural, something intellectual. But, alas! There’s often something architectural—such as, for instance, the infamous “Y”.
What’s the “Y”? It’s the projected pier for cruise ships, planned by the company which controls the Carioca docks. It’s a structure designed to funnel tens of thousands of tourists into customs and immigration and … Rio!
What’s wrong with the “Y”? According to the paper, it’s too close to (a) the new ultra-très-chic Museum that’s being put up in the space near Praça Mauá, a former red-lit zone now gone pink not to say whitewashed; and (b) the Mosteiro São Bento, that derelict relic housing monks who, Sundays, sing Gregorian chants (beautifully, we may add).
What does “too close” mean? In the case of the “Y” and the anonymous Museum it means 300 meters at the nearest tip of the “Y”. The thought is that the Museum, a permanent and dynamic structure, quite striking in design, will somehow be diminished by the occasional presence of cruise ships.
Really? Do you know how far 300 meters is? The new MAR (a delightful structure, modern conjoined to traditional) is a museum only about 100 meters from Rio Branco 1, that tallish pinkish thingy with pastel blue outlines. The MAR is also around 100 meters from Rio’s first skyscraper which was ugly a century ago and is ugly now and should be torn down but… won’t because it’s historical. And, finally, MAR is about 100 meters from a dreadful slum. Does that keep anyone from visiting it? Of course not!
But we digress. We were discussing 300 meters. The Praia do Flamengo is 300 meters from the Rua do Catete. Anyone on either street knows that tall structures on one end have zero effect upon the visual of the other, because 300 meters is a long, long way away from anything. Why would rational people maintain that a cruise ship periodically parked 300 meters from the new Museum will, somehow, detract from people enjoying that museum—and what’s inside it?
The other rationalization for not putting the “Y” close to the Praça Mauá is that the parked cruise ships will occlude the view of the landmarked São Bento Monastery. The paper parrots this idiocy regularly, thinking no one will ask: “Whose view”? The sole answer is, the view of those few fisherfolk oaring their coracles around the bay, hoping to net a piscine survivor of that cesspool.
What is the landward view of the backside of São Bento? It’s crumbling masonry, paint jobs at least two decades old, a rocky outcropping with greenish growths just below the foundation. Just like museums, people go INSIDE São Bento to see why it’s been landmarked – they couldn’t care less about its outside, even if they could see it. So, Why oh Why? does the paper continue to publish alternatives to the Y being promoted by architects who didn’t win the bid for the Y work? No one knows. But the Curmudgeon wishes it would stop.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)