By Joshua Rapp Learn, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – It had only cost one Real and a short security check to get us into the massive, open air structure officially called the Centro Luiz Gonzaga de Tradições Nordestinas. It only took a few minutes before our direction gravitated towards the massive sounds of one of the two stages hosting live concerts at either end of the oval fair. As the sea of paired dancers washed around us in close embrace, it took me a moment to recall I was in Rio de Janeiro and not back in a Bahian street festival.
The sound of live music became evident through the clamor of sizzling food, hawkers beckoning us towards wares and televisions playing concert DVD’s at top volume. We ducked under clothes racks hanging in narrow passageways and small bars nestled in shadowy stalls blasting music that competed with the noise of the concert over spaces no bigger than an average bedroom.
The clothing and craft stalls gave way to karaoke bars and Paraiban restaurants before the space opened up to a huge crowd dancing to the live forró music on stage. We broke through a periphery of onlookers, drinking from big bottles of beer and wandered towards the massive speakers.
Several minutes of forró was sufficient to push us out of the swirling crowd of sparsely clothed dancers on a mission to explore the market’s other options. We picked through cheap clothes racks and stalls hawking unrefined cane sweets, spices and various medicinal folk remedies before arriving at the center of chaos.
The eye of the hurricane was adorned with an eerie line of benches where a few bored couples, seniors and children stared at a television screen providing solace for those tired of shopping.
I was briefly tempted to grab a ‘Jesus Guarana’ from a nearby stall and join the quiet onlookers before my girlfriend pulled me off to look at some traditional weaving, inserting me into a reality that seemed to mimic the market-packed streets of downtown Recife.
From a distance the fair alternately referred to as São Cristóvão or the Fair of the Northeast appears to be a sort of sports stadium. Red bricks are stacked up to white beams that roll over the walls in a smooth, wavelike shape. The Luiz Gonzago Center of Northeastern Traditions is in the neighborhood of São Cristóvão, just a few blocks from the Rodoviaria Novo Rio.
Migrants from Brazil’s northeast first began to inhabit the São Cristóvão neighborhood in the 40s to work in construction, following a wave of industrialization.
The fair was held in the Campo de São Cristóvão for 58 years before it was relocated. The pavilion where it currently resides used to be used for exhibitions and concerts.
After catching on fire and subsequently abandoned, the space was reconstructed to host the energetic fair in 2003. Security and facilities were equipped to deal with the 250,000 monthly visitors the fair’s website boasts (http://www.feiradesaocristovao.org.br ). Since then, the fair has been an epicenter of culture and tradition, hosting concerts and displaying crafts expressive of Brazil’s vibrant northeast.
Although the fair is partially open most days, it really gets going on the weekends – Sunday especially. At one Real per entry, it is a great way to enjoy a taste of culture on the cheap.