A alma encantadora das ruas / The enchanting soul of the streets
João do Rio
Translated and annotated by Mark Carlyon
There is no other writer as intimately identified with the city whose name he adopted as João do Rio. The anthology of essays and articles that make up ‘The Enchanting Soul of the Streets’ is an extraordinary document, not only for its vivid depiction of life on the streets of Rio de Janeiro at the beginning of the last century, but also for its poetic and human content.
The articles in the collection constitute one of the first examples of investigative journalism in Brazil; they depict a dramatic social reality that was either unknown to or ignored by the wealthier classes of the day. Many of his readers, indeed, believed that João do Rio had simply invented much of the content.
The author narrates these episodes with considerable mastery, in a style which is both poetic and idiosyncratic. It is no coincidence that in his most audacious work, ‘As Religiões do Rio’, he quotes from Emanuel Swedenborg. He also believes in the power of words.
“Men deposit their hopes in the ambiguity of soothing words” he comments in ‘Prayers’; and later in the same article: “Oh! The power of words mysteriously uttered! Men of all countries, men of every clime, live in holy terror of them.” In ‘The Muse of the Streets’, which closes the collection, after claiming that “Brazil is the land of poetry,” and “its capital city is the warehouse, the scrap yard, the junk shop, the great department store of its poetic forms,” he goes on to say: “In the Cosmopolis that is Rio, poetry sprouts from every social class… the newspapers incessantly proclaim the city’s obsession with poetry, the anonymous but overriding desire of a million souls for the rhythm that is the very heartbeat of the word”.
This is the heartbeat that permeates ‘The Enchanting Soul of the Streets’, from the first to the final word.