We used to avoid Rio Centro because it was dodgy and not so safe. It still is in a way—I wouldn’t wander around in the streets after dark—but Rio de Janeiro feels safer and the downtown area is undergoing major renovation and improvements for the upcoming Olympics. Things change, places change.
In a way, Rio Centro reminds me of Panama City. Old building in need of a paint job and barely standing because of the humid weather, narrow streets and large avenues, dodgy streets and perfectly safe ones—make sure you know where you are going. During the working week, it’s lively and it’s interesting to see normal people doing normal stuff—going to work, wolfing down lunch, grabbing a coffee or just hanging out with co-workers. I’m convinced that most office workers wear a swimsuit under their professional attire, though.
Just a few blocks from these streets is the brand new Museu do Amanhã, the “Museum of Tomorrow”, a neofuturistic science museum inaugurated in December 2015. The building itself is impressive, it looks like a smaller unfinished version of the Sydney Opera House. The waterfront is still being renovated but it looks like the city wants to make the Píer Mauá and the area around a new landmark.
The lineup in front of the museum was long, but thanks to Mark we were able to go through the faixa preferencial. If there is something Brazilians respect, it’s a designated lineup for elderly, disabled people and parents with young kids. Wherever there is a cash register, there is a faixa preferencial and you’d better move out of the way is something looking close to 60 is approaching. Parents with young kids are welcome to use it too but at 3 1/2, I’m not sure Mark still qualifies as a crianças de colo under federal law. We usually queue like everybody else but this time for one, I encouraged Mark to use his pacifier and even cry a bit if he wanted to. “Just don’t speak and don’t start counting, okay?” “Mommy… you’re silly…”
We finally made it inside the museum and then realized there was a much longer lineup for the featured exhibition. Never mind, we checked out the rest. The main exhibition takes visitors through five main areas: Cosmos, Earth, Anthropocene, Tomorrow and Now via a number of visual displays. The focus was on sustainable cities with a lot of climate- and population-related data. In theory (didn’t really work and the place was crowded), we could use our ticket, a magnetic plastic card, to interact with the exhibition and answer a number of lifestyle questions about our diet, spending habit, etc.
Halfway through the exhibition, I sighed and started to get annoyed. The main message (and it wasn’t a subtle one) was that we were not ready for “tomorrow” and that us, bad humans, were killing mother earth. I don’t disagree with that but the exhibition felt like a guilt trip without offering solutions or options.
To sum it up, I felt the museum was like a fifteen-year-old high school science project proudly stating the obvious and expecting a A+ for research and data.
I was disappointed.
I think we should skip the Miss America statements—”war is bad”, “people shouldn’t starve” and “we should all care about the environment”—to think outside the box. Easier said than done, I know.
In a way, I found the museum was like many things in Rio de Janeiro: impressive at first glance and great on the surface but with little substance. The scenery is great until you realize how dirty the streets are. The people look fun and happy until you realize how many of them live in the street. The sun shines until it pours and the whole city is flooded.
I sound unfairly critical. Brazil is still an amazing country and it has a lot of potential and resources. It will be okay. But for now, it’s still stuck between old and new, still in transition.