Yes, it's official, we now have Open World Café in Rio de Janeiro! A meeting of minds at The Maze!
Not for the feeble hearted!
I was looking forward to a relaxing weekend in Rio. Initial calls revealed that hotels were both fully booked and expensive, so I called The Maze, a place I had known about for a few years but never managed to visit, let alone live at, being quite famous as a movie set (a Snoop Dog music video, "The Incredible Hulk" with Edward Norton and most recently "Rio Sex Comedy" with Charlotte Rampling et.al.) and Jazz Club (www.JazzRio.com
When I called, Bob Nadkarni (founder, owner, builder, artist, jazz musician and in short renaissance man extraordinaire) answered, jovially remembering my name from a reservation I had made for the family several Christmas's ago - which didn't happen. Bob had a room and I had a place to stay. The adventure unfolded.
Arriving from Tiradentes at the Rodoviaria (bus station) in Rio at 6.00 am on Saturday I got into a taxi (Radio Taxi - more expensive because they are more safe) and asked to be taken to Tavares Bastos, the street that gives the favela it's name. I didn't know the number but had been told that everyone knew Bob, or: "o Senhor Bobi", so off we went. The taxi ride didn't get off to a good start; the driver told me that driving up the hill would cost an extra five Reais - typical I thought, OK, fine, too tired to argue.
Starting up the hill we find somebody half-way up and ask about "o Senhor Bobi", and yes, no problem, he's at the top, whereupon the taxi driver starts to freak out, hysterically screaming that I'm crazy to go up there, I'll die, there's no reason to go to places like that, it's too dangerous; the taxi driver had a gun put in his face a few weeks earlier driving into favela and there was no way he was going up there.
I've been sitting in a bus all night, not too happy at having somebody screaming at me at 6.30 in the morning, so I say OK, fine, again, and he turns around to go back down the hill. At this point the thought strikes me that maybe I am crazy to be going into a favela to live, I am after all a "Gringo", and we all know the stories of violence in Rio (although after 12 years living and doing business in Brazil nothing has ever happened to me).
We get back down to the main street and the taxi driver lets me off at a "ponto"; taxi stop, where one lone taxi is parked. I pay and transfer by bag to the other local (yellow - cheaper) taxi (I am later told I should not have paid, but think that maybe then I would indeed have seen some violence).
This taxi driver assures me that there is no danger and rives me to the top of the hill. I get out, it's now almost 7.00 am and I stand amidst a group of teenage or twenty-something young men, one with a pierced diamond earring who approaches me and I think this looks very much like a scene out of "Cidade de Deus", the violent movie about life in Rio's favela slums. Here comes a fat chicken ready for the plucking is my thought; I have all I own in a fancy Timberland backpack and big black duffel. I'm wearing black jeans and a black linen blazer, a little too fancy perhaps, for the occasion - damn, didn't think of that.
What do you do??? I go up to the young man, who is wearing a big smile (it's his lucky day!) and ask "do you know "Senhor Bobi's" place"? Luckily my Portuguese is quite fluent so I figure that gives me a few points, I might survive after all (I did!).
So I enter "the maze"; a very narrow alley leading into the deep depths of the favela. The young man walks me a few meters and tells me to keep going, follow the winding alley and eventually I'll get there. So off I go with my backpack and roller duffel bag . . .
Luckily Bob has affixed yellow arrows with "The Maze" written in big letters on every post along the alley way, so I am comforted that I am going somewhere . . .
Along the way everybody is smiling and saying "Bom Dia"! My spirits lift. The alley is less than a meter wide in some places, and I almost miss The Maze sign, in big letters in cement on the right side of the wall; a big iron gate is there, leading up into a very dark staircase, I heave my bag up the stairs and a light goes on, movement sensor - very advanced.
I enter The Maze, it's dark, but there is a light in the distance, I open a door and a big man is standing in front of me with a very big smile "you must be Bob"
Yes! I'm home!
This is perhaps where this story should begin, because after this one good story followed the next; Bob Nadkarni was a sculptor on the set of "2001 - A Space Odyssey" by Arthur C. Clark, and has been a BBC News Correspondent since 1985, visiting all corners of the earth on his journeys - and always returning to The Maze. Bob is joined by Malu, his wife, their two children Lucy and Eric, and Bruno, Bob's son from a previous marriage.
That first morning, our breakfast lasted until 2 o'clock in the afternoon around a big table opening up to what must be one of the best views in the world (see separate pictures)!
As I mentioned in the beginning of this story, Bob is a renaissance man; the building is an artistic statement; beams spreading from pillars asynchronously to symbolize a tree and roof lights in openings where the ceiling rises up to six meters; it's a tree house, and his art depicts various human behaviour on bold and beautiful oil canvases in warm colors, each with it's own story.
Besides serving up the best cup of tea this side of the Greenwich time line (seriously!), Andrea the cook makes a ginger pound cake which makes you close your eyes in sheer delight, it's even worth losing the view for a few moments!
The very beautiful Sarah found The Maze and stayed here, giving English lessons to Bob's and other local children in the favela, as well as the workers who were doing some building on the terrace. Sarah's full-time occupation is in several favelas north of the city where she teaches yoga and English to children and adults alike.
Across the upper court yard Josias composes music; that warm melodious Bossanova which is so much Rio.
Wolfram is a German (who told me about The Maze almost five years ago), and who moved in three years ago and is the main Saxophonist player and one of the three who started the Jazz Club evenings.
This is The Maze family, and I feel enormously privileged to be a part of this evolving experience, and to welcome Bob and his family to Open World Café.
And yes, to answer the question if it's dangerous to visit The Maze; it really is; there is a risk that once you get to know it, you won't ever want to leave!
We look very much forward to many activities and events at The Maze - Open World Café Rio!