Being robbed in Rio de Janeiro

I was there but a year, still glaringly dressed like a foreigner but settled in a sweet little house facing Rodrigo de Freitas Lake and the soaring peak of Corcovado, when my purse flew off my shoulder. The perpetrator disappeared around the corner while I was yet recovering from being knocked askew.

As I rounded the corner I saw my purse lying on the ground, its contents rifled. It wasn’t the lost cash that upset me, but the documents that went with it. Having spent five years in Italy standing in line at government offices applying for this and another document, I almost forgot that I was now an American citizen with financial resources. As in most European countries, one could hire an intermediary agency to do the standing in line. It wasn’t the case in Italy when I was merely a penurious local.

Another time, I was climbing onto a bus when again my purse was ripped off my shoulder. The young boy who had my goods ran through traffic across the street and I found myself aiming the point of my umbrella at him as though it was a rifle. As he ran he rummaged for my wallet, then dropped the purse. Far off, at the curb, a man picked it up and as I came up to him he handed it to me. He shrugged in philosophical fashion, saying the poor had their methods and for me to take being robbed in stride.

Easy to say. But by then I had also acquired a philosophical bent about the episode. In Rio de Janeiro one did not wear gold jewelry outside in the streets and it was your own fault if you lost it. A friend was stopped in her car at a light when a man reached through the window on her side and tried to grab her purse. Reacting, my friend slammed the door open into him. I called her James Bond for a while after that.

While walking on a street in Sao Paulo, a city that reminds me of Manhattan, Renato had a hand plunge into his pocket.

Street robberies are growing in alarming numbers in the United States and often they involve guns, which weren’t a component in Brazil. Guns guns guns guns. Sometimes I despair.


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