Take a nature break at Carnival

Weekend getaways and nature adventures in and around Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Urban wildlife in Rio de Janeiro, seen near the Sitio Roberto Burle Marx. Please don’t feed the monkeys!

This weekend most of the Western world celebrates Carnaval, or Mardi Gras, and no place celebrates the holiday as enthusiastically as Rio de Janeiro and Brazil.

But even in the heartland of Carnaval, there are dissenters looking to get away from the city for a quiet and relaxing holiday break. Here are some ideas for a little nature time during the big weekend.

Take a stroll in the Jardim Botânico in the heart of Rio’s Zona Sul. This amazing place was founded by the Portuguese emperors in 1808 to develop useful plants discovered by the explorers funded by the crown. Today it is an outstanding biodiversity and study resource, and a quiet oasis in the bustling city. If you can’t get out of town this weekend, the Jardim Botânico will soothe your nerves. (Warning: there will be a lot of traffic this weekend with the various neighborhood Carnaval blocos on parade. Check the paper for schedules.)

Another awesome garden in metropolitan Rio is the home and garden of Roberto Burle Marx, the Sitio Roberto Burle Marx. Now a historical park on the far west side of Rio, the renowned landscape architect’s estate was his creative laboratory for gardening and architecture. (The park is temporarily closed due to heavy rains interfering with infrastructural projects. Be sure to check back with the park for re-opening!)

This might be the weekend to explore some of the hiking trails in Rio de Janeiro. You can hike to the top of Corcovado, Pão de Açucar (Sugar Loaf), Pedra da Gávea and the Dois Irmãos, to name the most famous mountains in the city.

Just outside of Rio is Petropolis, the historic imperial city in the Serra Orgão mountains. Long a favorite weekend getaway, Petropolis offers some great mountain hikes, including a challenging 35-km trek between the two cities of Petropolis and Teresopolis.

If you’re more of a water baby than a mountain goat, the Costa Verde, or Green Coast near Paraty makes for a refreshing escape from the big city. Try sea kayaking or paddle boarding for a fresh twist on this popular resort area.

Buzios, once a quiet fishing village, was “discovered” by Brigitte Bardot in the 1960s and today is a buzzing resort town. It’s also one of the top windsurfing locations in Brazil. If you’re looking for a quiet escape from the crowds, Buzios is probably not the best place to go during holiday weekends–half of Rio has had the same idea, and they’re driving slowly around the town square, looking for that lost parking spot.

As always, do your research before booking, and if you’re traveling to Brazil from abroad, be sure to apply for your visa in plenty of time for the trip.

Groovy Link of the Month: Beatriz Milhazes at the Perez Art Museum Miami

Beatriz Milhazes, one of my very favorite contemporary artists, is being honored with her first US-museum career retrospective at the Perez Art Museum Miami. The exhibit is entitled “Beatriz Milhazes: Jardim Botânico” and runs Sept. 19, 2014 through Jan. 11, 2015. The works represent the full progression of her colorful abstract compositions from the organic, circular shapes based on textiles and flowers to her recent return to the formal grid.

Milhazes is a Carioca (native of Rio de Janeiro) who trained at the Parque Lage art school in the 1980s. Art runs in the family: Her mother was an art-history professor, while her sister is a choreographer with her own modern dance company (Beatriz has designed theatrical sets for the company’s performances.) Her artistic breakthrough came during a sojourn in Paris, where she discovered Matisse. The idea that painting could be decorative, colorful, and at the same time, rigorously abstract, set her free to develop her own approach to subject matter and style. Other artistic influences include Brazilian floral textiles and lace, the annual Carneval samba competitions at the Sambodromo in Rio, and most importantly, the city’s famed botanical gardens. Since graduating from art school, Milhazes has maintained a studio in a converted millworker’s house in the historic neighborhood bordering the Jardim Botânico.

Milhazes uses a form of decalcomania to create her large-scale abstractions. By pouring thin coats of liquid acrylics on plastic sheets, then scraping the dried paint shapes off the plastic and gluing them onto the canvas, she constructs her images in slightly tattered layers that reveal the colors below.

I first encountered her work in London, where Transport for London hosted an installation of her work titled “Peace and Love”  in the Gloucester Road Tube station in late 2005 and early 2006 as part of its Art on the Underground exhibit/installation series. Gloucester Road is the Tube station closest to the Victoria and Albert Museum. Getting on and off the train and seeing her colorful work really brought a lift to my spirits during the gray, cold London winter. I’ve been a fan ever since.


Fields of gold and some groovy links

Yellow and purple wildflowers in early September, New Mexico.

Late summer wildflowers. I love these early morning walks!

Rather than select one, single Groovy Link of the Month, I thought a list of some interesting links might be fun instead.


The Colours of Reality, a major retrospective of the botanical artist and blues musician, Rory McEwen at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Rory McEwen was a true Renaissance Man, a type rarely seen in today’s world of narrow specialization. Born and raised in Scotland, he was introduced to the art of botanical painting by his family’s governess, and learned more from Wilfrid Blunt, his art teacher at boarding school. As a young man, he traveled to the US and popularized the music of the famous blues guitarist Leadbelly by performing 12-string blues on the Ed Sullivan Show and on the BBC in the UK. He turned from music to painting exclusively in 1964.

For contemporary botanical artists, his influence matches only that of Margaret Mee, although the two differed in their approach to botanical art. Mee was the classic explorer-scientist, traveling into the Amazon alone or with a guide to paint and gather plant specimens for further study in her São Paulo studio. McEwen, on the other hand, chose to paint individual leaves, petals and plants as individual beings, with their own unique life history and personality, rather than the generic standard of identification normally seen in botanical illustration until that time. Today’s botanical artists seek to create work that uses modernist compostional techniques and unusual subject matter as a direct result of his groundbreaking work that featured decay, scars and a singular moment in time, rather than the illustrative view of a plant detailing its entire reproductive life cycle.

Botanical artist Martin J. Allen writes an appreciative essay on the exhibit. Inky Leaves blog by artist JR Shepherd, offers several links and reviews of the exhibit.

The exhibit closes on September 22, so if you’re in London during the next 10 days, try to get a look in!

My favorite Brazilian artist, Beatriz Milhazes, is holding her first major retrospective in her home town of Rio de Janeiro at the Paço Imperial (unfortunately, the center’s own website is still under construction.) Entitled Meu Bem (My Dear), the exhibit runs until October 27. I first encountered her work in London, in an installation at the Gloucester Road Tube station and fell in love with her cheerfully rigorous geometric abstractions. Despite her international success in the last 20 years, Milhazes continues to live and work in the historic Jardim Botânico bairro of Rio de Janeiro.

Cool jobs:

The exhibit artists who create the awesomely naturalistic exhibits at the Bronx Zoo.

Biocreativity blog interviews scientific illustrator Emily M. Eng.

Botanical and biological news:

The Indian Botanists’ Journal blog describes air-cloning the Neomalarckia caramba (Roxb.) That spherical blossom looks like a 1950’s George Nelson chandelier! Fab-a-licious.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art describes the medieval history of the flower we now know as the carnation.

A 1-millimeter long water beetle was discovered on the campus of the Ateneo de Manila University in Manila, the Philippines. Beyond the excitement aroused by the fact that a new species has been discovered in the world’s most densely populated city, the interesting point is that the university campus grounds consist of reclaimed waterways and second-generation forest growth, the type of natural environments often thought of as too degraded to host significant amounts of species or permanent habitats for them.


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