A much more significant migration, however, began in the 1950s, as the south zone beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema came to be associated with Bossa Nova and the city’s upper class nightlife. The “artistic” prostitution earlier associated with Gloria and Lapa was part of this migration, with women establishing themselves in the new nightlife spots such as the Beco das Garrafas (Bottle Alley – a renowned strip of clubs and bars in Copacabana associated with the birth of Bossa Nova).
The new apartment-style mini-brothels, populated by “dancers and singers” were perfect for this new bohemian scene and were almost impossible to completely repress. Pereira recounts a story however, which shows how the police tried and the methods they employed:
In 1958, police authorities in the Second Precinct (Copacabana), who normally have to deal with far too many cases of suspect apartments, decided to clean up one of the dirtiest buildings on R. Ministro Viveiros de Castro…
Many regular families used to live in this building, which also contained a number of suspect [apartments] that operated with prostitutes. For some reason, the number of these later establishments began to suddenly grow… Slutishness became structured, returned good profits the lawyers kept themselves busy covering for the madames and the girls went wanting.
It was necessary [for the police] to act with a certain degree of arbitrariness, use a measured dose of violence, in order to take the madames out. Many of them were illegally imprisoned without warrants… and convinced themselves that it was better to run up the white flag, hand over the apartments which had made them so much money, and move to other parishes, where things were more liberal.
Here we get a tantalizing picture of how the carioca police operated outside the Mangue in the 1950s and ’60s: in order to keep prostitutes out of “regular family” area, they were willing to go outside the law and illegally imprison and perhaps even torture men and women they viewed as “pimps” and “madames”.
This was not to end prostitution, mind, but simply to “convince” said establishments to move elsewhere – most probably the Mangue. Pereira was aware that this sort of operation was entirely illegal, but he was also so convinced of its acceptability to the city’s authorities and the public in general, that he recounts it in a laconic and even humorous tone.
Police attempts to keep prostitution out of Copacabana were doomed to failure, however. The strip described by Pereira in the 1960s as “the aquarium” (the neighborhood’s main prostitution area) became the most concentrated region of Copacabana bars, nightclubs and cabarets in the 1970s and ‘80s.
54 of the 279 commercial sexual venues identified in Rio de Janeiro via ethnographic fieldwork are situated in Copacabana with 26 of these within two blocks of the old “aquarium”. These establishments are also far and away the oldest venues in the neighborhood, so it is quite possible that some of them evolved directly out of the bohemian scene that graced the Copa in the 1950s.
One thing is quite definite, however: by the late 1970s, Copacabana prostitution had begun to increasingly integrate foreign tourists as clients.
The majority of Rio’s luxurious heterosexual saunas and first-rank night-clubs are in the neighborhood and, although foreign clients would never be the majority in most of Copacabana’s prostitution venues, they would dominate the wealthiest and be a considerable presence in others. In 1984, the famous Help discotheque was established, becoming the city’s main focal point for encounters between foreign tourists and carioca prostitutes by the first years of the following decade.
Help was finally confiscated by the state government in 2010 in order to make way for a new Museum of Sound and Imagery (and, of course, as part of the general “hygienization” plans being implemented prior to the World Cup and Olympics).
During its 25 years of existence, however, the disco illustrated the fact that prostitution in Rio – even the forms linked to sexual tourism – continues to exist alongside other forms of commerce and sociability. During the day, the complex surrounding Help turned into a restaurant dedicated to non-sexual tourists. Even in the evenings, when the tables in front of the club began to fill up with prostitutes and clients, half of the sidewalk space was dedicated to a “normal” restaurant.
While Copacabana began to specialize in sexual tourism and the bohemian or “artistic” prostitution that had earlier been Lapa’s metier, downtown Rio de Janeiro in the 1960s and ’70s began to develop a commercial sexual scene geared towards a Brazilian clientelle made up of downtown male workers (of all classes).
This process speeded up considerably as the Mangue became increasingly demolished and its sex-working women driven ever farther away from the center of town. Theater, cabaret and hotel prostitution, as well as massage parlors became quite common, downtown. By the late 1970s and early ’80s, however, heterosexual saunas had also become established in the region, some of them quite posh.
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