For the last three years I enjoyed the luxury of being required by reasons of my employment to visit Rio de Janeiro on a regular basis. Boasting the glorious sand and sea of Copacabana, a rainforest that seeps into heart of the urban centre, live music opportunities that make sleep difficult to schedule, and the world’s greatest carnival, Rio has it all. But what I will miss most, aside from my wonderful carioca friends, is a little street-side bar off the eastern end of the Copacabana, called Leme Light.
There’s nothing fancy about it. Nothing at all. Patrons, who mostly don’t start arriving until midnight is approaching, perch on fold-up chairs astride the pavement, or stools around garish Coke bottle tables, sharing their chosen hostelry with passing pedestrians, local dogs and the constant rumble of the belching traffic that is everywhere in Rio.
Once seated, the choice is cheap, cold beer, or spirits. It might be possible to buy the fried banana chips that are Brazil’s alternative to potato crisps, I don’t remember, but that is about it as far as the formal allure of Leme Light goes. Yet this little bar also has a hidden purpose, as a place of education for visiting gringoes.
It was here I learned that there is more than one type of cachaha – the spirit that is the basis of Brazil’s national cocktail, the heavenly caipirinha – and that the best of the breed is aptly called Magnifico.
It was in Leme Light’s hallowed hall that I discovered that giraffes can dance and that David Attenborough is a national treasure not only to every discerning Brit, but also to at least one nature-obsessed Frenchman.
Here, as the cachaha flowed, it was revealed that the name hashish was once used to describe medeival middle-eastern assassins, who (rather inadvisedly I would have thought) smoked the herb to achieve calm before carrying out their brutal assignments.
On the same night of revelations I also recall learning that Petit Suisse is a cow, not a small person from that Alpine-encased gold-hoarding country.
One Leme Light lecture involved a re-telling of the tale of Gilgamesh, the world’s first great work of literature, from which there was a connection with Lebanon and olives, the detail of which now resides in the wing of my Mind Palace where important birthdays and the names of people I have known for years are also forgotten.
But, most importantly, it was during a night-class at Leme Light that I was introduced to the wonderful concept of saideira. It means something approximating to “one for the road”, a phrase to be uttered when eyelids are drooping but the warm glow of a great evening still exerts a comforting embrace. But whereas “one for the road” in London is usually associated with the grim bark of “last orders”, once someone has called a round for saideira, everyone present is obliged in turn to call their own saideira as the last drop of the previous student’s round of cachaha is drained. More often than not, nights tend to get dangerously close to turning into days, and a planned sunrise run on the beach becomes instead an amble home.
Sadly markontour’s course at Academy Leme Light is now complete. This blog will have to serve as a final dissertation. But education is a life-long pursuit and now the task begins to find a new centre of learning in my new second home, Paris, where fortunately some Leme Light alumni are already gathering..
Leme Light: R. Gustavo Sampaio, 795 – Leme, Rio de Janeiro – RJ, 22010-010, Brazil