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Porous CityA Cultural History of Rio de Janeiro$
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Bruno Carvalho

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9781846319754

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2014

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781846319754.001.0001

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At the Centre of an Imperial Capital: Swamps, Yellow Fever, and Gypsy Parties

At the Centre of an Imperial Capital: Swamps, Yellow Fever, and Gypsy Parties

(p.16) Chapter One At the Centre of an Imperial Capital: Swamps, Yellow Fever, and Gypsy Parties
Porous City

Bruno Carvalho

Liverpool University Press

The chapter opens with the 1808 arrival of the Portuguese royal court in Rio de Janeiro. As a geographic centre, between the administrative quarters of the Old City and the residence of Brazil’s emperor, the Cidade Nova received major infrastructure investments and caught the attention of foreign travellers. A yellow fever epidemics, however, pushed wealthier residents elsewhere. The swamp-filled neighbourhood became consolidated as a home to the lower classes, including newly arrived migrants, freed slaves, and Gypsies. Analysis focuses on Manuel Antônio de Almeida’s Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant (1852-3). The story’s narrator portrays the Cidade Nova as a distant space of parties, Gypsies, and perilous indigenous witchcraft. The descriptions paradoxically contain details that betray the author’s familiarity with those practices. Building on a seminal reading of a dialectic between order and disorder both in the narrative and in Brazilian society, the chapter proposes this interplay as expressive of a type of spatial porosity. In the process, several questions pertaining to Rio’s socio-racial relations surface: what does it mean when a city’s most oppressed inhabitants are also its most visible? And how do those exploited under a slave-based system leave a deep and irrevocable imprint on dominant cultural practices?

Keywords:   gypsies, yellow fever, Manuel Antônio de Almeida, slavery

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