In search of celebrities: Hippie Fair, Al Roker and Dong Dong

Dave Barry with Today weatherman Al Roker
Dave Barry with Today weatherman Al Roker

In a moment I will bring you an Olympic news update, but first you will want to hear about my celebrity encounter. This happened in Ipanema, the famous Rio beach neighborhood immortalized in the song “The Girl from Ipanema,” in which a man sings wistfully about a beautiful young woman walking past a bar:

“And when she passes, each one she passes goes, HEY MAMA LOOKING GOOD!”

It sounds more romantic in Portuguese.

Every Sunday, not far from the very bar where that song was written, they hold (really) the Feira Hippie de Ipanema, or Ipanema Hippie Fair. This is basically an arts-and-crafts fair, similar to the ones in the United States — the kind selling a wide variety of completely useless things at excellent prices; the kind where you, personally, can survey all 200 stalls in eight minutes and be ready to leave, but your wife can spend the ENTIRE DAY browsing and purchasing “art” items that she claims will “go great” with your home decor, even though your home decor is no longer visible to the human eyeball because it is covered with a thick protective layer of your wife’s previous art-fair purchases.

Or maybe that’s just me.

So anyway, I was with my daughter, making my way through the Hippie Fair, passing stall after stall selling souvenir replicas of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue that overlooks Rio — rows and rows of tiny Jesuses holding their arms out sideways, as if to say “I died for THIS?” — when I saw a young woman coming through the crowd dressed in a colorful, skimpy Carnaval costume. She was handing out fans advertising Carnaval tickets, and when she handed me one I held up my phone and made the international gesture for “Photo?” She smiled and stood next to me while my daughter took our picture. I said “Obrigado,” which is the only word I know in Portuguese. It think it means “thank you,” but it could also mean “my spleen has ruptured.” There is no way to tell.

I started to walk away, but the woman blocked my path and said something in Portuguese, which of course I did not understand, so I said “Obrigado” again. She kept blocking me, and switched to English. We had this conversation:

WOMAN: Five.

ME: What?

WOMAN (counting on her fingers): One, two, three, four, five.

ME: Five?

WOMAN: Money.

It turned out she wanted me to pay her five reals for the photo. So I gave it to her, because (a) I didn’t want to create a scene, and (b) based on her physique, which was frankly on the hefty side to be wearing a Carnaval costume, she could definitely beat me up. Also five reals, in American money, is only about $1.60. Or possibly $258. There is no way to tell.

But that was not my Celebrity Encounter. That happened several minutes later, when I turned a corner in the art fair and ran into Al Roker, the genial NBC weather celebrity, who was taping a color segment on the Hippie Fair with some other Today Show personalities. Al and I said hi, and I took a selfie with him. He’s a nice, down-to-earth guy.

Q. How down-to-earth is he?

A. He only charged me three reals.

No, seriously, not only did he not charge me, but he also took a selfie of us and posted it on Twitter. This is definitely my biggest journalism achievement of the Olympics so far.

Speaking of which, it’s time for our Olympic news update. At the moment we are following two major breaking stories:

THE KAYAK SOFA: According to Internet rumor, an Olympic kayaker capsized after hitting a submerged sofa. So far nobody has been able to confirm this, which probably means that — tragically — it never happened. But the Kayak Sofa already has its own Twitter account and hashtag (#kayaksofa) and it will probably become an Olympic legend, like Jim Thorpe. The sofa is definitely getting more clicks than Al Roker and me.

DONG DONG: I am thrilled to report that Dong Dong, the Chinese trampoline gymnast who won the gold medal in London (I was there!) is competing in these games. I will keep you posted on his efforts, although I will refrain from speculating on whether Dong Dong’s Cuban nickname is Pinga Pinga, because there is no WAY that will get published in the Miami Herald.

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