Brazil is no country for beginners.
—Antônio Carlos Jobim
Vinícius de Moraes, the Oxford-educated Brazilian poet who wrote “The Girl from Ipanema,” was an unabashed lover of Brazilian women. He married seven of them.
De Moraes knew a good thing when he saw one, and he was unapologetic in his devotion to feminine beauty. He famously declared, “Ugly women, forgive me, but beauty is fundamental.” Through his writing he did much to incite the imaginations of men across the globe about the allure of Brazilian beach culture. There was an actual “Girl from Ipanema,” Heloísa Eneida Menezes Paes Pinto, a supermodel-beautiful 17-year-old with emerald green eyes, and a walk like poetry, whom de Moraes spotted in 1962 from his girl-watching perch at the Veloso Bar, a block from the beach at Ipanema.
“The Girl from Ipanema” won a Grammy for Record of the Year in 1965 on its way to becoming the second-most-widely-recorded popular song in history. More than any other single influence, it probably helped shape Rio de Janeiro’s reputation as home to some of the world’s most beautiful women. As Victoria’s Secret proclaimed in its “The Girls of Brazil” advertisement, “No country has produced more Victoria’s Secret models than Brazil.”
I freely admit that I was one of many men who fell under the spell that de Moraes cast. Before I ever set foot in Rio de Janeiro, I was completely sold on the attraction of scantily clad Brazilian women cavorting on ...