Vila Mimosa

As some of you know, I am Brazilian. I lived in the state of Rio de Janeiro until I was sixteen, when I relocated to London.

A couple of years ago, on a visit back, I found myself incredibly bored on a Saturday night in a grotty suburb called Duque de Caxias with my best friends Binho and the stunning Fefeli and her then (grotty as I can’t describe)boyfriend. Desperately seeking thrills, we decided to gatecrash someone’s party.

Already drunk, we were met with a frosty reception that bordered on comical. I really couldn’t have cared less as being around any people, even of the obnoxious and grotty type, worked as a buffer zone between me and the grotty then-boyfriend. My reaction to their disparaging comments at that point was to play guitar and sing even louder, but my companions felt less and less at ease as the minutes progressed.

It was at this moment that a sympathetic man took pity on us for the wretched treatment we were made to suffer for our boredom. Like the player who had been holding his best card to his chest until the choicest moment, he called us girls to the side and asked:

- How would you two like to visit the biggest brothel in Rio?

- When?!!! Now? How?! What do you mean, the biggest brothel in Rio?

- It’s called the Vila Mimosa. I can drive us there, it’s not too far. There are plenty of bars there, we can have a good time and we won’t have to put up with anymore shit from these arseholes.

Our sense of adventure had suddenly been turned up a couple of notches. The biggest brothel in Rio!!!  With visions of a decrepit colonial mansion with a crumbling pink facade, or a warehouse on a disused factory site, we began to ponder escaping from the worst party we had ever attended. Satisfied that our fellow attendees were not going to warm to us anymore than they had already done, the five of us pack into this guy’s VW Beetle and set off on our wild escapade.

As we approached the borough of Sao Cristovao we drove past the Northeastern Flea Market, our driver turned into a street on the right, and after a while turned left. A Military Police Car was blocking the road, and we were told to pull over to the side. At this point our driver(who, may I add, we hadn’t met before the party)panicked, and decided to reveal he has a *small quantity of weed* in one of his pockets, and that we would basically have been screwed if he got searched. Knowing there was no way of discarding this through a window, the then-boyfriend suggested us girls could hide it in our bra or knickers, to which our outraged companion interjected:

- Are you fucking stupid or something? That’s the first place he’s going to look. We’re not in the Zona Sul, ladies, he will stick his finger everywhere without giving it a second thought!

Frozen with fear, our illusions of ethical treatment crumbling beneath our trembling feet, we put on the sweetest, most wholesome expression we could possibly muster in that state of forgotten sobriety, and fortunately it seemed to work. After having his documents inspected under torchlight, our driver was given permission to proceed.

Finally we parked up somewhere, and wandered out through the streets lined with streetlamps like  inverted fluorescent fingernails; bars playing loud music and people spilling out, while Rio goths(a somewhat different breed to London goths)loitered around the corners looking menacing. And then, we are there:

We take a left and then a right(I dont really remember the order), and suddenly we are on a traffic-free cobbled street, packed solid with people. A woman walks out across the street into a bar, wearing nothing but a see-through red thong and high heels. Eh?

You may be surprised by my shock, considering us brazilian girls seem to think nothing of wearing impossibly tiny swimwear in broad sunlight; however, you may be surprised to know that topless sunbathing is illegal in most beaches, and frowned upon in a good proportion of the places where it is permitted. Furthermore, it was a chilly night in May. My London-toughened sensitivity to low temperatures still demanded a couple of warm layers.

Keeping our hands locked around our male companions’ arms with a grip of steel, we proceed to enter the dizzying labyrinth of gaudy neon-lit makeshift bars, where more and more women in various states of undress parade themselves upon the crowd that we have soon come to identify as 99.999…% male(i.e. my friend and I were the ONLY ‘unprofessional’ women there).

Some of you may laugh, having visited other sanitised prostitution areas as the Red Light District in Amsterdam. My shock came mostly from having an insider’s knowledge of Brazilian culture. This was no ordinary place designed for the attenuation of male lust: This was the place some of the poorest, loneliest and most desperate men of Brazil came to enjoy their Panis et Circensis as they received their miserable wages. The women who dangled themselves between the metal bars of the two or three-storey constructions lining the alleyways were not glowing with the fire of sensuality which is the stereotype of our nation; these were women of all ages, from girls who frankly did not appear to have conformed to the 18 years rule the Vila insists it subscribes to, to middle aged females who wore the physical marks of having borne many children whilst suffering the strictures of destitution. Just as you may walk down King’s Road on a Summer’s day and observe the radiant glow of incredibly attractive people who have obviously had a supermodel for a mummy and a hedge fund manager for a daddy and benefited from an optimum diet from conception, you may perceive the opposite on the weathered, beaten, ugly faces of people who have struggled for survival from the time they came from a half-starved agricultural labourer’s sperm. You can tell the difference from the people who were loved and cared for from the moment they were born to the people who came when there was no more affection or money to go round.

And still we stumbled drunkenly through the fanfare. Taking in the spectacle with our inebriated eyes wide open. The driver dude points out that all the prostitutes are squaring in their gazes at us suspiciously. Among those streets where every artery was clogged with men whose vacant eyes seemed to devour them, our fully clothed forms stood out like sore thumbs. Apparently it is pretty unusual for women to visit, a fact that probably accounts for my not being aware of the existence of this flagrant, unapologetic mecca for the sexually starved underwaged brazilian male until this point.  We were reminded of this continuously as group upon group of roudy punters circled us two girls and shouted:

- E’ essa!

Ehhh, in case you were wondering, this is not a place I would advise an unaccompanied female to visit.

Speaking of the men for a minute: There were THOUSANDS of them. THOUSANDS. They were of some of the most humble origins in the country: lorry drivers, builders, pubescent young men from the favelas. There was something about the look in their eyes that I can’t quite put into words(I saw it expressed later in the work of photographer Hanspeter Schneider, more of which to follow). If any of you have ever been victims of violent crime, you may be aware of the instinct of peril your attackers instilled in you just before they made their move; this was in some way comparable, a ‘zoning into prey’, a search for the target. Evidently, it wasn’t as aggressive as a rudeboy kicking you in the face: It was the facial expression of absent human empathy. A vacant, but sinister gaze.

The lascivious, sexually aggressive, coarse persona of the puta seems convincing to the customer who has no desire to engage with the person underneath. A more sensitive observation reveals that the persona is just that; sheer performativity, an act. These are the women who will call out to men on the street as they walk on with their children in tow, will throw themselves at tourists with hands cupping a bollockfull. They make themselves obvious at a beach party amongst other scantily clad, gyrating women by dancing harder, ever more obscenely. They place themselves at the very margin of society, subjected to the attacks of the confusing canon of Brazilian morality which retains the ideals of chastity forever upheld by Catholicism whilst simultaneously sexualising women from infancy.  These women are object of scorn and disgust, of schoolboy jokes and violence. But going there, seeing them perform, made me curious. What brought these women to this place? Who were they when they left, at the end of the night, once they could drop the act?

I became determined to find out more about the Vila Mimosa. There is very little information about it on the internet, and whilst I have come to realise that it’s a subject for schoolboy locker rooms, no man I’ve met so far admits to actually having sex with one of the Vila girls – it is something friends would never let die down. One of the materials I did find, however, was a coffee table fashion book, shot by Hanspeter Schneider, called, would you believe, Vila Mimosa.

Basically the guy spent some time in the vila, scouting prostitutes for a fashion shoot where they wore Agent Provocateur lingerie(with the tags still left on, I bet he thought it was a really witty idea). The photography in the book is gritty and fairly raw, and did not annoy me much per se, apart perhaps from some shots that are highly stylised. What really cocked me off was an email sent by one of Schneider’s assistants which is published at the front of the book. It made the place look like subversive fun, like the women were free, like saying ‘the time you had a copper badge flashed in your face and an AK47 elegantly put to your stomach’ is something that should be glamourised rather than addressed for the barbarity it represents.

Anyway, my reason for posting this is that I am going for a short holiday in Rio next month and I intend to visit the Vila again, this time sober, and see if I can interview some of the girls. I will keep you informed.

17 Responses to “Vila Mimosa”


  1. 1 Omar April 18, 2008 at 10:55 pm

    That was beautifully written dude. I think it goes without saying that I beg you to be careful when there. Please.
    Aside from that have a good one :)

  2. 2 Alice April 30, 2008 at 8:38 am

    An amazing and captivating read. Your writing reads out loud like a poem. And yes, i did just read it out loud to myself for the pleasure of those lyrical lofty rhythms. Professional house girlfirend? Professional investigative journalist.

  3. 3 Derek January 31, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Interesting read. Did you get a chance to email some of the girls on your return?

  4. 4 Derek January 31, 2009 at 8:53 pm

    did you get a change to interview some of the girls?

    • 5 Professional Housegirlfriend February 1, 2009 at 10:10 pm

      Hi Derek, I have yet to interview some of the girls but plan to do it next time I go to Rio. However I did dedicate some time to making some more investigations which you can read about in my post titled ‘Returning to the Rua Ceara’. Thanks for your comment!

      • 6 Walter March 12, 2010 at 12:23 am

        Hi there. I made a visit to Vila Mimosa during Carnival 2010. It appeared to be a bit slow the night we were there. A guy from Richmond by way of Philly told us about it and offered to take us over there. He gave us a warning to remove all jewelry and wear basic items (no designer clothing). We walked into one of the buildings that had a U shaped hall way. There ws a lady sitting there in a chair naked showing her pierced vagina. It must have been a slow night because she didn’t seem to have anyone interested in her services. LaterWe went into a bar across the street and was there for about an hour. I felt a little nervous and decided I should make a quick phone call so they would know where to start looking if I fell off the face of the earth. I couldnt get a signal on my phone in the bar so I went outside. Still I couldn’t get a signal. My friends came out of the bar concerned that I might been snatched but that wasn’t the case. It actually felt very safe there, as if it was a neutral zone for violence. But I woudn’t underestimate it. Did you go back and did you interview some of the ladies?

      • 7 Rob January 31, 2011 at 2:05 am

        Thanks for the article.

        Out of curiosity, I visited VM several years ago. Since I was on my own, and was concerned for my safety, I didn’t want to go there at night. So, early one afternoon, I took the subway from Copacabana and spent hours wandering around until I finally located VM. It was late afternoon so I still had a couple hours to explore VM before it got dark; that was all I wanted for an initial visit, even though I knew the most interesting activity would occur later. I only drank one beer, sold by a street vendor, as I wanted to keep my wits about me and I didn’t want my bladder dictating my actions. (I don’t think I’d ever use a toilet there.)

        The VM was filled with the most unsavory characters I’ve encountered in all my (fairly extensive) world travels. At the same time, there was nothing for me to fear because (1) they were focused on the ladies, not on mugging a tourist, and (2) I was dressed down to blend in as much as possible… or at least I made sure that I didn’t look like a worthwhile target.

        Most women there looked tired, worn out from living a hard life, and were not very appealing. But there were a few exceptions. One very sexy woman was in the open window of one of the many dingy shops off an alley; the window was elevated such that her knees were about at eye level… she was nude and gyrating and providing a sexy up-close show to several dozen punters standing in the alley.

        What I will never forget is a younger girl (I’d guess she was about 17) standing on the edge of the street, completely topless (with perky/firm breasts, puffy nipples, full lips and smooth caramel skin). It wasn’t just the fact that she was topless (I’ve seen thousands of topless women more attractive than her), but the way she presented herself. She was PROUD of her perky breasts, damned proud, and was pushing them forward so they would clearly be on display… nobody could possibly miss seeing them… and she wore a huge smile. I watched her awhile, but promised myself I would not partake that day as I was only on a reconnaissance mission. I fantasize that I walked up to her and, after an exchange of pleasantries (if not cash), began sucking on her breasts right there on the street; I have little doubt that this would have been possible, if only I had asked.

        Maybe next time.

        BTW> Many of the prostitutes hanging out in front of HELP disco on Copacabana also ply their trade (at lower prices) in VM.

  5. 8 Jaques August 24, 2009 at 3:31 am

    we go fuckkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk

  6. 9 Jorge June 12, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    I am opening my hostel to anyone who whises to visit Rio de Janeiro and for those interested in exploring Vila Mimosa I have guided tours for you to visit it in complete safety.
    Cheers

  7. 12 shaungbuk@yahoo.com February 2, 2011 at 3:17 am

    Thanks for this. It’s rather emotive to be honest. Reading this frank account and the follow up comments really makes me think about the world. I am a person who relative to my cushy English background has experienced quite abit, or has at least spent a lot of time reading up on or considering other people’s lives. Comparing the society of that pictured above with the society I now live in really hits home hard, mainly with me considering my selfish and shortsighted aspects. That will go unexplained! But thankyou for an article that is so well written. It has a vivid choice of words and overall description that demands a read. I view myself as quite intelligent; not necessarily educated, but through experience, self study and open mindedness..somewhat intelligent. Where my life is at the moment is not great. I see some faults that need addressing, key things I’ve lost sight of, with a resultant lack of effort to sort things. Quite a strange comment I guess, but I shall explain. In my life I’ve come across many people who’s drive and character belies their struggles, background, upbringing and lack of opportunity whether to great or relatively minor extent. These put me to shame with me efforts. At the outset of this article you say you are a Rio native and moved to London at 16. (I realise I am generalising now but hope it isn’t too much so as not to offend.) You must have had your fair share of struggles in Rio and although it was the only way of life you knew at the time and therefore accepted, it must still have been tough. Then moving abroad takes real strength of character, to adapt, to survive, to integrate. Many immigrants to England never gain or strive to gain a fluent grasp of the language, yet still integrate in communities just fine. But the way this article is written, the English grammar, the descriptive nature, its overall construction is the mark of someone who has with determination and drive applied themself to learn. Learning that frankly is necessary to succeed to a ‘decent’ level in this country. Your English is better than mine. I feel like I can tell that just from reading this. Your intelligence shines through. And whilst this isn’t about me judging you for any purpose, I write this to share overall how your words just made me stop and think, which is afterall what any writer wishes to achieve. Thankyou. How I found my way to this page…! The love of my youth was music creation. It was a world I could disappear into. I went on to study music further. This led to me having a very wide taste in music and a desire to not pigeon hole myself. So in my musical travels I came across Baile/Favela/Carioca Funk. So I ended up on another blog reading about a foreigners trip to a Baile. It also included a glossary, within which vila mimosa was mentioned. I googled it and thus I ended up at your page to end up writing this comment! That may be interesting, or it may not! However, goodnight :)

    • 13 Professional Housegirlfriend February 2, 2011 at 8:46 am

      Thank you for your comment! Actually, I led a comfortable life in Rio and didn’t experience any struggle as such growing up there — I wasn’t running away when I moved abroad. And I could speak English fluently before I came, so I had a head start there! The general view is that there is either extreme poverty or fabulous wealth in Rio, I was somewhere in the middle – This ‘middle’ is a lot bigger than people think outside of Brazil. It certainly plays a part in me being so shocked by the Vila, it was nothing like anything I’d seen before either. However it is true that poverty is never too far away… If you’re interested in baile funk, you should check out Club Popozuda in London’s Favela Chic Club — Old St Station. It’s good fun.

      • 14 shaungbuk@yahoo.com February 3, 2011 at 5:32 am

        Heya, and thank you for your reply. I’m smiling to myself now as when I put in brackets above the pre-emptive generalisation get out clause, I said to myself ‘I bet I’ll need it in someway!’ :D Despite what you mention though about living comfortably, not running away and already speaking English and therefore having a headstart, I have respect for your words and for having the ‘balls’(!) to start a fresh and succeed.

        It’s nice to read your posts as the nature of your musings are quite similar to mine. I class myself as ‘a thinker’, what ever connotation that holds! Not all the time on the internet (!), but sometimes if someone takes the time to formulate and write down their thoughts and opinions on matters of life then the resultant words can be worth a read; and yours certainly are. I often muse over things internally and begin to type away, but it’s not an overly regular occurance. Most of my thoughtful inspiration and creativity comes in the night. So if I want to live along with normal society… well, staying up all night isn’t the best of ideas! (time check …5:25, great!) Your ‘about me’ summed up in the most profound nutshell what I do and therefore feel: “question the inherent reality of everything. It is an exhausting task.” To then feel displaced as a result of thinking too much and not having likeminded individuals to mentally spar with in setting the world to right! (I may have rearranged slightly the way your words were used, but hey!)

        Anyhow, I waffle on, sorry! Thanks a lot for letting me know about Favela Chic Club. I live in Manchester but have friends in London and some time soon will be down. So I’ll give it a look. I’m sure I’ll have fun and love it. Trying to find nights with the music I like isn’t as easy as it should be! Cheers. :)


  1. 1 The Email That Cocked Me Off « The Observations of a Confused Young Woman Trackback on April 19, 2008 at 4:56 pm
  2. 2 Back with a Bang « The Observations of a Confused Young Woman Trackback on July 7, 2008 at 12:47 pm
  3. 3 Revisiting the Rua Ceara « The Observations of a Confused Young Woman Trackback on September 2, 2008 at 10:04 am

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