Phantastic City. That’s how people started referring to the Capital of the Empire. Newspapers’s articles and headlines, speeches of politicians and members of the nobility, and even popular songs — everyone was celebrating that epithet from the moment that place saw the speediest, most intense wave of development that humankind had ever bore witness to. The marks of progress changed the landscape to such an extent that left behind the exuberance of nature that used to be the only subject among foreigners when they talked about the city of São Sebastião do Rio de Janeiro.
Since the opening of the pioneering industry, in the estuary of Ponta da Areia, in Nictheroy —birthplace of the Baron locomotive — not a month goes by without a new factory opening its doors to work. The rhythm inside the factories is as intense as the hurly-burly in the streets, and not only during the day, but also along the nights, something that became feasible when the gaslight network replaced the old whale oil lamps. Neither luminosity nor even the imperial decree that outlawed the practice of capoeira and kung fu refrained the streets from becoming the stage for showdowns between the wild bunches of black and Chinese men who terrorize the carioca people. Despite the fact that most of those groups, like the Brotherhood of the Quilombo and the Celestial Order, do not use fire arms, such fights invariably end in death.
The groups represent their communities and cultivate a hatred for the rival ones. With the housing grounds already taken by factories and mansions, the hordes of immigrants and the former slaves from Africa had not much of an option other than to use the many hills of the Capital, creating villages, veritable small towns apart from the metropolitan progress. The best example is the very first one, built upon Providência hill: Shanghai, meaning “above the sea”, in the Chinese language, is a mix of humble wooden shacks with stone temples called pagodas, whose architecture is marked by the multi-tiered roofs, like piled blocks. From those places of difficult access, where are grown the poppy seeds that originate the opium consumed in the city, use to get out the bands who instill fear into the hearts of the populace and hate into the minds of the authorities.
Anyway, even without taking into consideration the matter of public security, the light from those lampposts has been demanded earlier and earlier, for one of the consequences of industrial activity is the smoke curtain that is now part of the daily life of the thousands of people that adopted the biggest city of Latin America as their home and workplace.
The fog, capable of impregnating the senses of touch, taste, and smell of the inhabitants, spreads out of the maze formed by hundreds of huge stone obelisks scattered through the Capital. They are the chimneys of the industries, veritable monsters that, with its ovens, fed by the coal from Santa Catarina, give birth to fresh ovens, train tracks, whole trains, steam ship hulls…. It’s the future materialized in metal.
Of all the prodigies engendered by technique and ingenuity in this city, none is equal to – none is even close in comparison – the colossal building that shall be finished until the end of the year, by the shore of Copacabana Beach. With a hundred floors, the Phantastic City Building is the highest structure ever designed by human hands. It is roughly twice the height of the Washington Monument, which is being built for decades in the United States capital – a work constantly delayed due to the Civil War that until few months ago devastated the godforsaken republic.