Building a sandcastle fit for a king on a Rio beach
With a crown on his head, Marcio Matolias carefully retouches his sandcastle, sculpting and smoothing with a shovel as bathers cool off nearby in the suffocating January heat.
They say a man’s home is his castle and Matolias has lived in his, albeit made of sand, on a beach in Rio de Janeiro for the last 22 years.
In Barra da Tijuca, a wealthy beach side neighborhood west of Rio, neighbors and friends call him “The King.” He gladly assumes the role and poses willingly for passers-by, scepter in hand, on his throne outside his meticulously sculpted home.
It seems a precarious existence but Matolias, 44, can never see himself living another way. “People pay exorbitant rents to live in front of the sea. I don’t have any bills and I live very well here,” he said, waving a hand at the white sand and the islands sparkling on the horizon.
He retouches a turret here, adjusts a majestic gate there. He sprinkles water on the walls to keep them firm in the baking heat, which on a recent afternoon reached 40 degrees Celsius. Despite the idyllic setting, the inside space is only about 3 square meters. Matolias, single and with no children, lives with a pile of books and some golf clubs, his passions after fishing.
His bed? A sleeping bag on the ground. His bathroom? The firemen’s station about 30 meters away, where he can use the bathroom and shower for less than a dollar.
Matolias believes he has everything he needs. The only problem is the unbearable summer heat.
“The sand retains the heat, so sometimes I cannot sleep here and I go to sleep in a friend’s house. But the truth is I prefer to stay here, even if I have to sleep outside by the sea,” he said
Matolias came south to Rio from his humble hometown of Duque de Caxias to seek his fortune, but could only afford to live on the street. All that changed when a friend taught him how to build a sandcastle.
“I learned a lot from reading and I think my castle is a mixture of styles, between Niemeyer and Gaudi,” he said of his royal palace, buttressed with sandbags and logs, while revealing the mayor’s office never gives him a problem.
“I became a tourist attraction in some way, and also a social service,” he added.
To make a living, Matolias put a box for donations at the entrance to his sandcastle, although a recent afternoon nobody left a coin who stopped to take pictures.
Matolias doesn’t appear to care.
“They often rob the box. I used to get angry. I wanted to sleep with a stone in my hand to stop it, but I started living with that paranoia, and I don’t want that. I do this for pleasure,” he said.
From time to time, a shopping center pays him to make one of his magnificent sand sculptures for special events.
Matolias would like his works not to be so ephemeral. Rain can destroy 10 or 20 hours’ work in a minute. But, an optimist by nature, Matolias hopes to realize his great dream next year, to make sculptures using other materials, at a friend’s place.
Like his hero Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona, the largest unfinished basilica in the world, Matolias’ creation is a perpetual work in progress.