BRASILIA — There's always something a bit risqué about Brazil's many short-stay "motels," where couples can pay by the hour and aren't all that concerned, usually, with getting a good night's sleep. But even by those standards, Room 8 in Brasilia's Altana Motel stands out.

Fitted with metal bars on the door and around the bed, the room — inaugurated three months ago — is an ode to Operation Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash), an anti-corruption probe into political kickbacks at state oil company Petrobras. The provocative decor is a gamble for the motel, where each room has a different theme in an effort to attract customers.

Before you reach the Lava Jato room, you have to walk through an entrance with concrete walls, bars and press clippings from articles about the ongoing scandal. The point is to make you feel like you’re entering a prison cell. The clippings feature pictures of people connected to the operation, including presidents Lula and Dilma Rousseff and the former head of Brazil's Chamber of Deputies, Eduardo Cunha, who is currently being held at Curitiba prison. A portrait of prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol, coordinator of the Lava Jato task force in the state of Parana, hangs on the wall.

A two-hour stay in the room costs between 126 and 156 reais ($40 to $50) depending on the day. "What we're offering is a sophisticated cell so the act of love can take place in a special environment, sort of like a fetish, right?" says Cristina Bertozzi, the architect of the project. She's already decorated more than 150 motel rooms in Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, the Brazilian capital.

"Given the events, and the fact that this Lava Jato name has been constantly whispered into people's ears for more than two years, we decided to bring together crime, corruption and a prison cell,” she says.

The setting, however, has already sparked complaints. "Some people asked, 'How am I supposed to have an erection with these people's pictures on the wall?' But you're not supposed to have an erection here, on the doorstep. This is just a transition to the bedroom. The idea was to create an environment at the entrance so clients can understand they're about to enter a prison cell and that's where they can enjoy the luxury," the architect explains.

Before reaching the Lava Jato room — Photo: Cristina Bertozzi

The room is decorated with crystal chandeliers, faux crocodile furniture, wallpaper that looks like leather, gilded mirrors, and a bathtub with a massage setting. A huge poster of the Eiffel Tower is glimpsed through metal bars. Bertozzi says the picture was chosen "because Paris conveys the idea of great sophistication, of a warm, elegant place."

"It replicates a luxurious prison," she says, adding that country-themed rooms are so passé. “The establishment now wants to put its money on more specific themes for clients to develop their fetishes.”

The Lava Jato room isn't the top choice for customers just yet. Owner Célia Regina Borges says that people are getting to know it and that those who've experienced it so far have praised it. "They say it's very beautiful, sophisticated."

The renovation cost the motel 15,000 reais (about $5,000). Asked whether she truly believes that those who've been imprisoned in relation to Operation Lava Jato have access to such luxury, Bertozzi says, "They would like that, wouldn't they? But they don't deserve it."


*This article was originally written in Portuguese by Worldcrunch iQ expert contributor Bela Megale. It was translated by iQ language contributor Marc Alves.

Sign up here for Worldcrunch iQ


See more from Culture / Society here