Reflections on Slavery and Servitude in Brazil

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 26
  

The Journey -  Amazon River,  Augusto Montenegro, Belém to Manaus, August 12 - August 17, 1980

August 15- August 16: At one point last night, some of us commented on behavior and service of crew in what is obviously one of the great attractions of Brazil. They're surly, uncooperative, unprofessional, ungrateful. They give the impression of simply not caring, one way or the other. Reflecting on this, a Brazilian at the table said that the difference between them and, say people in the service industry in Europe/U.S. was that here they were an extension of the servitude of slavery.
 
Interesting point, especially when considered against fact that slavery was only abolished in 1889, less than a hundred years ago. Just as there are many misconceptions or ignorance about the finer aspects of Brazilian history, so, too, the darker side. Brazilians pride themselves on the peaceful, humane liberation of their slaves but I'm beginning to believe that the truth may run somewhat contrary, that they have an exceptionally long way to go to finalize the adjustment between slavery/freedom. “Born free to live in chains,” truly applicable!
 

Brazilian Slave Ship - Johan Moritz Rugendas
New York Public Library Digital Collection
Elsa, the German girl stayed with a casa grande family in Fortaleza and was convinced there is also a racial element: Her hosts kept reminding her that they were “Portuguese,” i.e. “white” of the best sort. The dona of the house boasted that she had already “sold” six servant girls to the south. Elsa took that literally, though I suspect it's more of the South African way of “selling” — the arranging of girls from the farm “good girls” to go south where they're coveted because they're “honest, reliable,” that sort of thing.
 
Another subject that came up was the “internationalization” of the Amazon basin, once suggested by a U.N. conference but, predictably, violently resisted by the Brazilians. (In the north, among few expressions of political graffiti: AMAZONIA PARA BRASILEIRO.) A young Brazilian passenger himself suggested that this would be only way to “develop” the area properly. From what I have seen and heard about other “development” projects in the North-North-East, I'm inclined toward agreeing. At the same time, I have to consider the effect of the Tropics on Western Man - Perhaps Gilberto Freyre is too optimistic, idealistic - Perhaps the true Brazilian, man of the tropics, has not yet appeared on the scene or developed sufficiently to cope with the land, the climate and its challenges.

Amazon River settlement near Manaus
 
Spending time with the two Brits, unfortunately, brings my Brit-background prejudices to the surface and I have constantly to remind myself that this is Brazil and Brazilians are different. Nevertheless, I do find several things disgusting. The spitting. A downright unhealthy habit. At least on the ship the aim is over the side! Also on hygiene, lavatories are often stinking, blocked affairs with horrid little wastepaper baskets for toilet paper, open and exposed.
 
Then, too, the food: With rare exception, usually in private homes, it's the same monotonous starchy stuff, steak, chicken, potatoes sometimes, rice, farina, beans. The food markets in the Amazon ports are the worst I've seen anywhere. Great, open mounds of freshly-butchered meat, minimal vegetables and little to see of the exotic tropical fruits people rave about. An inveterate traveler, I can stomach a great deal but here even I reach a limit.
 
Where do you begin to build a “modern nation”? Aren't these basic lifestyles important? Cleanliness next to godliness, says the proverb?
 
I wonder, though, just how much the negative thoughts expressed here are a reflection of the depressed North-East and the unfathomable “green hell.” How heavily do those weigh on a man's soul? What will the contrast be like in the south?
 
Also discussed the difficulty of bridging the gap between “moneyed (apparently) estrangeiros” and locals aboard prompted by so small an incident as attitude of barman. One senses his resentment of foreigners' continual ability to go up and buy beers, cool drinks etc...It would be almost impossible to explain to him that every cent of this was worked for year after year. Says the young Brazilian with us: “They think like slaves.” Or is it simply, a “tropical” don't-give-a-damn mentality. 
Amazon Voyage  1980


BRAZIL - The Epic of a Great Nation


Amazon Glory: The Dance of Sun and Moon on the Equator

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 25
  

The Journey -  Amazon River,  Augusto Montenegro, Belém to Manaus, August 12 - August 17, 1980

August 15-16 Approaching, docking at and passage from Alenquer beyond Santarém late afternoon and evening gave dramatic impression of The Amazon.

The river divided into five channels with ship sailing in one furthest east and, far as the eye could see, these expanses of water separated by low strips of lands, occasionally merging, most continuing their separate way toward some distant meeting point. An hour time change — advance — at Santarém brought sunset early, a magnificent ball of orange, larger than any I have ever seen, going down with surprising rapidity, dancing behind the bank of trees as the ship moved along, sometimes obscured, sometimes appearing full circle in a gap between the forest. At water's edge, herds of zebu-type cattle standing white to gray against the darkening background. Channel narrower than ever.
Zebu cattle at fazenda on banks of Amazon River

Then, within minutes of the sun setting, the moon rising in the east, a smaller, perfect yellowish ball, also climbing swiftly and perfectly marked against the clear sky. Then night and the Amazon closing in — not the towering impression offered in Hollywood interpretation of small riverboat cutting through impenetrable forest but surrounding our ship with its vastness and the knowledge that way out there, only an endless expanse of uninhabited forest.
A scene my characters,Amador da Silva and Segge Proot would come to re-live in the pages of Brazil
 
"The constant green and gray and blue was also relieved — especially for Segge — by the dance of sun and moon on the equator. Daybreak and a faint blush in the gray would presage the rim of orange sun behind the trees. The surface of the river would be painted in way no mortal artist would emulate, passing through a spectrum of shades, from soft pinks and mauves to a fiery blaze that turned the waters of the Rio das Amazonas into molten gold.

These changes came with amazing rapidity as the sun climbed above the forest, its intensity giving a man from Europe the impression of high noon, when it was not yet midmorning. At sunset the flaming ball would sink, sometimes seen hovering full circle at the very edge of earth, where there was a gap in the foliage.
After the briefest pause, a small, yellowish moon would rise above the horizon and climb swiftly, the constellations growing pale, the higher it rose. Night would fall, the limitlessness heightened and made ominous by the close, impenetrable world of trees.
 
 

At night, we reached Alenquer, a small river port, its dockside crowded with people, sacks of grain... Sounds of countless insects in the marshy land beside the wooden quay. Go ashore for walk through town streets lined with bars. What truly sets the atmosphere is glimpse back toward the ship. Sight of her lying there lit for stem to stern, immaculately white and dwarfing every other boat at dockside. Here, unmistakably, is the picture of the Amazon I have always held.

At Alenquer, I sense a “resentful” reaction to our presence. People on the quay side, mostly young, remind one of scene from Amarcord. It's only twice a month that a large passenger boat comes through and being Saturday night, locals see this as one, if not the only “event.” But they didn't observe us with friendliness, very few smiles, and except two who made “friends” with blonde Elsa, the German girl aboard, not a single wave as the ship pulled away from the dock. Instead some First Class passengers started to throw ice at them and they retaliated with curses and handfuls of grain! Type of incident that does nothing to improve relations between the haves and have-nots.

Aboard, there is absolutely nothing to do but brood, meditate, sweat, drink and talk. Ron and Mark, two Aberdeen University graduates, future grain merchants, provide some worthwhile asides on Brazil. Ron maintains that the Brazilian “miracle,” the dramatic economic development since mid-50s had disastrous effects because it came too quickly for people to adjust to it, socially. “They entered the industrial age without capacity to cope with modernization, jarred from a post-colonial and agricultural phase into era of technology. Adopting the methods of an advanced country to one in which the mass of people still existed in backward phase.”
I agree with what he says and have serious doubts about the theory of Brazil as an emergent super-power. The first forty days contact with the people, admittedly of the depressed North-East, offer little hope for what may be a future “super-power.” Again and again, Bradford Burns's suggestion of so little having changed in five centuries as being key to Brazil appears perfectly true.

In Search of the Green Fortress: Four Ways to Look at the Amazon


Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 25
  
The Journey -  Amazon River,  Augusto Montenegro, Belém to Manaus, August 12 - August 17, 1980
 
There's a monotony to the trip, the same riverine line of forest, mile after mile, varied occasionally by a lonely house or small settlement, rarely what could be considered a town. Between leaving Belém and 12.30 today first major town (population 21,000) was Almeirim.
 
Keep trying to think of what journey must have meant to Raposo Tavares. Even today with only a five-day passage, people complain of boredom after two days. What must it have been like for Raposo Tavares? Week after week, as they passed along Madeira River to Manaus, and to Belém.
 

 
Very noticeable to me is complete absence of wild animals at the river's edge, so totally unlike even the smallest river in the wilds of Africa. Here, nothing!
 
Still find it difficult to come up with definition of "what" the Amazon is — Perhaps better to brood over it for a couple of days. — So many approaches:
 
1) A hypothetical one, for example: What if the riverine line of forest had only been a narrow one? And the lands beyond open to colonization? Would this not have been the focus of “civilization” in the Americas? Would the Andean cultures have spread into these areas?
 
2) Perhaps, in a way, the repetitive and boring aspect of this trip is for the very reason I state in my book proposal: The failure to see the whole, to comprehend how infinitely small this ship and its occupants in relation to the River; the failure to appreciate the symbiosis of river and nature.
 
3) Can see some likely effects the River can have on Brazilian outlook, for example, in reinforcing the knowledge of just how little impression they as a people have made against the vast lands they hold.
 
4) Serves to reinforce the Contrast, here the limitless land, and in so many other places, the struggle for ownership of the smallest patch of territory. Here is a “land problem” of a very different sort.
 
Amazon River Bank Brazil Uys
 
 
Green. Every shade of green possible, the patches of hyacinth floating downstream, the great trees to the water's edge, the canopy of the forest lower than one would've imagined it to be, low and dense, the sameness and yet a difference even to the untrained eye.
          
Have really to remember just how vast this is to understand what it must've been like for the early discoverers. Almost like being trapped in a tunnel, a water maze. Once you started out upon it, you had to complete the full journey. Penetration of the forest itself as an outlet would be impossible; follow any tributary and you would be led down another blind alley. Once you began you'd be locked into the main river until it reached the Atlantic.
 
Most memorable of shipboard characters: An old English couple who have lived in Brazil for forty-five years, Alan and Brenda. He was in insurance, came here in the 1930s after Fawcett's disappearance. In the 1940s he flew to Manaus; now retired, he is doing the trip again. Sitting in lounge, Somerset Maugham characters, playing cards after siesta. Brenda's memorable quote the other night was that after all these years she had not become i.e. gone "Brazilian" and went “home” last year. (Returned via South Africa about which they hold typical conservative views.)
 
Other travelers include noticeably older generation of Europe-style backpackers. They're a decade away from their first trip to Europe, moving into their 30s, too independent to come to terms with the "responsibilities of growing up.”
 
SS Augiusto Negro Amzon Brazil Uys
 

Amazon - I begin a Journey on the River Sea from Belém to Manaus


Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 24
 
The Journey -  Amazon River,  Augusto Montenegro, Belém to Manaus, August 12 - August 17, 1980

Amazon Map

August 12  Bus trip ended at 5.15. a.m. when I checked into “Litoral Palace Hotel” next to Rodoviária. On trip, noticeable how the true sertão gradually disappears. As you approach Teresina, capital of Piaui, the caatingas give way first to similar vegetation mixed with small palms, then a more benign landscape and beyond Caxais true African style veld. Green in spite of winter and with denseness that is suggestive of the great Amazon belt that lies close to the north.
 
I was thinking as we passed through one of the innumerable dusty/poor/
ugly/depressed towns of Piauí­/Maranhão that this must be a world away from what the rich of Rio/São Paulo know. I doubt whether one in a hundred have ever been here or seen any of this beyond TV. And if that is the case, how much more aggravated was the difference in the past, without “easy” communication of today?
 
Windowless room in "Litoral Palace" with giant fan, the size of an old plane prop. Woke at 12 and went to city to learn that the only boat to Manaus departs this p.m. Next one is on September 4 (perhaps.) Decide to Go.
 
Amazon Ship Augusto Montenegro Brazil Uys
 
August 13  Aboard Augusto Montenegro, up at 5.30 a.m. to witness spectacular sunrise, faint to deep orange sun rising over line of trees, climbing quickly into sky and by 9.30 making it as hot as midday. Size of River (Para) on approach to Amazon is truly “river sea.” Difficult to imagine impact on early voyagers like Orellano/Raposo Tavares reaching Belém from upstream.
 
Isolated settlements on river banks, buildings hugging shore line, church, bordered by trees.
 
Most sobering thought is that their only access to “civilization” is along the river. Hemmed in by forest, somewhat like an island; dozens of island “refugia” between forest and river. At point we're approaching now, water to furthest horizon, brown tinge to it.
 
Many estrangeiros aboard, international mix, Brazilian, French, Canadian, Israeli, American, English, German, students, retirees, holiday-makers, most with idea of once in a lifetime Amazon voyage. Agree. We're all traveling second-class; there's a First Class deck above and a deck “squatter” passage below and aft.
          
August 14 Why the Amazon has been called a “river sea” is easily imaginable. The extent of the river is such that glancing to one side, say starboard, you fully expect to be coasting along “offshore,” and if you turned round to port, there'd be the ocean! Everyone encountering the Amazon for the first time finds it larger than they expected. Difficult accepting that for five days you will be aboard a major-sized ship moving along the greatest (by water volume) river in the world. You have a problem seeing that very distant line of trees as the edge of the river and not a vast lake or the sea.

BRAZIL - The Epic of a Great Nation

My Travels with Black Jimi on the Streets of Recife

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 23

The Journey - Recife - July 28 - August 13, 1980

And then there was Black Jimi.
 
I met Jimi Carvalho weeks earlier when he tried to sell me a sixty cruzeiro religious print, asked him to sit down for a beer, and gained a firm friend. Jimi took me around the other Recife, places like Brasília Teimosa. He claimed to be a son of Carvalho, a famous Rio gangster and had been a street child.
 
When I bumped into him on Sunday, Jimi was sitting on the pavement with two girls in the midst of an artisan fair. One girl was about twenty, an artist, the other a poet who looked about thirteen or fourteen. Rosa and Sandra, the poet, left soon afterwards saying they regretted not getting to know me but had to go “because of circumstances beyond their control.” When Jimi came to say goodbye to me at the Rodoviária (bus station), he brought a farewell poem from my young admirer!

My travels with Jimi underlined the poverty (and racism) in the city. - Until I insisted, my hotel barred Jimi from entry.-  Aside from Jimi's jaunty black beret and “Black Power” tattooed on his arm, it's obvious that his racial humiliation is very real.
If he comprehends the meaning of my white SA background, it must be strange for him to contemplate my attitude as compared with average branco here (or, of course, in SA.) Not just my gift of a pair of Americano jeans and 1000 cruzeiros to buy a radio — Was amused to see radio proudly displayed to me at Rodoviária!
What's to become of Jimi and tens of thousands like him, not only black but brown, and dispossessed? I think that Vladimir and others in referring to “land problem” being most serious etc. is catch-all phrase for many more and diverse social ills. Like the land, the dimension of the problem is staggering.

As everyone, though not Jimi's people, says, Recife is different to Salvador. The povo (= people, but with meaning more akin to masses.) in Recife are fechado,I'm told, closed, meaning they don't show their emotions easily. When writing about Salvador earlier, I spoke of the absence of poverty of spirit; that though there was poverty, it was not grinding, resentful.
Here, besides the obvious abandonados, some with childish innocence that hides so much and shows the Salvador spirit, evidence of a “poor and dangerous society” is everywhere, with massive unemployment, the under-employment with people earning an existence by selling envelopes, sixty cruzeiros posters, oranges, single cigarettes (an estrangeiro averages at least half a packet of cigarettes bummed a day), Jimi and his two cruzeiros, all he had in the world...
Add to these images an overbearing military presence: military everywhere, obvious soldiers, also traffic police, ambulance, fire, all possessing a definite military look. I found Recife an oppressive, unhappy town, a feeling not alleviated by my pleasant encounters with the upper tenth. Of course, I have to remember I am looking at the end result, not Recife through the ages, but there is something to understand here.

Recife in 2014 - Towers with Brasília Teimosa and Pina in the background
Photo courtesy Eyes on Recife - News Culture History
 
BRAZIL - The Epic of a Great Nation

In the Shadow of the Casa Grande and the Senzala - Meeting with Gilberto Freyre

 
Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 22

The Journey - Recife -  July 28 - August 13, 1980

August 11 On bus again! Left Recife last night for 33-hour trip to Belém. Longest haul to date made longer by one hour roadside delay. We've run of gas — eventually bought from a passing truck.
 

 
Missed August 8-10 entries. Stayed to await interview with Gilberto Freyre. I was able to bounce most of my ideas off him and with no exception, they were sound. Pleased that some of the more controversial leads I suggest did not put Freyre off — “No evidence of that but not totally unlikely.”
 
For example, my suggestion that there could be a link between Pernambucanos ("Cavalcantis") and Inconfidência Mineira (Da Silvas). Look to a Masonic link, Freyre suggests. And, for example, the suggestion that there were black slaves present from the beginning, brought from Portugal. He likes the idea though, of course, stressed early importance of the Indians, especially the women.
 
(c) Gilberto Freyre Foundation  Professor Freyre in Private Study in 1980s
Professor Gilberto Freyre
Image courtesy Joaquim Nabuco Foundation

At 82, Freyre is a sprightly man, quick-witted, especially against the onslaught of ELU. I see no reason (as some do) of revising his theories, update yes, but if Pumaty is any example, the Case Grande idea holds up today as ever. What criticism I did hear from Freyre was either irrelevant or only related to small issues. [Note: This journal is, of course, separate from my interview notebooks that go into far more detail about my meeting with Professor Freyre and others. In many instances, too, major sources like Freyre were given a copy of my Outline for Brazil in advance and had a good idea of my thinking.]
 
Keeping this journal is a habit I am beginning to see as indispensable. The images and experiences are so different, so much a shock of the new or the familiar refound — that without recording them it would be impossible to remember all. In Brazil, each new day is one of discovery!
 
On Saturday night, a 9.30 visit with Amalia and her vast family, ten brothers and sisters, all older, twenty-eight nephews etc. Afterwards to a music bar and home by 4.30 a.m. Looked to quiet Sunday and started out Boa Viagem Beach Recifeat Boa Viagem beach, then to Olinda but on way back to hotel bumped into my friend Black Jimi and got home 2.30 a.m. Afternoon interview with Freyre and on bus at 6.15 p.m.
 
Amalia's family represent the ultimate extended family and, with experience of Antonietta in mind, typical of the grand old families of Brazil. Something I need to create for the Cardosos (Cavalcantis) of 1960/1970. Amalia's family is not only a patriarchal but a political unit with connections at every level, federal, state, local. Her references to various members invariably brings up one or another coronel- type connection.
 
Won't forget entering house and meeting family, seemed to be dozens of them, including Lima Filho. It would've been impossible to remember all their names. Event was the birthday of one of the twenty-eight nephews and nieces. Head of the family is mother, 82, and Amalia at 37 is the youngest child. Amalia's father was a prominent opposition member and owner of five farms, plus Lord knows what more. — All gathered round on patio after dinner for sing song to accompanied by an excellent guitarist.
 
What some had to say was often directly out of a South African situation: members of a privileged class and their involvement that would fit perfectly into a Progressive Party mold. Some liked to distance themselves from the diamond-bedecked Dona of Pumaty but were really speaking the same language. Too much pobre (poverty) agreed, but as I've seen so many times in Brazil, such social consciousness is voiced in one breath and in the next, they go on to tell you about a) the beach apartment b) the beach house c) the farm in the sertão, replete with many jokes about the people there, not racialistic though in similar vein.
 
As I told Gilberto Freyre, one of these days someone should do a comparative study between South Africa and Brazil. Could be illuminating.

Brazil, Land of Contrasts - The Sublime and the Ridiculous

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 21
 
The Journey - Recife -  July 28 - August 13, 1980
 
August 7 Missed yesterday's entry: up at 6.30 to travel to Pumaty sugar mill and refinery, back 8 p.m. preparing for interview with Gonçalves de Mello till 10.30 leaving little time for notes.

Started today with visit to the state tourist authority, which for two days has been trying to meet a simple request: to obtain a map of the state. Result. “Is not possible.” Brazil, the sublime and ridiculous, the contrasts!

Where else would you, one day, visit one of the most sophisticated sugar estates in the world that not only grows 7,000 hectares of the stuff but mills it through a five-mill line up and then refines it for export... And the next day, encounter a state tourist authority that is unable to provide a simple map of the state!
Pumaty Engenho, Casa Grande, Pernambuco
 
Pumaty Engenho, chapel, Pernambuco
 
Pumaty Engenho, private chapel, Pernambuco
On Pumaty estate, there's a beautifully preserved Casa Grande, the pride of the owner. As I sat with him and his elegant wife, and the social worker they had employed to help their employees, I could not but glance at the wall behind them: dangling from an iron spike, prominently on display, was an slave ball and chain. Oh, the contrasts.
 

Slavery, relic - Pumaty, Pernambuco

This morning spent at Baptist seminary examining journals of last century Baptist missionaries. Rather simplistic though see that Taylor, one of earliest Baptist missionaries, actually notes occurrence of Canudos with somewhat confused interpretations. But more important was Baptist reports of the degree of intolerance present prior to the coming of the Republic and separation of State/Church. Repeated reports of attacks on missionaries, of anti-Protestant moves inspired by local priests, of Bible burnings etc.

The Baptists get vitriolic in their condemnation of the RC church as idolatrous, pagan etc. with numerous references by Taylor to idol worship in form of saints etc. Today the Baptists have 500,000 followers, as against 90 percent of 120 million Catholic, which shows the progress...

Day 31 of the trip. How far from that evening so long, long ago when I left Sintra and family at the station.

My confidence continues to soar. Today's interview with João Gonçalves de Mello, Recife's foremost historian, was typical. Impressed by my knowledge of Brazilian history. Ran basic outline of my story against him and 90 percent stood up without critique!

Realize that aside from the setting, atmosphere I am getting on the trip and basic groundwork already complete, when I get back I am going to have to read my way into the fine details of every traveler, every translation I can lay my hands on. This can be an ongoing process as the book develops, so that I'll have the background pretty well locked up. And then comes the “imagination!”

Note: TV reporting Bolivia's 195th coup!
BRAZIL - The Epic of a Great Nation

When Luiz Gonzaga went to sing for Peace in Exu, Pernambuco

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 20
 
The Journey - Recife -  July 28 - August 13, 1980
 
August 3 - 4 I'm sitting in hotel dining room with omnipotent television in corner. Thought: Has TV replaced the Crucifix on the wall?
 
There's a report about the "pacification" of Exu. Since 1949 two Exu families, Sampião and Alencar have been feuding. Twenty nine members of both families have been killed.
 
In an attempt to pacify the situation the Bishop of Petrolina, plus a nationally known singer Luiz Gonzaga and others have traveled to Exu. One of many realties of Brasil 1981. (Throughout my journal, I took to using the local spelling for “Brasil,” a small point indicative of my quest for identity with my subject; here I use the Anglicized “Brazil.”)
Singer Luiz Gonzaga -  Brazilian Culture
Among dozens of observations, ideas, opinion that have come my way these past weeks:
 
  • A universal concern about the land question. From Ambassador Vladimir Murtinho to opposition politician Lima Filho, to student film-maker Ivan Cordeiro, all express opinion that unfair distribution of land is major problem facing the country.

  • A surprising, to me, free expression on political issues. I find extensive discussion of politics across broadest spectrum from Communist to right-wing militarist- authoritarianism something akin to excessive political discussion in South Africa. Symptomatic of a politically troubled, divisive land?

  • Among younger people especially, an awakening awareness of a special Brazilian cultural heritage. Particular emphasis on Indian culture and folklore. [NOTE (to myself): These observations relate to the North-East/Bahia and my be considerably different in the South.)
Pataxó, indigenous people of Brazil, Bahia state
  •  A dramatic degree of poverty, disparity between rich and poor here in the North-East with apparent absence of middle-class.
  • A growing racial problem not as clearly defined as British or U.S. one, probably more a race/economics problem. Curious to hear, for example, talk of a Brazilian Black Power movement, from Roberto Mattos' friend, Silvio.

  • Yet, despite the problems, a special pride in Brazil (though not universal — a number of young people talk of U.S.A. as ultimate place.)

BRAZIL - The Epic of a Great Nation

Finding My Way in Brazil - The Glorious Challenge

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 19

The Journey - Recife  July 28 -- August 13, 1980
 
August 3-4 Interview an opposition politician/spend more time poring over photographs of senhor de engenhos/evening with Ivan Cordero and group of young Brazilians/morning of 4th at State Museum/afternoon arranging visit to engenho (plantation)and interview with foremost Recife historian/ tonight to view cultural slides at gallery at 9!
 
And I wonder why I am occasionally tired? Not so much the physical effort, though extreme humidity can be taxing, as mental absorption of so much detail, especially constant switching from one subject to the next and need to store information under so many categories.
 
Today is exactly four weeks since I arrived in Brazil, the acclimatization/acculturation is over; what strangeness remains is of a local variety — the change of pace from one city, town or village to the next, the change of contacts with people. Broadly, I am beginning to look at this world around me with a sense of familiarity. Perhaps what brings it that much closer is that people, too, are beginning to repeat ideas and opinions, especially contemporary ones.
 
Right at the beginning of my trip, I entered into a rather painful debate with Antonietta about friendship, made painful by what she described as a typically cynical “New York” outlook of making friends only so long as there is a need, a “use” for the other person. The No 1 syndrome. I have been aware of this criticism and have consciously opened myself to people bringing a commensurate response at a personal and professional level.
 
But there are other factors, too: I have changed my own outlook from a narrow introverted one to that which is, once again, open to the world. I feared I'd never regain this after these past years of what I keep calling mediocrity, for lack of wanting to use harsher, perhaps more concise terms. “Regain,” in the sense of getting back to the days when I was a truly active reporter. 'Twas there all the time, waiting for expression, until finally it could not longer be contained and I took the steps needed toward breaking with the past. Courage.
James A. Michener and Errol Lincoln Uys, St. Michaels, Maryland 1979
Covenant - The Secret History of a Best-Seller
One thing I will always remember James Michener for: his essay on wasting time, on the fact that at 37 or so, if one is going to make a change, if one is going to realize so much that has been striven and dreamed about — on looking back it's wisest to take only the positive steps toward that goal, to comprehend how each and every move forward, even though some were stumbling, all contributed toward that achievement. So many things past, not understood at the time, all go toward creating understanding and a full person. Anything from one's liberation from SA racism and a deeper value of humanity to liberation from middle-class materialism.

           
 
Just as the past four weeks have offered a return to the real use of my talents of observation, absorption etc, this period also sees a true awakening of the urge to write. Yes, I have for years written thousands and thousands of words in all forms but there never was the sole responsibility, this glorious challenge to write something lasting.
 
Certainly, I still have a great fear but a healthy one for it isn't negative or nihilistic. It is a realistic fear of the outside forces that challenge one. I can and will do this but people have to realize, especially those closest to me, what a delicate balance is needed to maintain the magic.
 

Some thoughts on Racism and Poverty in Brazil

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 18

The Journey - Recife  July 28 -- August 13, 1980
 
August 2: Today was spent at a Benedictine monastery, Monasteiro São Bento, in company of Edson Nery, as guest of Dom Basilio Penido and Dom Felix Bruneau. For one who has often stayed a distance from the church, a day in the company of the monks was a deeply moving experience.
Olinda Brazil Sao Bento Church
Monasteiro São Bento
What does one on the outside know about monks, cloisters, liturgy, Gregorian chants? Painfully little, so that you are surprised to find that life is very normal. Started at 10:30 and attended various offices with the monks, 1st at 10 to 12, then vespers at 5:30, mass (1/2 plus communion), then completa at 8.00 p.m.
 
Was surprised in talks with Dom Penido and Dom Bruneau to find just how involved they were with the world, though still maintaining aspects of the past as in their cells. Took my afternoon rest inOlinda Brazil Sao Bento Church altar a cell prepared for me: traditional monastic term for what is really a large room bereft of worldly possessions, a bed, bureau and two chairs. Deeply moved during various services by the chants, psalms sung by choir, the melodiousness of their voices echoing in lofty 1761 church, the intonations reaching deep within oneself.
 
Dr. Nery is a wonderfully compassionate, aesthetic man who undoubtedly belongs among the brothers. Somewhat difficult to speak to because it seems he is in process of withdrawing from the world we know and may well enter the monastery.
 
Today was a great contrast to Saturday's event. First drove with Amalia Correa around Recife and Olinda. I now understand the topography, Tamaraca, Iguaraçu, Pão Amarelo, Olinda, Recife, Guarapes are no longer mere names. I look forward to returning to my books and re-reading material with a deeper understanding.
 
Saturday night was yet another contrast with Roberto Motta, religious anthropologist and his gay theatre/art friends. They drink like fishes, hug each other fervently, and between this, argue politics.
 
Silvio, a black man, proves most illuminating. With Roberto, he's off to a Brazil-Africa conference in Rio on Monday, the first of its kind. Silvio makes an interesting point about racism: The world laughed when Emperor Bokassa (Central African Republic) was crowned calling him “a stupid black etc.” But the world rejoices with Charles and Diana...
 
Ended evening at gay bar in Casa Forte with more political talk, little of which I could follow except to realize that the 25-35 generation of intellectuals in Brazil is seething, all attention directed toward the November 15, 1981 elections, the first democratic elections since 1964.
 
I'm beginning to see why military presence is so obvious in Pernambuco. There is an atmosphere of rebelliousness about the place.
 
At so many levels beyond the “haves” and the “playground” people, there is chronic poverty.
 
A dramatic example of this is Recife Yacht Club: To get to it you drive for miles through “Brasília Teimoso,” a favela that started as a squatter camp at the same time as the new federal capital. The streets are pools of filthy water, no sewers, little lighting, a mix of permanent houses and shacks.
 
Bridge to God's Island, Recife 2014
Behind the Façade, This Is God’s Island
Keep encountering comments and evidence of racism and color differentiation. As Silvio said, he asked a top general why there were so few black generals in Brazil. Man replied that no more than fifty black people in senior posts in the country.
 
I wonder how Gilberto Freyre reconciles his interpretation of a “New Man” in the tropics with the reality expressed by so many people I meet of racism in Brazil - of the innumerable “classifications” of color, once relatively harmless and superficial but assuming a more serious nature as jobs get scarcer, poverty worsens and color deepens. This all strikes this ex-South African observer sharply. Brings to mind, too, the confusingly contradictory attitude of the South African Progressive—type.
 

Stepping out in the Tropics of Brazil

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 17

The Journey - Recife  July 28 -- August 13, 1980
 
July 30: Not always possible to maintain an enthusiastic “high” - Once in a while, as now, it slips and you feel a real stranger.
 
Edson Nery, library “scientist” at the Fundação Joaquim Nabuco, a lay Benedictine monk, could not be nicer but has no concept of what it takes to write a book like Brazil. Yesterday was spent poring over museum collection - useful; today was passed in Foundation's library with excellent old engravings, also useful but dangerous:
 
I have to get out, experience and “look.” U.S.A. has best libraries in the world and when I'm back home I can sit in them for as long as is necessary. Here, I've got to see not pages but people. And the past insofar as one can separate present sights and scenes from what has been.
Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil
Edson is a dear librarian of special repute, no doubt, but too close to his books and eleven cats to see the finger-dirtying reality. A contemplative man, he himself says, grown pessimistic about the world and seeking his main solace in Sunday hours spent with the Abbot and Prior of the Monastery at Olinda.
 
So, though the day was spent in hard research and I got many visual images of use, I'm wary of over-involvement with the Fundação. Maybe they will come up with an engenho to visit and, of course, there's my interview with Gilberto Freyre himself. But I'm determined that these hours shall not be “book-bent.”
 
July 31: Once again proved that to accomplish things in the tropics you have to step beyond the lethargy so easily induced.
 
Day started with call to Edson Nery at home complaining very indirectly about lack of cooperation. Well, aside from suggestion that I go back to the library to look at more pictures this morning as planned, Edson showed clear understanding of my needs. A car will be arranged!
 
And it is: In afternoon my Recife travels begin in earnest. I'm also invited to dinner tomorrow night with anthropologist Dr. Robert Motta and friends
 
Afternoon visit to Iguaraçu, site of first church in Brazil, built 1535/plus Jesuit church/and third church atop hill. All vital to story since it is vicinity between here and Recife proper that I will place Cardosos (“Cardoso” family later changed to “Cavalcantis.”) Have to find way to move to second locale. Will probably be after Dutch invasion with re-start further away.
 
Convento de São Francisco - Olinda  Vladiney Pimento/Wikipeida
 
My guide, Amalia Correa, proves as fascinating as the historical aspect. Her brother was Minister of Agriculture under Goulart. Father was federal deputy from Pernambuco representing Bom Jardim to the north. Family is obviously one of the older political ones with classic coronel (Cardoso?)and wide connections.
 
Memorable anecdote of Amalia's sister who teaches at a favela in the evenings: "Simple things that people will understand like words for food etc. She explained 'meat.' Woman in class responded: 'Oh, I know meat but it is so long since I have tasted it.'"