What is the Key to Understanding Brazil and the Brazilians?

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 30

Porto Velho, Rondônia, August 24 — September 1
 
August 24-25; Several letters awaiting me, Fulton Oursler among them. Fulton notes: “Why you put the shackles on make damn sure you have the key!”
 
A crucial poser! Have given it much thought already Don't know full answer but what comes to mind: Land. Dimension. Diversity. Possession. All these are key to understanding Brazil.
 
The very first impact on Portuguese must have been staggering. Coming from tiny Portugal, the men of Lisbon confine their territories to small bases hugging the littoral, same as in Africa and the Indies. Their motives are primarily exploitive, “factories” for securing wealth, trade for the motherland.
 
Natives collecting brazilwood in the 16th century

European man emerging from the Middle Ages, not thinking of “land” beyond concept of age-old fiefdom, small kingdoms, encounters a new world of a dimension not previously imaginable. What an impact this must have had on his mind, his view of earth, even of the universe... But could he cope with this change?
 
First, in Brazil, he seeks the simplest solution, the neat and totally impractical division of “captaincies” stretching as far inland as the Tordesillas Line; the captaincies themselves being divided into sesmarias. For two hundred years, he hugs the littoral, fearful of what lay beyond and lacking the ability or manpower to penetrate the interior.
 
1591 Map - Terra do Santa Cruz

 Essential to show difference between American homesteading and planned advance to the West and Brazilian method which to this day suggests unplanned chaos. What factors led to different development? The men, their background, their religion? The climate, the topography? All these factors have to be considered?
 
Did the Portuguese — despite what Freyre says about creation of a Luso-Tropical “new man” — transfer some of the worst elements of Middle-Age Europe to South America?
 
For example, the concept of nobles and serfs, here becoming casa grande and senzala (slave quarters,) fazendeiro and laborer. As before, the few held vast estates to which the many were bound for their livelihood. Unlike North America where whole concept, once they'd thrown off the European yolk, was toward the individual, his freedom and a stake in the land. Nothing like that ever happened here. On the contrary, in the 19th century the Portuguese Crown was able to transplant itself to Brazil and extend the age-old system almost to the 20th century.
 
Classic "Casa Grande" of North-East Brazil
Image: Joaquim Nabuco Foundation 

Perhaps Brazil only achieved its equivalent of the U.S. Declaration of Independence in 1930 with Vargas 154 years later. So that in a sense, it is today where the U.S. was fifty years after independence, mais o menos, with emphasis on spiritual and national development rather than material. The latter with 'secondary acquisition of developed technology' can be deceptive.
 
With what you see and hear in the North/North-East, the greater part of Brazilian 'land,' you come to realize the divergence between north/south. Whether it's Pumaty's casa grande owner or a local laborer, all decry the south for bleeding the north to develop its industries etc. If you accept that then you begin to think of Brazil as a funnel, the north the mouth, the south the thin stem to which all filters down. (But no doubt the South will have its opinion - probably on the vast cost of supporting the North and its “hopelessness.”)
 
More on land debate: Perhaps nowhere has “colonial” man faced so great a challenge as in Brazil and, perhaps, Siberia — the sheer vastness makes one of the early essentials for development infrastructure i.e. communication, well nigh impossible.
 
 
 

In Amazonas: Looking Beyond the Hollywood Backlot

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 29

The Journey -  Amazon River,  August 23, 1980

As the canoe moves along, only occasional flash of brilliant color. I think most of the birds have retreated deeper into the forest, as with the monkeys and other wild life, what little there is. I'm surprised by a lack of color other than green, only occasional touch of mauve, yellow or white, but put this down to dry season. During five days, several tropical downpours, short, furious, bursts of rain mainly in the afternoon, a respite from the heat.
 
Humble houses, pathetic little escolas alongside the tributaries, seem to attest to the impotence of man in this mighty environment. One is aware of the great wounds left in the forest by vast projects: as EMBRAPA pointed out, left to itself the forest can regenerate secondary growth in three to five years. This is not to say there isn't a threat.
 
The “Hollywood” version of the Amazon jungle is more impressionistic than Amazon Forest Interior near Manaus Brazil Uys real. I think many Amazon “adventures” were shot in California backlots showing a density and height that's not right. The greatness of the Amazon lies in its horizontal and not vertical spread; its sheer size and variety is what gives it an awesome aspect. Under the canopy, you can let your imagination drift back to  the very beginnings of earth.
 
If man is out of scale, so are the river fish. Saw a pirarucu that had been harpooned, six to seven feet, like a porpoise with “chain-mail” scale protection, so hard they're used as nail files.
 
The lianas look like taut cables stretching skyward, sometimes perfectly straight. Walking within forest, immediately assaulted by countless insects. Leaned against a tree and found small maggot-like creatures with pint-point black heads on arm. Think they're chiggers that bore into your skin. Repulsive to “civilized” man.
 
Walking along shore to swamp, water-logged trees, undergrowth... Picture how it must have been for those like the Madeira-Mamoré railroad workers wading through stench, insects, slimy mud underfoot, near Amazon Forest Interiorimpossibility once you enter area to find clean water.
 
Manaus, itself, continues to be an enigma, this island-city with its skyscrapers rising suddenly beyond the final hill as you emerge from the forest. The older, almost bizarre-looking architecture, English and French structures, market-place, library, post office, opera house take prize for incongruity. Though surely gave Manaus a special atmosphere during rubber boom days, unique and totally unlike skyscraper skyline of today.
 
Today's newspaper carried sobering news that Glauber Rocha died, age 43, of heart attack in Rio. (We lived as neighbors in Sintra, Portugal, prior to my coming to Brazil.) Was talking about Rocha last night at film of Getúlio Vargas.
 
(Some impressions from Vargas film: Depicted era similar to Peron/Bittencourt. First, there was striving for a Brazil independent of foreign dependency, multinational “colonialism.” 2) Genuine attempt to improve “lot of the workers.” Enormous popularism. 3) Many, many military-style parades in late 30s vaguely reminiscent of Mussolini's Italy, youth brigades etc. 4) symbolic flag burning, representing end of state hegemony and move toward national unity 5) Vargas, small, chubby, round-faced, spectacles, often smiling, seemed a genuine honest type. (Whatever the bias of film, I found it incredible to accept his suicide. Suicide note was a forgery to cover up his murder? I wonder. Must put that to sources.)
 
Almost time to go to the “Rodoviária” again — a word I will never forget. Twenty-one hours to Porto Velho.
 
 


A Meditation on the Great Cathedral of the Amazon Rain Forest

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 28
  
The Journey -  Amazon River,  August 23, 1980

 
August 23 Maybe it was the heat, maybe the “intrusion of tourist types” but the five days spent at Manaus seem the least productive, including entire day wasted waiting for director of INPA, Amazon research institute, from 10.30 till 4. Spent the time in their library. When she eventually saw me, she told me to return the next morning at 9.30. I did and was told a) no one available for an interview b) no one to go with me to the “forest.”
 
At which point I said to hell with it and sought out my own boat on the waterfront Manaus Small Boat Dock Brazil Uysand found a personable navigator — Daniel! Six hour trip to confluence of Amazon and Negro, then into Solimões and through narrow creeks to enter cathedral-like forest. Exactly what I wanted.
 
Arranged a second trip for yesterday, another six hours, this time north, very different as we went through forest to cachoeira where we swam. God knows what you could pick up!
 
Perhaps it's the influence of the other estrangeiros who come filled with visions of tropical menace and talk of all manner of ailments but I find myself becoming “health conscious.” Won't dare miss my malaria tablet; bathe open “wound” on my foot a) with antiseptic solution b)powder antiseptic c) cover with Band-aid. Ultra careful with water and absolutely refuse salads.
 
Words like malaria, yellow fever, typhoid, hepatitis, septic wounds etc. commonplace in vocabulary but perhaps it's something else that calls for caution. In the U.S., in developed countries we have reached an ascendancy of man over Nature, control lies in our hands. The environment has been conquered and controlled physically and spiritually. Here, not so: when you enter the forest environment you are entirely at its mercy. Man is out of scale here, his size nothing against the horizonless, surrounding forest.
 
Again and again, I think of the entradas: How the small band of Raposo Tavares could have found its way through the jungle is amazing. Deviate for one moment from the mainstream and you enter a maze of water that twists through the forest, sometimes spreading like a lake, sometimes splitting into different streams that take off in several directions.
 
For an hour on Friday we drifted down a section of the Solimões, engine shut
 
Amazon River Bank Brazil Uys
 


off, everyone silenced. It was like meditation in a great cathedral. The trees offering every shade of green, the waters of the river colored green with their reflections.
 
A forbidding environment, gnarled roots of trees exposed on the banks where storm waters have torn away the soil; trees standing in the water, dead twisted shapes awaiting the final thrust of nature, when they will loosen their hold on the soil, fall and be carried away. Clumps of hyacinth stretch out from the banks, sometimes grow like small islands midstream.
 
Inside the forest, the water is smooth as glass, the area deserted, only occasional glimpse of a canoe with a fisherman sitting cross-legged up front, bow and arrow ready for action. A scene that was the same hundreds, thousands of years ago.
 
Waters deep blue out in the great rivers Amazon and Negro, a turbulent brown and blue at confluence, green in the forest. Brown, too, with soils carried down from the Andes.
 

In the Heat of Manaus - Walking with the Ghosts of the Opera House

 
Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 27
  
The Journey -  Manaus,  August 20 -August 23, 1980

 
August 20 Docked at Manaus on 17th, 18th interview preparations, 19th visit EMBRAPA, 20th to INPA, Amazonia Research Station. First word to describe Manaus is HOT. Heat that brings tiredness, lethargy and seems to slow down pace of everyone.

Like many Brazilian (and South African) cities tendency has been to knock down the old in boom/bust growth. Interspersed are buildings from rubber boom days, highly ornate structures totally out of context with local atmosphere. European-style buildings transported to the Manaus Old and Newmidst of the Amazon jungle. Somewhat typical of many Brazilian cities, this failure to incorporate the local climate and scene into architecture. At least, Manaus is cleaner, less repressive/oppressive than Recife.
 
First three days sharing hotel room with Englishmen Rod and Mark, fine company, fine hotel, OK at 3200 cruzeiros for three but after they left I moved this morning to god-awful place only 800cr. less. No hot water, five beds in room. Carpetless floor. Practically windowless. Depressing! Reconcile myself as I look at pictureless, grimy walls that I am saving 800cr. a day = meals.
 
Don't have any real contacts here, so it's a long slog to get something achieved. The usual day spent in presentation and selling of oneself. Saw most of group from boat but realize that I have to distance myself from them, even though the conversation was wonderful.
 
I'm anxious to move on to Porto Velho but feel that I have to stick it out here until I've had a proper introduction to the Amazon forest. So far what contact there has been lacks intimacy, the feel of the place, but perhaps the excessive contact with “foreigners” adds to the problem Will persevere!
 
August 20(PM) Manaus is like an island, the darkness out there, this hot night — the unknown, great swards of green as mysterious as the depth of the ocean. The isolation one feels is accentuated.

I see Vicente here (“Vicente Cavalcanti,” a character imagined for Brazil), a tall, robust, bearded and gaunt figure tramping these streets in 1910/1912,feeling a totally alien atmosphere, wanting only to retreat to that “green” ocean, to lose himself in that reality. I see him walking, lonely and frightened, through the Eiffel-designed marketplace with its iron work to the Manaus Opera House and Palace of Justice, past the gaudy little hotels trying desperately to offer some hold to Europe and a civilization far removed.
 
Manaus Market Panorama Brazil Uys
 
Don't know how the mind of a Brazilian works but can hardly imagine how a Rio/São Paulo/Brasília person relates this area to “his Brasil,” other than in a possessive-territorial sense, the idea of having this superb national treasure. Posed a question to Mark and Rod as we parted: “Who are the Brazilians?” A mighty one to answer but I know what I'm racing toward.
 
After thirty days in North-East, feel victim of North-East depression. Somehow, I need to experience something that will show the Hope, the Excitement of Brazil.
 
For thirty days I have tramped, bused and otherwise moved through the North-East growing increasingly downcast at life in the region. Even the Amazon is drawn in with the sight of downed, destroyed woodland and pathetic attempt to “farm” it — a vision aggravated by fact that farms visited belong to EMBRAPA researchers. God knows how hope-filled people from the North-East face staggering challenge to “produce” something, a livelihood, on such lands. Nothing said or shown by researchers convinced me that they're anywhere near solving the countless challenges.
 
In my more “mature” attitude to Brazil, keep reminding myself that though Michener wrote about South Africa, he detested apartheid. There are similarities in my approach/attitude toward Brazil. I find the history, the past, utterly fascinating; the present reflected, too often, in the filthy gray pools at my feet.

BRAZIL - The Epic of a Great Nation
 

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