A Gringo in the White Forest of Brazil

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 6
From Porto Seguro to Brasília, a tremendous leap in time and imagination that was to prove fateful. Though I did not know it then, I was being handed one of the keys to my vision of Brazil, the metaphor of Brasília and El Dorado. In his review of Brazil , the eminent Brazilian literary scholar, Professor Wilson Martins wrote:   
What we have in front of us is the Brazilian national epic in all its decisive episodes — the indigenous civilization and the El Dorado myth that they themselves created and supported, passing it on to the hallucinated imaginations of the conqueror; the discovery and domination of the North-East; the Bandeiras and geographical expansion; the gold rush and nationalist feeling present, not only in the struggle against the Dutch but also the Inconfidência Mineira; the Royal Family's arrival and the Independence; the Second Reign and the war with Paraguay; the Abolition and the Republic — everything converging like the segments of a rose window in that reborn and metamorphosed myth that is Brasília, symbol of the proclaimed territorial integrity and, not without reason, with the expeditions that expanded to the south and to the west on the pretext of capturing Indians and searching for the “Golden Fleece.
From Brasília, I traveled to Piauí and the sertão of Bahia, to Uauá and Canudos. Like so many other stops along my journey, I was there to brood over the past. I already had the broad picture but needed the innumerable small details to fill my canvas.
To have studied Euclides da Cunha's Rebellion in the Backlands and other sources was one thing, but go alone into the thorny caatingas ("White Forest",) walk for hours with the sun burning down on you, rest upon that stony earth, not a little fearful that you're totally lost — it takes little to imagine the hell that raged at Antônio Conselheiro's New Jerusalem.
Site if Canudos, as it appeared after diversion of Vasa-Barris river.
Locals believed it was intentionally flooded by government
My next halt was at Recife and Olinda where I spent three weeks, mostly under the guidance of Gilberto Freyre's Joaquim Nabuco Foundation. With their help I found my valley of Santo Tomás and my imaginary town of Rosário, the locales for my fictitious family of Cavalcantis.
From Recife I traveled to Belém and embarked upon the Amazon, five days of brooding along the river sea to Manaus and on to Porto Velho. What I had in mind in journeying the wilderness was not so much Nature's glories but the men who were first to venture there: the bandeirantes. Nowhere but in those lonely tracts of forest could I get a sense of the enormity of their undertakings, their indefatigable spirit and courage.
From Porto Velho and Cuiabá, I headed south to Rio, São Paulo and Minas Gerais. After so many weeks it was a shock, traveling out of the backlands to the great cities. I was as bewildered and lonely as the sertanejo who goes south, but even as I felt this I knew my intuition to start my journey in the north had been right. Had I plunged into Rio or São Paulo at the start, I could've been drowned but up north I was able to absorb the Brazilian "thing" in small doses, day by day.
This is a very real problem in developing a book like mine, for in so short a time no outsider can possibly hope to get more than a superficial look at a great city like Rio de Janeiro. Which is why when I got down to writing Brazil I placed my two families beyond the cities, the Cavalcantis on Engenho Santo Tomás near Rosário and the da Silvas of bandeirante ancestry at the fictional Itatinga on the Rio Tietê, their worlds a microcosm of the greater Brazil beyond.
Glimpses of the Casa Grande, Pernambuco, Brazil

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