Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 8
The famed Brazilian sociologist, Gilberto Freyre, asked me whether I based my story of generations of Cavalcantis on the secret unpublished journal of a Brazilian family. There were times during my five year odyssey on Brazil when I surely wished I possessed such a private diary. - There was no diary only the will to understand the Brazilian “thing.”
|Professor Gilberto Freyre|
Part of that understanding came from the journey I took over four months in 1981 traveling 20,000 kilometers through Brazil, almost entirely by bus. I visited the Casa Grandes; the big fazendas; the splendid beachfront apartments; the glass and concrete wonder of Brasília - the new El Dorado! I walked the sands of Porto Seguro; I rejoiced in the atmosphere of the Bahia; I stood in silence between sepulchral hills at Canudos. I climbed another hill, too, to gaze down on Vila Rica do Ouro Preto and imagine the handicapped sculptor Aleijadinho moving along Vila Rica's cobbled streets. I heard the muffled drum of tyranny presaging the last act in the drama of Tiradentes, martyr of Brazilian independence.
I wandered the sertão, the backlands, not just the wilderness beyond Bahia and in Amazonas but the sertão of the favelas of Recife and Rio de Janeiro. A literary bandeirante penetrating Brazil's past like those seventeenth century pathfinders, often feeling the thorny caatingas closing in on me but compelled to march forward like my hero, Amador Flores da Silva:
To Amador, to his father, to all who traveled with them, there would be no expression more evocative, more meaningful than sertão. 'Backlands;' 'wild country;' 'the unknown forest;' 'hill, valley, river hidden by the mist of Creation;' 'place of thorn and desert;''brutal land without end' - sertão was all these and more. It started not beyond the next rise or across the river ahead but deep within the soul, a call to paradise or to hell...
|The Bandeirante - Debret|
I kept a two hundred page journal on my four-month expedition across the length and breadth of Brazil. The scrawl on some pages vividly brings to mind a motorista, a bus driver, hanging on to the wheel as we sped through the caatingas. I remember triumphant cries of Asfalt! as we careened off a dirt road onto the hard-top. I remember glancing at a rear-view mirror and seeing a driver nodding off with half-closed eyes. I remember a girl in the seat next to me on her way to join a nunnery saying a prayer...
Some glimpses follow from a journey that lies at the heart of Brazil. I'd begun my research travels in Portugal where I stayed for three months in Sintra, the 'glorious Eden' of Lord Byron. I tried teaching myself Portuguese and learned enough to decipher the written word, more or less, but spoke the language poorly. I wrote to half a dozen people in Brazil in advance but essentially landed at Bahia, Salvador without a single contact... Journeying through Brazil in 1981, I traveled through the heart of a nation in which the flame of freedom was newly lit after years of military dictatorship, my journal colored by the voices and emotions of the era.