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.