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.