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

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