In the Heat of Manaus - Walking with the Ghosts of the Opera House

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 27
The Journey -  Manaus,  August 20 -August 23, 1980

August 20 Docked at Manaus on 17th, 18th interview preparations, 19th visit EMBRAPA, 20th to INPA, Amazonia Research Station. First word to describe Manaus is HOT. Heat that brings tiredness, lethargy and seems to slow down pace of everyone.

Like many Brazilian (and South African) cities tendency has been to knock down the old in boom/bust growth. Interspersed are buildings from rubber boom days, highly ornate structures totally out of context with local atmosphere. European-style buildings transported to the Manaus Old and Newmidst of the Amazon jungle. Somewhat typical of many Brazilian cities, this failure to incorporate the local climate and scene into architecture. At least, Manaus is cleaner, less repressive/oppressive than Recife.
First three days sharing hotel room with Englishmen Rod and Mark, fine company, fine hotel, OK at 3200 cruzeiros for three but after they left I moved this morning to god-awful place only 800cr. less. No hot water, five beds in room. Carpetless floor. Practically windowless. Depressing! Reconcile myself as I look at pictureless, grimy walls that I am saving 800cr. a day = meals.
Don't have any real contacts here, so it's a long slog to get something achieved. The usual day spent in presentation and selling of oneself. Saw most of group from boat but realize that I have to distance myself from them, even though the conversation was wonderful.
I'm anxious to move on to Porto Velho but feel that I have to stick it out here until I've had a proper introduction to the Amazon forest. So far what contact there has been lacks intimacy, the feel of the place, but perhaps the excessive contact with “foreigners” adds to the problem Will persevere!
August 20(PM) Manaus is like an island, the darkness out there, this hot night — the unknown, great swards of green as mysterious as the depth of the ocean. The isolation one feels is accentuated.

I see Vicente here (“Vicente Cavalcanti,” a character imagined for Brazil), a tall, robust, bearded and gaunt figure tramping these streets in 1910/1912,feeling a totally alien atmosphere, wanting only to retreat to that “green” ocean, to lose himself in that reality. I see him walking, lonely and frightened, through the Eiffel-designed marketplace with its iron work to the Manaus Opera House and Palace of Justice, past the gaudy little hotels trying desperately to offer some hold to Europe and a civilization far removed.
Manaus Market Panorama Brazil Uys
Don't know how the mind of a Brazilian works but can hardly imagine how a Rio/São Paulo/Brasília person relates this area to “his Brasil,” other than in a possessive-territorial sense, the idea of having this superb national treasure. Posed a question to Mark and Rod as we parted: “Who are the Brazilians?” A mighty one to answer but I know what I'm racing toward.
After thirty days in North-East, feel victim of North-East depression. Somehow, I need to experience something that will show the Hope, the Excitement of Brazil.
For thirty days I have tramped, bused and otherwise moved through the North-East growing increasingly downcast at life in the region. Even the Amazon is drawn in with the sight of downed, destroyed woodland and pathetic attempt to “farm” it — a vision aggravated by fact that farms visited belong to EMBRAPA researchers. God knows how hope-filled people from the North-East face staggering challenge to “produce” something, a livelihood, on such lands. Nothing said or shown by researchers convinced me that they're anywhere near solving the countless challenges.
In my more “mature” attitude to Brazil, keep reminding myself that though Michener wrote about South Africa, he detested apartheid. There are similarities in my approach/attitude toward Brazil. I find the history, the past, utterly fascinating; the present reflected, too often, in the filthy gray pools at my feet.

BRAZIL - The Epic of a Great Nation

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