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Brazzil - Nation - June 2003

Regards from São Paulo, Brazil

A little vanity saves a higher-up on Lula's party from being
kidnapped. Capoeira without Bahianos is something else. In São
Paulo, driving through red lights, the wrong way up one-way streets,
and parking on the pavement is the norm. Still you can
taste a piece of paradise in Sampa.

John Fitzpatrick


Mere Coincidence?

Last week, the PT president, Jose Genoíno, one of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's right-hand men, was due to be driven to a TV station for an interview. He forgot his comb and went back to his apartment to get it. During his absence, three gunmen hijacked the car and held two of Genoíno's staff hostage for an hour, before releasing them and escaping with the car, bank cards and cellular phones. Police believe it was just a routine robbery and the chances are that it was, but cases like this always make one wonder. A year ago the PT mayor of Santo André, in the Greater São Paulo, was robbed in similar fashion although he was shot dead by his assailants, a crime that has never been solved. What would have happened had Genoíno not forgotten his comb?

Capoeira Paulistano-style

A couple of years ago I seem to recall a film was released called something like "White Men Can't Dance". I am not so sure of this, but I can tell you one thing—Paulistanos can't perform capoeira. I saw a display by some local clubs last week in Ibirapuera Park, which was so bad that even the performers' mothers would have refused to applaud. Although there was a huge park full of greenery to choose from, in typical São Paulo native style, the performers held their show in a car park. (A touching tribute to the Paulistano's love affair with the motor car. See Traffic Trolls.)

It was strange to see a group of about 30 capoeira performers, virtually all of whom were white. Two of them (descendants of wandering Celts?) even had red hair. There were also no bare chests. Perhaps the performers were afraid of catching a chill in the São Paulo winter where temperatures plunge as low as 20 degrees centigrade (68° F) sometimes.

Rippling muscles were also in short supply since these locals are cosseted from the cradle to the grave by doting mothers, girlfriends, wives and maids and have never done a bit of physical labor in their lives. Instead of flashing displays combining martial menace and artistic choreography we could almost hear the joints creak as these would-be Bahianos lumbered around. The accompanying "music" was so bad that one jogger approached a park warden and complained about it.

When I made these comments to a local the reply was typical: "These Bahianos are only good at capoeira because they are lazy and have nothing better to do than hang around the beach all day dancing and drinking." Lucky Bahianos!

Traffic Trolls

Most of us unfortunates who inhabit this monstrous megalopolis would probably cite the traffic as the main problem facing us in our daily lives. Millions of cars and trucks clog the streets and highways, polluting the air, spewing out noxious gases, crunching gears, making noise and generally causing stress to drivers and pedestrians alike. Gridlock is the name of the game and there are no longer any traditional rush hours. You can confront a massive traffic jam at virtually any time, even on Sunday mornings.

The authorities have tried to a little, but they are not serious about tackling the problem. Neither are most motorists who love their cars more than their wives.

For example, a system—known as the rodízio—by which cars with certain letters in their license plates are banned from the roads between certain hours once a week is reluctantly accepted by most people and ignored by a significant minority. Not only will these selfish drivers set out in the knowledge that they are unlikely to be caught, but some will blatantly cover their license plates with a piece of cardboard.

There are also a large number of cars and trucks which are unfit to be on the road and are a danger to everyone. They are bashed and dented, with the lights falling off and bearing no plates. Every evening, large numbers of wrecks like these trawl the streets to pick up paper refuse. I have never seen one with lights on, nor seen a policeman or employee of the CET traffic security service stop one.

Driving through red lights, the wrong way up one-way streets, parking on the pavement, stopping on pedestrians crossings, meeting any complaint with abuse is the norm. Non-motorists (like me) are non-existent and have no rights. In fact we are invisible to most motorists who would literally knock us down and drive off if we were not eternally vigilant.

People like us rely on public transport which is another stressful experience. Attempts are being made to improve the traffic flow on a main highway in my neighborhood by restricting two lanes to public buses. This would reduce the traffic flow enormously and help tens of thousands of people (most of them poor) who do not have cars and cause a little discomfort to the motorists. However, a big campaign is underway to try and have the plan dropped. The fat cat drivers don't give a damn about their fellow citizens and feel they have the God-given right to have the roads to themselves.

Light in the Darkness

If you are in Sampa, take a tip from me and visit an exhibition in the Pinacoteca art gallery. It is called "Viva a Vida" and presents 56 marvellous drawings and paintings by the Pernambucana artist Guita Charifker. She specializes in watercolors of Brazil's exuberant plant life. Some of them are just wonderful and make you feel you are sitting in the midst of Paradise. I prefer those which concentrate on the plants and flowers, but the exhibition also shows works with a more mystical element showing figures and faces emerging from the trees and landscapes. In a strange way, some of these mystical paintings are reminiscent of an artist from a completely different climate and era—Giovanni Segantini (1858-1899) whose paintings of the Alpine landscape and lives of the peasantry in the Engadine Valley of Switzerland are simply inspiring.

It is such a pity that Charifker's sparkling works are on exhibition in an underground corridor next to a collection of revolting virtually pornographic photographs. There is no catalogue, but you can buy a book which, although pricy at R$ 70 (US$ 23), is well worth it. I am planning to have some of the paintings framed and once they are on the wall, sit in front of them with a caipirinha, the color of the lime and cachaça reflecting the paintings, and listen to some music, perhaps Toquinho's lovely song "Aquarela".

You can access some of the paintings at www.vejinha.com.br . There are also a number of sites about Segantini including www.segantini.it  and www.segantini-museum.ch.

Guess who might be coming to Brazil?

Ooh la la. Top frock designer Jean Paul Gaultier might come and visit us. Zut alors! According to the gossip column of the Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, any visit will depend on whether the catwalk king can reorganize his agenda, which is apparently overloaded because of all those important fashion shows in Europe. However, a person who has spoken personally to Monsieur Gaultier says the Great Man will do the impossible and come here because he "adores" Brazil. We cannot wait.


John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish journalist who first visited Brazil in 1987 and has lived in São Paulo since 1995. He writes on politics and finance and runs his own company, Celtic Comunicações—  www.celt.com.br, which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br

© John Fitzpatrick 2003



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