Brazilians are a social people,
never happy when they are alone but as cheerful and noisy as
a tree full of parrots when they are together. This is all well
and good if you are part of the happy chatterers but, as a foreigner,
I have often wished I was far from the madding crowd. However,
there are times when it is inspiring to be part of the group
and think you are a Brazilian, even if it is only for a few
hours. The New Year is a good time for this.
I remember I spent my first New Year in Brazil
in Rio de Janeiro. I could not believe the enormous crowds thronging Copacabana
and the adjoining areas of Ipanema and Leblon. On one side we had the dark
rushing sea, pinpointed by the lights of small boats inshore and petrol tankers
and other maritime beasts of burden in the distance. Thousands of people dressed
in white waded into the surf and threw flowers to the African goddess Iemanjá.
On the other side, we had the light and color
and noise of a city preparing for one hell of a party. When midnight arrived
and the fireworks started to explode over Rio's graceful hills and the statue
of Cristo Redentor, the biggest outdoor party I have ever seen started.
This year I swapped the midnight dancing and
singing in Rio for the São Silvestre race in São Paulo. This
event was celebrating its 79th year and was as thrilling as the
party. The 15-kilometer run starts in Avenida Paulista, turns down Rua da
Consolação and heads towards the old downtown centre, passing
the Teatro Municipal, Viaduto do Chá and Largo São Francisco
before a grueling uphill stretch up Avenida Brigadeiro Luiz Antônio
and back to Paulista.
Unfortunately I was not able to participate but
went along to watch a friend perform in the female race, which started about
two hours earlier than the men's event. The day started ominously, very hot
and with strong sunshine, great for spectators but not for runners, but by
the afternoon things had changed.
Thick black clouds loomed over Paulista, scraping
the tops of the high-rise buildings, a strong wind got up and there were flurries
of rain. The runners loved this but the spectators did not. However, the weather
was almost irrelevant since everyone was in a good mood and the most important
people were the thousands of runners.
Although the São Silvestre is called the
São Paulo International in English it is really a Brazilian affair.
There were some professional runners from Kenya, but virtually everyone else
was a Brazilian. Many of them came from distant parts of this vast country,
including the Amazon, the Northeast and the South.
You could see runners in Indian headgear, others
in traditional Northeastern garbone was dressed like the legendary bandit
Lampião in leather hat, bandoleiros and clutching a rifleand
others in gaucho gear. Thankfully, there was none of the irritating brand
name flashing which makes a certain kind of Brazilian appear shallow and materialistic.
The whole center was closed to traffic so we
were spared the usual pollution, noise and bad manners of drivers who see
themselves as kings of the road. Most of the entrants looked as though they
were from modest backgrounds and there was a wide age range, with people in
their 70s running. I have noticed this camaraderie and disregard for social
differences at other races and marathons here. It makes a heartening change
from the usual rat race life of São Paulo.
The absence of the commercial hard sell is another
good point about the São Silvestre. The sponsorship is split over a
number of companies and the logos are discreet. The prize money is also modest
by international levelsjust under US$ 6,000 for the winners compared
with US$ 100,000 for the New York marathonwhich probably explains the
lack of well-known international runners.
The fact that the race takes place on the last
day of the year may be inconvenient for international athletes but it makes
the event a great run-up, if you will pardon the pun, to New Year. Although
Kenyans took the first two places in the women's race, the first two to compete
the men's race were Brazilians, which gave the crowd an extra reason to cheer
and start celebrating.
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
which specializes in editorial and translation services for
Brazilian and foreign clients. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
© John Fitzpatrick 2003