February 2003

Catching up on the Gossip

Arrogance and small talk at São Paulo's most venerable daily,
Lula's Zero Hunger program, the perils of private doctors, lack
of work ethics, and whatever happened to the sex-driven Brazilians.

John Fitzpatrick

Since president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the electorate are still enjoying their honeymoon and the Congress is settling down to business, let us put politics aside for the moment and catch up on a few other happenings.

Estado de S. Paulo - Narcissistic Newspaper...

The press in most countries has a high opinion of itself and is often self-important, hypocritical and arrogant. Here in Brazil things are no different. Take the O Estado de S. Paulo newspaper, for example. It is, without doubt, the most comprehensive and serious paper in the city and, perhaps, even in all Brazil. It provides a good coverage of politics, business, hard news and sport and has a team of regular and occasional correspondents. Technically, it is let down by the layout, which is dreary and grey, with the main news pages often filled with mug shots of politicians. Since Lula's government is packed with beardies the faces are all beginning to look alike.

The arts section is the weakest link and has never managed to bridge the highbrow-lowbrow gap. Instead we have long, unreadable essays on unreadable writers like Kafka and Sartre or on unwatchable film directors like Fritz Lang and Pedro Almodovar next to two and three-page spreads on the latest James Bond film, say, or the release of a new CD by teenybopper idols Sandy and Junior. Much of this material is straightforward PR produced by the film or music company, which enjoys the free publicity.

The paper's arrogance and vanity is apparent in the readers' letters page in which endless letters appear congratulating the paper on its coverage of events or praising its opinion pieces. The paper is owned by a family called Mesquita and the Mesquita name is treated with a reverence that borders on a personality cult. I have thought of sending a spoof letter praising it extravagantly and mentioning the Mesquita name just to see if it would fall for it.

At Christmas time, it even publishes a list of people who have sent it cards. Can you imagine readers in any other country paying money to buy a newspaper and confront material like this: "The Estado has received Christmas greetings from the da Silva Bakery in Pinheiros, the dos Santos Brothers Calendar Company, the Santa Cecilia shopping center 1..... and wishes them a Happy Christmas." When the paper celebrated its 100th anniversary it printed literally hundreds of letters of congratulations over a period of months. One letter it did not publish was mine protesting about this orgy of self-congratulation. When I told them that self-praise was no praise the response was that the letters were spontaneous feelings of respect and affection by loyal readers.

"Hi" Society....

However, the part of the newspaper I most love to hate is the social page. It appears under the "Persona" banner and chronicles the lives of a couple of hundred so-called celebrities. These range from socialites whose lives seem to consist of being photographed at receptions and parties to the latest celebrity chef. The comings and goings of these fly-by-night celebrities are faithfully recorded alongside those of the more established upper echelons and recorded for posterity. If future historians want to know where the trendiest hairdresser of the day passed his Christmas holidays or what color of dress the wife of a prominent banker wore at a New Year's party they will only need to consult the files of the Estado de S. Paulo.

Here are some recent examples:

· Horacio Lafer is very elegant these days. He is having suits made to measure at Severo...

· Today is the birthday of Carla Bolla, Lillian Ring Farkas, Eduardo Barcellos and the brothers Marco and Ruibem Duailibi.

· Chef Alain Uzan and the partners of L'Assiette, Gilles Montangerand and Marcos Barbosa, are offering dinner to the chefs of São Paulo.

There's No Smoke…

However, you should not think that the Persona page is just full of tittle-tattle. As well as describing all the charitable events which the moneyed few hold for deserving causes, it prints what it regards as news. Recently, it reported that some teenagers had been smoking cannabis in an exclusive building in Guarujá, the chic weekend resort of the better-off Paulistanos. According to the Persona newshound, the law-abiding owners were shocked that the parents tolerated this activity and even more shocked when the parents told the nosy neighbors to mind their own business. Presumably the few hundred members of the in-crowd recognize who this family was but humble folk like you and I can only guess. I think, however, we can assume they were not members of the Mesquita family.

Beggar's Banquet

The posh Jardins and Morumbi districts are Persona's beat and while murders, rapes, robberies and misery afflict the rest of the city, Persona has an eye open for misdeeds in these districts. Recently, an item reported that some of the families who beg in the Rua Oscar Freire area of the Jardins had been seen being dropped there by cars in the morning, picked up again in the evenings and presumably taken back to the favelas where they belong.

Of course, all right-thinking people would agree that: a) beggars should not be allowed to continue littering Oscar Freire and presenting their children to the Nike-shod, Tommy Hilfiger-clad Jeep-riding passers by; and b) if these beggars are permitted, then they should, at least, walk all the way from the favelas or commute by overcrowded bus van. Imagine the cheek of it—beggars being dropped off in cars as though they were normal people! Whatever next? If you want to know keep an eye on Persona.

Marta the Red or Marta the Blonde?

Still one has to feel sorry for Persona because while it would be natural to blame the left-wing PT government of São Paulo's mayor Marta Suplicy for everything that goes wrong, the problem is that Marta herself is a member of the jet set which provides Persona's bread and butter. Marta is more blonde than red and as Guccified as any of those featured in the pages. Therefore, she is basically off limits since Persona might find some doors slammed in its face if it were to attack such a philanthropist. In true Marta style, at the time of writing, she is currently in Paris on holiday while the bus drivers have brought havoc to the city by going on strike. Almost one million people have been put to a lot of bother (including your correspondent) while our mayor enjoys the delights of the French capital.

Going Hungry....

Lula's campaign to stamp out hunger has got off to a weak start. While everyone approves of the idea everyone also knows it will be an administrative nightmare. The minister in charge, José Graziano, was hardly in office before he was coming under criticism. The high spot for him was when Brazil's most famous female after Carmen Miranda, Giselle BŁndchen, gave him a check for R$ 50,000 (US$ 14,000) as her personal contribution to the campaign. It looks downhill from now on.

Graziano has to administer a scheme covering thousands of places across a vast country, often in remote areas. This program will be watched closely, not only in Brazil but abroad. The system is to be administered through a kind of credit card, which will allow people on a low income to buy food up to R$ 50 (US$ 14) a month. Questions have been raised on whether it is a good thing to give people money rather than help them to help themselves more actively, whether there should be restrictions on the kind of food bought e.g. should biscuits be seen as a normal perk for children or as a luxury, and on how the process will be monitored to prevent fraud. There will be lots of problems but this campaign is an act of faith by Lula and he will put all his resources into it. If it fails then he will be seen to have failed.

Doctor Death meets Doctor Strangelove

I don't approve of journalists who quote taxi drivers, as it gives the impression that the hack has flown in to a place he does not know and gathered all his information from the back of a cab. However, a taxi driver recently said something that sent a shiver through me. We were complaining about the cost of private medical insurance and he told me that he would rather put all his savings into a private scheme than go into a public hospital. "You go into a public hospital and you die", he announced with the kind of sour grimace you associate more with a Presbyterian minister of the Church of Scotland disapproving of joyful activities like fornication than with a representative of a cheery, happy race.

In fact, as two recent revolting stories, which have gripped the popular imagination show, private doctors seem to be the ones to avoid. The press has been feasting on the gruesome case of a plastic surgeon who killed his ex-girlfriend, who was also a former patient, cut her body into pieces and removed the skin from her face, presumably to prevent identification.

Fortunately he was caught, as was another private doctor last year who had drugged young and adolescent boys and filmed himself sexually abusing them. Ironically both these doctors are sharing a cell while awaiting their cases to come to court. I would not be surprised if one of Brazil's most tasteless TV presenters, Ratinho, whom I have written about before, did not end up getting both of them on his nightly television show to describe in detail just what they got up to with their patients.

Brazilians—tropical Russian? Russians—Siberian Brazilians?

I was reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novel August 1914 recently and was struck by this passage in which a German general called Hermann von François considers the difference between the German and Russian national characters and how he can exploit them to win a battle. "Von François considered that speed and aggressiveness were the essential qualities of the German soldier and of his military training whereas the Russian temperament was distinguished by such features as a disinclination to work methodically, lack of a sense of duty, fear of responsibility, and a total inability to appreciate the value of time and make use of it." Try substituting "Brazilian" for "Russian". See what I mean? A perfect fit. Who would have thought Brazilians and Russians had so much in common?

Sex—Active or Passive?

According to Veja magazine, sex is the main search made by Brazilians surfing the web while for Americans it is something called PlayStation2, which I believe is a computer game. This comes as a great surprise and disappointment to me as I had always thought that, when it came to sex, Brazilians were players rather than spectators.

I have never been inside a Brazilian sex shop but have always been impressed by the window displays which concentrate on all kinds of weird-looking clothing and equipment (masks and whips are particularly prominent) rather than videos and magazines. It seems now that these are just for show and, behind closed doors, the Brazilian is as lazy and unimaginative in bed as the rest of the world. Does anybody know how to say "Not tonight, Josephine" in Portuguese?

1 These are not the real names of the companies involved.

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

© John Fitzpatrick 2003

You can also read John Fitzpatrick's articles in Infobrazil, at

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