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Concrete Jungle

Concrete
      Jungle

Cariocas (people from Rio) and Paulistas (those from
São Paulo) are afraid to visit each other. It’s too dangerous, they think. All the big
car manufacturers are in São Paulo, including GM, Toyota, Ford, and Mercedes. For a sales
rep., it is like the biggest cake in the world to eat, but full of razor blades I am sure.
I am just looking at the cake and drooling, and knowing I will be here very frequently.
By John Miller

Thanks again to all those people who have written, sent gifts (sending flowers is a bit
over the top, but much appreciated). I thought by this stage I might be running out of
material, but it just gets more interesting (I hope for you as well). Boredom is a long
way off.

São Paulo

How do you describe a city so this big? 18,000,000 people live here, the 3rd
largest city in the world. It is the largest Japanese community outside of Japan (over
1,000,000 in São Paulo alone, and 3,000,000 in Brazil). There are over 12,000 buildings
higher than 10 stories in this city, and two new buildings of this height are completed
each day! I would love to have 1 cent for each ton of concrete in this town. It is an
absolute jungle, far more intimidating than the Amazon.

São Paulo is at an elevation of over 800 meters, about 450 km from Rio. Even though we
are near the tropic of Capricorn, São Paulo has a climate like Melbourne, four seasons in
one day and is very famous for its mists, light rain, and fog.

Like Rio it has the most amazing road systems, really brilliant, but again about
3,000,000 cars too many using them. Gridlock is SOP. The taxi drivers seem somewhat less
generous, and I got taken for an $60 round about trip one night in this featureless city
(what can you do, ask to get out, and you have no idea where you are?). Few people seem to
carry a street directory, but they know their way around. The air quality is less than
perfect, as you would expect in a city that stretches from the equivalent of Wollongong to
Gosford with 9,000,000 cars/trucks/buses. This could be the asthma capital of the world.
Some other numbers to get your head around: 28,000 taxis (four times the number in New
York), 12,000 public buses, 250 km of gridlock in peak hour.

People from Rio (Cariocas) are scared to come to São Paulo as they think it is
too dangerous. People from São Paulo (Paulistas) are afraid to come to Rio, as it
is too dangerous. I am just a stranger in a strange land wherever I go, and cautious about
everything.

The economy of São Paulo City alone rivals New South Wales GDP if not a little more.
All the big car manufacturers are here including GM, Fiat (supposedly Fiat’s biggest plant
in the world), Toyota, Ford, and Mercedes trucks/buses, and a few others. For a sales
rep., it is like the biggest cake in the world to eat, but full of razor blades I am sure.
So far, I am just looking at the cake and drooling, and knowing I will be here very
frequently.

As to be expected the rivers that run through a city of this size are not suitable for
fishing or swimming. Lots of work for Ian Kiernen (clean up Australia campaign leader) if
he is short of things to do lately. Overall, outside of the favelas (shantytowns),
the city seems to make quite an effort to keep clean. Brazil is a gifted country, with and
abundance of fresh water, and hydro electricity so I guess if you make a mess of one or
two rivers, you have plenty to choose from, but not sure this is the right attitude to
take in the long term. Coming from such a dry continent as Australia, you look at the
rivers in Brazil with much awe and I wish we could pipe some of this water to our dry
continent.

The local city administration of São Paulo has a large public housing project under
way (called Cingapura, named after the government housing and pension program in
Singapore) to replace the favelas with some form of high rise housing commission.
(Rio de Janeiro is doing the same, but not as advanced). Some problems with moving people
into these new flats, as they often move in, sublet/sell the apartment to someone else and
go back and live in the favelas. It is difficult to solve problems sometimes.

One Saturday afternoon, Marta, her cousin and I went to the São Paulo Formula 1 Grand
Prix racetrack. It is a brilliant racetrack, much steeper and tighter than I expected. The
ghost of Ayrton Senna can almost be felt racing around here. One of the really great
aspects of this racetrack is that the entire racetrack is lower than the spectator area,
with few buildings or trees to obstruct your view. Consequently, you can see almost the
entire race from wherever you are situated, even in the bleachers or outer grassed areas.
While we were there, the local 500cc bikes were practicing for races the next day. At the
end, they put on an exhibition of trick riding and motorcycle dancing, lots of sparks,
wheel stands (front and rear), "Look, mum no hands" tricks, side saddle, feet
saddle, head stand rides, bum slides, etc. One particular trick I was impressed with was a
rider would ride down the straight at about 100 km/h. Then he would kick the bike into
neutral, full lock the front wheel, back flip the rear of the bike around, lock the back
wheel before it hits the ground, and then ride the bike backwards at about 60 km/h in
neutral. This is all done in about 0.5 sec. Neat way to turn around or what.

On the Saturday night, Marta and I went to her uncles for a birthday of one of Marta’s
cousins. This is a real family do, the four B’s (BBQ, beer, and black beans), cachaça,
Scotch whisky, wine, and lots of laughs. Much poking fun about kangaroos on the BBQ and
jumping steaks. Kids running everywhere and a little bottle dancing (use your vivid
imagination to picture this), very entertaining I must say.

Marta and I spend some time talking to an old Brazilian Japanese man. He was seven
years old when the firestorms started in Tokyo in 1944, and has the scars on his back to
prove it. At fifteen, he left Japan to come to São Paulo to work in his uncles car repair
yard as a panel beater. At 63, he has retired, his wife died two years ago, and he has
left his chain of car spare parts stores to his sons to run. He basically wants to make
love now to all the women in Brazil, and Marta had to beat him off with a stick.

Like some Japanese who have lived outside Japan for sometime, he has trouble
identifying with current Japanese society. I am acutely aware of body language as a means
of communication and it was interesting to see him retain many of the unique hand gestures
of the Japanese (the vertical single clap of hands, the subtle eye contact and raising of
eyebrows, the softer voice inflections, etc.).

More Bus
Adventures

We are not yet at the stage of throwing money around on business class airfares. So we
go by air-conditioned chauffeur driven Mercedes. This is a real treat as we get to see
some of the rural areas around Rio de Janeiro, including the fazendas (farms). The
highway to São Paulo is dual carriage, and has about the same element of risk as the
highway between Sydney and Gold Coast. Buses actually travel slower on the highway than
they do in the streets of Rio. The countryside is gloriously green, lush, and beautiful,
and the rivers are quite spectacular. Like parts of the south island of New Zealand.

The trip to São Paulo is rather uneventful, but not dull, although I have a great
habit of falling asleep as soon as I sit in a bus. Marta and I get the best seats on the
bus and I start singing the theme song from Midnight Cowboy.

Everybody’s talking about you,
I don’t hear a word they’re saying,
Only through the echoes of their mind,
I’m going to where the sun keeps shining,
Pouring on summer rain,
Backing off the northeast wind.
Sailing on a summer breeze.
Drifting over the ocean, like a song.

Harry Nielson, eat your heart out. Rattzo Rizzo would love this trip on this bus, and I
still have his flu hanging around. Is that Jon Voight at the back of the bus with Dustin?

We arrive at the São Paulo bus terminal and it is like any bus terminal, except the
passengers throw the luggage from the bus before it even stops to waiting relatives and
friends. It’s chaos and you have to watch your luggage like a hawk. Taxi spruikers
everywhere. Get me outta here.

On the way back to Rio de Janeiro we decide not to book tickets in advance, and just
roll up Sunday morning, as it should be pretty quiet. Wrong. The place is bedlam, but we
finally get two seats on the return bus, and all is well, although some school students
decide the bus is a good place to teach me how to speak Portuguese, so they play teacher
and I play student. This is a lot of fun. The students are really excellent, very well
behaved, take great personal pride in their clothes and grooming, and some spoke good
English. I do a bit of geography and history of Australia with them, one of them was
obviously a keen surfing type, and named many of Australia’s famous surf beaches.

Halfway between the two cities is a town called Aparecida. The main feature of this
town is the local church, or I should say CHURCH. It is the largest church in South
America in the largest Catholic nation in the world. I would guess it would be 20 stories
high, maybe 400-500 meters long, and 150-200 meters wide. The Pope has been here several
times to give mass, forgive a few sins, break the bread, and drink a little wine. On the
Sunday we returned to Rio, I estimated there were 200-300 buses out front, maybe 30,000
people outside the church, God knows (I’m sure) how many inside. I have to go back and see
this again, gee when man gets motivated about God; he can build some big edifices to his
worship.

Home to Rio at last. Can’t wait to get on my bicycle and have a swim. We are tired, and
fall asleep quickly that night. Marta is wonderful. I love her very much.

São Paulo
Wine and Spirit
Exhibition

I nearly forgot to tell you why we went to São Paulo, the second annual São Paulo
Wine and Spirit exhibition.

This was held in the Bienal pavilion, about the same size as Darling harbor. The
Germans and the Portuguese have massive exhibitions covering several hundred square
meters. The German stand is excellent, with the usual Fräulein’s (why are they so big and
buxom, big hands, big features, and so dominating) to hand out the Riesling’s and
Schnapps. The Portuguese have also got a lot of costumed staff of even more stunning
appearance, and the usual brilliant Ports and Madeira’s on display. All the big Port
winemakers are here, including Croft, Cockburn, Sandeman, and Delaforce. The Germans have
the usual low end products like Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch (they have the market by the
short a curlies here), but also some of the most stunning German Methode de Champagnes,
Beerenauslese´s, Eiswein´s, and Trockenbeeranaulese wines. All class when they want to.

Strangely France is only represented sparsely by a few distributors, Chandon have a
stand, and very few USA wines represented. The Sicilians come over and start bitching
about OZ wine makers using geographical names that are not appropriate (I sympathize), but
I felt the tone was one of piss off Aussies, we don’t want the competition. The rest of
the Italians are great and lots of fun, and some very good quality amongst the Northern
Italian vignerons.

As for Australia, we have a modest 20 sq. meters in a good location. The novelty factor
is off the scale. Penfolds Grange is on display at another stand but not for tasting. We
are pouring the good oil down the throat of every Carlos, Júlio and Maria who even
remotely looks at our stand. Marta is working overtime on the stand helping translate my
commentary on OZ plonk, and I have to have a rest every four hours or I will end up pissed
as a fart.

I have some personal teething problems on the first day. I am still recovering from
another bout of diarrhea, so when the rumbling starts, I have about 5 minutes before my
body overcomes my mind. So I race off to the toilets, and guess what, NO paper! I am about
to go into panic mode, so I race back to Marta and explain the problem. She goes off and
talks to some administration people and returns to say the problem is solved. I go back
into the toilet, and a guy is handing out the paper one sheet at a time to the visitors. I
ask for about 10 sheets, and he says no! Now I have to think quickly, as time is running
out. I open my wallet and the smallest denomination note I have is $R 5 (approximately US$
5). I hand it to him and he gives me three toilet rolls. This is the most expensive shit
in my life, so I take my time and really enjoy it. Thank God that the worst of this round
of looseness is nearly over. I also have a very cooperative water closet attendant, and he
agrees to shine my shoes each day for the rest of the week, brush my clothes, comb my
hair, and probably clean my teeth if I wanted.

The end of the first day there is a cocktail party for the exhibitors and a few special
guests. The major sponsor, Playboy Brazil are the hosts, and what can I say, words fail to
describe the elegance of these ladies (nothing as gouache as a bunny outfit these days
please, the little black dress is still a girl’s best friend). I have rope burn marks
around my neck from the leash Marta has installed.

On the second day, I met a man by the name of Stewart Laing from Scotland. He is the
managing director of the Douglas Laing and Company, a Scotch whisky distiller, blender and
distributor with a few brand name products like John Player, etc. A really nice guy, a
typical sweaty jock, and we hit it off like a house on fire. What is it about these
Glasgow people that makes it so easy to like them. He lives in a castle outside Glasgow,
can trace his family tree back 500 years, and is a walking encyclopedia about the history
of Scotland. He was very impressed by Mel Gibson in Braveheart, except he wanted to
see more English blood spilled on camera. I had the night out with him (Marta has been
very generous with the leave passes), and we proceeded to push each others drinking skills
to the limit. It was no contest; I lost in 5 hours. Bang, that was my head hitting the
floor when I got home. Not much sympathy from Marta that night, or in the morning.

Day three, the quietest day of the exhibition. We have a bit of spare time, and visit a
few of the other stands, and get to taste some great wine, port, champagne, and whisky.
That night dinner is at a 5-star Paulista restaurant, and waiters coming out from
under the table to serve you. The owner of the restaurant, Maurice and his wife are
hosting another table of people that were at the exhibition, and he is an absolute riot.
He tells some good jokes about Paulistas and Cariocas.

Day four, and its like the burly is in the water and the sharks have come to feed. The
place is swarming. Glass washing is a non-stop process, and Marta leads the way with her
energy and enthusiasm. We win first prize (red wine), third prize (champagne), and Playboy
best exhibitor award. Not bad for a bunch of Down Unders. The end of the exhibition, and
we swap a few products with the other exhibitors, a nice way to finish.

Our new friend –
Vanessa

Outside our apartment, there is a girl by the name of Vanessa, ten years of age, who
sells Chiclets (chewing gum) three nights a week on the streets to pay for her education.
She lives in Niterói, about 35 km and comes by bus at about 6:00 p.m. and goes home about
midnight. Marta and I adore this girl very much, and we have bought her box of Chiclets
three or four times now (and then give them all back to her when she looks up with these
black pearl eyes). She is the cutest thing you ever saw, dark chocolate in color, and eyes
that cry out for love and affection. She wants a set of roller blades badly; we will get
these for her in a couple of months. But in the interim, if you are coming over this way,
can you bring some warm clothes for her. She is a slight build, average height for a
ten-year-old, very well groomed, very proud of her appearance, and will break your heart.
She is very adorable, and you cannot refuse her. Good salesperson too. Sells a shit load
of Chiclets at outrageous prices.

You may ask why warm clothes are needed in a tropical climate like Rio de Janeiro? Well
it is all a question of climatisation. I have yet to be cold in Rio, a warm long sleeve
shirt is the most that I have had to come at rugging up. But for some of the poorer Cariocas,
warm clothes are needed, scarce, and expensive. T-shirts are cheap and available. But warm
clothes are not so readily available. So if you come over, please find room in your
luggage for some warm second hand clothes that you no longer need, and Marta and I will
see that these get given to deserving people.

Newspapers

No shortage of newspapers here. Four daily papers published in both São Paulo and Rio
de Janeiro (all broadsheets). They range from very high quality tabloids through to the
most vile, violently photographed graphic tabloid you have ever seen (this paper sickens
me). O Globo appears the most popular and newsworthy, and it is the largest selling
paper in Brazil. It is a good way to learn Portuguese as the pictures convey half the
story and I can interpret the words with the pictures. The graphic artists for this paper
are outstanding.

Beach Culture –
Continued

You will recall in last month’s episode, we talked about the beach life in
Copacabana/Ipanema up to about 9:30 a.m. in the morning. Things were beginning to hot up,
the selling has commenced, the tourists are packing down for a day of baking and frying,
and the place is beginning to buzz. Let’s continue.

OK, so it’s time to oil up the body. Now this is a real art form, the way this is done
by the local Ipanema ladies. It’s like a dance in some ways, with great elegance, and
sense of performance. I don’t know who is enjoying this more, the people watching, or the
Girl from Ipanema knowing she has half the beach watching her do this. There is saliva
running down the chins of most male tourists, and many are chain smoking four or five
cigarettes at once. I saw one guy pour a beer down the front of his chest while watching
one goddess do her routine. It is a laugh a minute.

Sport on the beach is big time. Beach volleyball is an institution here, and invented
by Brazil. There are many varieties played; traditional six a side, four and two per side,
and foot volleyball. I play sometimes six a side with a group of pensioners (my standard
at present) early in the morning for about an hour one or two days a week. The foot
volleyball is the most difficult, and the skills displayed in this are just unbelievable.
It is played with the same rules as soccer (you can use your legs, chest, and head, no
arms) but with the rest of the rules as for two a side volleyball. Other sports include
fresco ball, a type of shuttlecock with wooden bats and rubber ball, beach soccer, boogie
and surfboards, chess, backgammon. No beach cricket so far.

Reading books on the beach seem to be mainly pastime of tourists. Wearing a Walkman is
recommended if you want to blend in and not get too much attention from the sales staff on
hand.

The action stays the same for most of the morning; the crowd picks up and by lunchtime
it’s in full swing. In front of the Caesar Park Hotel is the center of gravity for
tourists. Watching old guys come to beach with the most beautiful ladies in their mid
twenties draped on their arms is a real sight. No doubt the lady is charging an absolute
fortune for her services, and he most probably can afford. After all, this is the oldest
profession in the world, and the prices involved would tend to indicate the exploitation
takes place in both directions.

Man and his Dog

As only man knows, a special relationship exists between himself and his dog, something
primeval. Man has been involved with the domestication of dogs for thousands of years. A
dog is a man’s best friend, right? A dog can provide warmth, affection, security, hunting
skills, companionship, and just a load of fun. A dog is loyal. A dog and man is like ham
and eggs, they go together. A dog has character, a dog can make a man feel good about
life. A man and his dog are amigos for life. A dog is a dog.

So what happens with a poodle? I don’t know, all I can say is a man and a fancied up
poodle don’t work for me. Now I hear all you Oxford Street people saying this is
prejudice, it’s anti gay, or what. It’s not. I just don’t like poodles as man’s best
friend. Yes, it’s mincy. It’s very European I know. And lot of men here have poodles. But
I just think it looks, well, to put it bluntly, it’s like eating ice cream with a big
juicy steak. It just does not work. OK, so maybe my tastes in dogs runs to border collies,
Labradors, blue heelers, and those big dogs that slobber everywhere, but for start, I
would have a dog that has a real bark, like ‘woof’ not like a poodle that ‘yikes.’ And a
dog has to walk like a dog, with a sense of ‘Hey man, I’m relaxed, I’m on all fours, I’m
balanced, in control of the situation.’ A poodle walks like it should be wearing high heel
shoes. A dog should show affection like men, shake hands and hug each other, not like
kissing on the cheek.

The bizarre thing about this is the women of Ipanema seem to walk all the German
shepherds, Labradors, huskies, and other sorts of macho dogs. I am out of touch with this
thing about dogs. But don’t even remotely suggest a cat to me.

Plataforma One

One Saturday night in May, Marta and I went to Plataforma One, the largest and most
famous of the samba show houses in Rio de Janeiro. It is situated in Leblon, in a large
auditorium reminiscent of the old Palais Theatre in St Kilda, and decor of this vintage to
match. The place seats about 1500 patrons at tables and tiny chairs, and the stage area
would be about 20 meters wide with a 25 meters long cat walk down the middle.

We arrived at about 9:30 p.m. to be given very good seats, and within another 15
minutes it is packed with the usual bus loads of European, USA, and other Latin American
tourists. Lots of photo sessions with the showgirls ($11 per photo), and then the maestro
and music starts. About 2 hours later the show concludes. Cost is about $30.

As for the show, it involves a 10-piece live band, four or five backing vocalists,
about 40-50 female and 20-30 odd male dancers. The highlight of this whole experience is
the costumes, which reflects a wide cross section of Brazilian culture, dance, and life
styles. The costumes vary from minimal to the most elaborate Carnaval Queen outfits you
could imagine.

The dancing and show covers a number of styles including baião, samba, frevo,
maracatu, and lambada. African influences in abundance. It is really well
choreographed and very entertaining. As this is obviously geared for tourists, I look
forward to experiencing more authentic examples when Marta and I get to go to Salvador and
Bahia.

For those with an eye for a keen physique, the bodies of all the men and women are just
adorable and gorgeous. The men are just as well toned, tanned and rippling in muscles as
the women. And teeth that the Colgate toothpaste peoples should be sponsoring. It is hot
work up on stage, especially for the men who do a very physically demanding dance and
gymnastic routine called capoeira (like a mixture of non-contact Kung Fu and
Olympic gymnastics), and are covered in perspiration at the end of the show.

Not having been to the famous Lido shows in Paris, it is hard to compare, but you would
have to be ultimate wowser not to enjoy this night out.

Brazilian Humor

Maurice told this joke to me, the owner of the restaurant mentioned earlier. It is very
subtle, and shows the relationship, opinion, attitude and envy between the Paulista
and the Carioca.

A Paulista comes to Rio on a Monday, and goes to Copacabana and sees a Carioca
on the beach at 2:00 p. m. in the afternoon. The Carioca is sitting in a beach
chair, sunglasses on, fully reclined, and enjoying the sun, surf and atmosphere to the
maximum.

Paulista: "Hey, Carioca, and what are you doing?"

Carioca: "I’m relaxing, enjoying myself, and contemplating the meaning of
life."

Paulista: "But why are you not working? Don’t you have a job? What work do
you do?"

Carioca: "Of course I have a job. I shine shoes."

Paulista: "Then why are you not shining shoes?"

Carioca: "Because I am relaxing, enjoying myself, and contemplating the
meaning of life."

Paulista: "But if you were working and shining shoes you could make some
money."

Carioca: "But why?"

Paulista: "So you could open a shop and get more customers and shine more
shoes and make some more money."

Carioca: "But why?"

Paulista: "So you could hire people to work for you, and shine more shoes,
and make even more money."

Carioca: "But why?"

Paulista: "So you could open up more shops, and franchise, and make even
more money."

Carioca: "But why?"

Paulista: "So you could then relax, take a holiday and go the beach."

Carioca: "I think that’s what I am doing now."

The things I love
and enjoy in Brazil

· Vanessa, world Chiclets sales champion.

· The sense of learning that is taking place.

· Fresh coffee

· Marta´s family.

· The rare occasions when it is quiet.

· Feijoada & Churrascaria.

· Televised bottle dancing.

· Marta´s Mum, Marina (can she cook or what).

· Cold showers on a warm night.

· Melrose Place in Portuguese.

· Music in Brazil

· "Domingo do Faustão"

· Beach culture

· The warmth of Brazilian hospitality

John Miller is an Australian, living in Rio de Janeiro, selling
Australian wine. ‘Postcards from Rio’ is a journal of his journey in the land of the Cariocas.

For contact:
John Miller
Rua Joaquim Nabuco, 106 / Apt 1001
Copacabana CEP 22080-030
Rio de Janeiro
Brazil

Tel: +55 (021) 521 8568

E-mail: millerj@gbl.com.br
 

 

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