Last beach before home: what is this country all about?
Buzios Travel Blog› entry 9 of 9 › view all entries
March 11th, 2010 – by: manuel_s
Time for some impressions of Brazil and the trip, the ones that were strong enough to persist until now.
Arriving in Rio from Europe was a mild shock, not because of the temperature difference but mainly because I came with a mindset still fully geared towards all the analytical work I had being doing back home. In Rio everything seems to be about your body and nobody seems to give a toss if you're smart or not. Seeing all the ripped torsos and tightly sculpted behinds in dental floss bikinis I couldn't help thinking 'this country will never produce a Nobel prize winner, they couldn't care less'.
Standing at the bus stop near the port in Fernando de Noronha I had a chat with a ten year old waiting for the bus as well. He asked me where I was from and I said Holland. "Are there any beaches there?". I said there were. Then he asked me if I was travelling alone. I said yes. "Oh, that's really lousy, right?". Those were two things that I had noticed in Brazilians before:
1) if you live in a place without a beach nearby your quality of life is truly poor
2) doing things on your own is not the Brazilian way (starting with eating because most plates on any menu serve a minimum of two)
And I should add a third: sarcasm and cynicism just don't exist as a concept here.
At the sambodrome parade the Imperatriz samba school had as it's theme "Brazil of all gods". There were floats with mosques, baiana dancers with big stars of david tied to their backs, native indian religions, hindus, etc. A celebration of 20+ cults in a single parade "praying at the altar of samba". Now that's a degree of tolerance that any country could learn from. Brazil seems to be the country of the 100 shades of brown, and although southerners will gripe on northeners (to lazy to breath), cariocas on paulistas (they don't know how to have fun) and paulistas on cariocas (people from Rio are shallow and superficial), segregation has been preempted by thorough mingling of all ethnic groups.
I had to read some Brazilian authors of course, and doing some writing myself, I was struck by the fact that the golden rule in western writing "show, don't tell" seems to be completely inverted in Brazil. Paulo Coelho and Jorge Amado practise "tell, don't show" to the full, my fiction teacher would have thrown a fit of rage if I ever turned in a story written in that manner. But then again, it does have it's charm and why would there be rules if not to be broken... a little bit at least. I read 'Gabriela, cravo e canela' (Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon) by Jorge Amado and what surprised me is how little drama there actually is in the story (the lovers surmount their problems mainly by getting wiser over time and the power struggle in the town is resolved because the political antagonist dies of a heart attack). What was sort of shocking/exciting is how perfectly amoral (and honest I suppose) the characters are portrayed. There's a never ending stream of small and big affairs interspersed with nights out to the 'cabaret' and vivid descriptions of smoldering and blazing nights between the sheets. All done without ever getting seedy but with maximum emphasis on "emoção" - emotion. Mind you, the book was published in 1958, and would probably only have been sold under the counter in Europe at that time (if it would have been translated in the first place). I guess that says something about Brazil.
I heard a related comment by a Chilean traveller: "Telenovelas" (Brazilian soaps) are highly controversial in other Latin American countries (and almost never aired) because of their sexual explicitness.
Are Brazilians friendly? Most are, and sometimes some are not. I still haven't figured out if this has something to do with being a foreigner or if there's another cultural mechanism at work which sometimes make them rude as f*ck. They use 'gringo' for foreigners which strikes me as a very negative term, although it seems to be used fairly neutral. They'll sometimes completely ignore you (striking up a guy-guy conversation at a party apparently is not done) and some less educated people cruising the streets trying to get cigarettes off you (and you refuse) will say some highly inappropriate things if they think you don't speak the language. That was a nasty scene as "vai apanhar no cu" is unaccepetable by any cultural standard. After discussing this with another local it seems I shouldn't have said a northern European "no" (as in 'which part of no don't you understand and you're the 30th person asking me this today') but should have been more roundabout: ah, but I'm almost out, I'm so sorry...
Nevertheless most Brazilians I met were extremely nice and friendly, from Daniele organizing the Rio TB meetup, countless people giving me extensive directions when I was lost, the pousada owner giving me a ride to the bus pick up, Mirtes and Elcio in Noronha helping out all the time, too many to mention.
And I owe my budding forró dance skills to women who were nice enough to put up with my uncertain steps and unloose hips. Not the least to the 2 Noronha lady cops, (suffise it to say that their occupation probably kept most Brazilian men long enough at bay to give me a chance to ask for a free lesson).
And in reply to the kid at the bus stop, my thanks to all these great people I met along the way:
Wanda (US), Rob (US), Daniele (BR), Alex (US), Melissinha (US), Liz (US), Eleen (BR), Rick (US), Silvia (BR/CH/A/D), Dermott (IE), Felix (KE), Kitty (NL), Steven (IE), Charlotte (US), Alan (MX), Giuseppe (IT), Chris (D), Mark (UK), Matthew (UK), Ticia (BR), Bianca (BR), Jonathan (UK), Annabel (UK), Beth (UK), Mark (IE), Cris (BR), Flavia (BR), Carlos (S), David (US), Mirtes (BR), Elcio (BR). I'm sure I forgot somebody...
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