I wrote these lines in the Minas Gerais, in Brazil, right before discovering the unbelievable Rio. I leave the text the way I wrote it in the little and so pretty town of Oro Preto. Read my postscript for more about Brazil and my Rio Adventures (although I have no claims to the recent and totally understandable uprising…even I thought that the price of the metro ticket was expensive in this wonderful country…actually ALL is expensive and I kept wondering how people could survive on such costs with such low salaries….Here is a rather self-expressive image of the beautiful new soccer stadium of Brazilia and the little protest poster reminding of other values and miseries. I have added a photo of the ministry of national integration as a reminder of some of Lula’s values and promises.
I’m certainly tied to Brazil by now…and not only by these handcuffs on the Mariana pilory !
First of all, I have to thank my friends for their advice that helped make this trip a wonderful adventure paved with roses and great experiments. Thanks to Michal, Marie-France, Isabelle, Geneviève, for communicating not only their love for this country but the urge to visit it and the places I couldn’t miss. This is by far better than just flipping through the Lonely Planet !
In Brasilia, for instance, I met Dieudonné (« comme le Roi Soleil » sic) at the Brasilia Tourist office at the airport. I had made my initial inquiry in English and although he kindly asked me to take a sit, he seemed embarrassed…then asked me if by any chance I spoke a bit of …French ! Since I of course answered positively with great relief for both of us, Dieudonné became suddenly extremely prolix in all kind of information, not only professionally but in a most friendly and warm way to make sure my stay in Brasilia would be unforgettable. He explained to me what were the highlights of the visit he organised for me, where I should have the most delightful lunch (at Annex IV of the Parliament, see photos below) and what Museums I should visit as well…Then, since there was an anti Gay Marriage demonstration blocking the airport shuttle to my hotel that night, he took me to a friend and negotiated a reduced deal for a cab. And he left me with this advice : « Please next time, speak your mother tongue first, not English ! »…food for thought, since I am still an advocate of International English Lingua Franca. Indeed let me again insist that, as in most of South-East Asia but even more so, English is NOT a lingua franca. It is NOT spoken widely in the streets, not even at the hotel reception desks or airport check-in counters….French has been more useful in Brasilia and Sao Paulo and Spanish definitely in Manaus and Foz do Iguaçu ! As for the Minas…well…I’m starting to get used to Brazilian and I still corrupt a bit more my broken Spanish getting the same kind understanding from the Brazilians who are only too happy not to have to speak to me in English 😉 Let me just illustrate the low level of English. I’ve got a whole collection of such postings by the way…
I have read and of course agree that English isn’t the universal recipe to communication, but I still believe that depriving people from learning it on the ground that it’s not going to help them in their carreer is just like telling them they don’t need to know how to write or count…I am totally in favor of people learning another language than English, but basic English, this so-called so imperialistic language, is still a key to getting in touch with an ever-growing number of people throughout the world and I loath these intellectuals denying (in English more often than not) other people access to education in English. I will probably get back to this about the stupid feud in France about courses being taught in English at university level. Go ask the Israelis if learning in English has prevented them from being highly educated in Hebrew ! What IS wrong however, is the tendency of Singapori bobos at the moment which tend to reject totally their chinese linguistic ties. I have met quite a few such people during my three months in South-East Asia and hope the people I met were an exception to a bilingual chinese-english Singapore rule that makes far more sense than an all-English Singapore !!! Just for fun, check these sign-posted translations…
But let’s get back to Brazil, shall we, and Brasilia!
I had paid no particular attention to the hotel where I was to be accommodated but only checked the fact it would be quite comfortable after my jungle lodge in the Amazonas…so I had to litterally catch my jaw when I saw the gorgeous resort expecting me…a building by my beloved Ruy Ohtake, and probably one of his nicest at that !
It’s rather far from the downtown area, if ever such an expression can be attributed to a city like Brasilia, but definitely worth the extra rials for a couple of days !
Anyhow, Brasilia, like EVERY city I visited so far, has been a total shock of delight and amazement. Think that I was a little girlwhen my teacher had told us about this futuristic city built in this faraway country, the name of which sounded so sweet to my ears. This was also associated to a building I admired near my home in Paris, the Communist Party building by…Oscar Niemeyer, and the café next to it where I used to go as a teenager, Le Brasilia.
Yet, despite all this, Brasilia went beyond all my expectations and I’m delighted to have resisted the pressure of so many of my friends who suggested to skip this stop and go to Bahia instead…the beach and baroque beauty will wait, but this city, this conceptual urban plan could not !
If you wish to understand Brazil, I recommend a stop there, for everything has been thought, planned and arranged in a way to convey both the diversity, history and sense of multinational state of Brazil. I was not alone in my amazement and totally seduced predicament, so were my fellow tourist in the tour, most of them Brazilians visiting for the first time their capital city, and all of them saying this visit was a MUST for every Brazilian citizen.
How can I convey this sense of elegance, beauty, formalism and practicality ? How could I explain the fact that despite their imposing size, the buildings give you a feeling of being extremely comfortable and enjoying a liveable urban setting ? I couldn’t stop clicking on my camera and probably made hundreds of clicks for the same Plaza des tres Poderes, which to me is a very unique and particularly enticing site. The flags, the Executive Presidential Palace, the Parliament, the Court of Justice, the nearby Itamaraty building which is quite distinctive from all other Ministries…Everything conveys a feeling of careful design and meaning. Even the Urban Cathedral or the Dom Bosquo church…all these amazing monuments that should be imposing and give an uncomfortable feeling of being almost crushed in fact make you feel very zen and at ease. A big applause to the genial trio Juscelino Kubitschek-Lucio Costa-Oscar Niemeyer, for the nerves from finally creating a Capital City in the middle of the country and achieving it in a record time, despite the very serious and almost tyrannical leadership of the visionary but not necessarily democratic Fundador!
I met a young scholar, Maria, who was attending a pharmaceutical conference and since I have in my past been in this business, we quickly became quite friendly. Maria, who teaches in Porto Allegre, had never been to Brasilia and was very concerned about meeting a friend of hers who used to study in Porto Allegre but now works at the Itamaraty (The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this funny name is actually the original name of this building in its original setting in Rio, a tupi-guarani term meaning pink rock).
Since I was quite decided to follow Dieudonné’s advice about having lunch at the Annex IV, Maria became curious and asked her friend to change her plans and both of them joined me for a wonderful lunch. We chatted as if we had known each other all our lives (and I still owe them pictures which, due to slow broadband connections, I haven’t yet been able to send !). Maria told me that some of the meals which were served in this wonderful restaurant were even new to her !
Upon leaving the restaurant, I was able to witness an Kayapo sit-in in front of the Presidential Palace PHOTO in the very serious feud opposing them to the FUNAI (National Indian Foundation) in the Mato Grosso as they demand investigation and clear demarcation of their land. As I follow the news, I can clearly testify that their language skill in Brazilian is quite limited which means that they are quite unilingual. The situation is extremely preoccupying as a Terena « Indian » was killed by the Police recently, leading Brazil’s head of the Indigenous Affairs Department, Dr. Marta Azevedo, to resign just that day (June 7th). Since Dilma Rousseff has never met any Indigenous leader, a première in the history of democratic Brazil and not necessarily a good sign right when Brazil is in the spotlights of the world with the upcoming World Youth Days in Rio in a month and a half, the Mundial 2014 in EXACTLY a year, and the Summer Olympics of 2016…Mind you, this is nothing compared to the way China couldn’t care less about Human Rights demonstrations in 2008, yet is this a valid reason ?
Well, fact is I know I will be back to Brasilia, for sure, at least to finally visit the Aquavit restaurant that unfortunately was full on the day I meant to visit it but which, I am told, is even better than the DOM…
My following trip was to the Iguaçu falls. There, honestly, I was absolutely certain to be disappointed, especially after watching it from the 18th floor of Foz do Iguaçu’s Golden Tulip, even at sunset !
After all, I’ve seen the Niagara Falls and actually lived next to them for a full year, so this would just be a quick visit to make sure I had seen the number one Waterfall in the world…well…I was in for a real dumfounding surprise. Nothing I had seen prepared me ever so slightly to the size, power and beauty of this truly unbelievable site ! None of my photos can convey even the slightest notion of immensity and grandeur of this series of falls, and getting under them was a crushing and soaking but unforgettable experience. There, I met some students from all over the world and was happily adopted by them. There was even a girl from Hamilton, the city in Canada where I used to live …and whose best friend lives in Geneva…Now if life isn’t full of amazing surprises, then just stay in your bed !
What was also remarkable is that although the Argentinian side is undoubtedly the most impressive, the Brazilian side is still definitely worth a visit as it is extremely beautiful although a bit less powerfully striking. And for a cosmopolitan visitor, I couldn’t just enjoy the view of Paraguay from the three borders side (of which only the Argentinian is properly kept and despite the fact that the best view is from the Brazilian one)…I HAD to visit the neighbouring town in Paraguay. I was expecting to see some signs at least in Paraguay’s other official language alongside Spanish, the Guarani…well, there were absolutely none in this bordertown…But of course, this doesn’t prove much as I was told it is still widely spoken in the region, about 50 km from the falls on both the Argentinian and Paraguayan sides. Here are some photos of the « Annemasse » sister city 😉 including the only reference I found to the Guarani origins of Paraguay…
I will never thank enough my friend Isabelle for the next surprise of my trip, the discovery of the State of Minas Gerais. Every City I visited so far brought me the feeling I had seen the best…and every city has had charms of its own that makes it impossible for me to really say which one I prefered. What I am absolutely sure, though, is that I never expected the beauty, charm, historical feeling and a sense of powerful religious faith that I discovered in Ouro Preto and Mariana. You are not back in Europe, this is definitely Brazil, yet it does have a European touch mixed with a colonial and unfortunately very cruel past.
I discovered a wonderful, unique sculptor, Aleijadinho (aka Antonio Francisco Lisboa) and am only sorry not to be able to provide photos of the inside of most of the churches and sites due to strict regulations (well…all you have to do now is book your flight !), the history of a region totally changed by the Gold Mining , narrow cobble-stoned streets
I met a lot of Afro-descendents here in the Minas. They don’t appear to be mixed as in the other parts of the country I visited so far, and I wonder how they feel watching statues which represent the black slaves being crushed by the white Saints…I almost wanted to ask a security guard about this and decided it wasn’t up to me to embarrass him yet this is thought provoking that still at this day and age such statues, no matter how wonderful, could still be exhibited as if nothing had happened.
The Cosmopolitan isn’t at rest either in a city where some of the artists came from…Macao, thanks to the Empire of Portugal !
Yet, a lot happened. Here, an African king, Chico Rei, was enslaved, made himself and his people free again…and managed to build a church, here, Tiradentes and his 15 fellow-masons started the Inconfidencia Mineira, an uprising that would 30 years later make Brazil an independent country.
Again another bridge and parallel can be drawn here in this goldmine region, with its Alaskan equivalent of the Iditarod, proving that no matter how spread and wide it looks, it’s a small and very beautiful world after all….
This tour of Brazil finally brought me to the jewel of the jewels, truly one of the world cities I almost avoided for fear of being disappointed, the only capital city of an European Empire in the New World, Rio de Janeiro. Not only are the vistas out of this world, ranking it definitely among my new world’s favourite with Tel-Aviv, Casablanca, Cape Town and Vancouver. Not only is it wonderfully beautiful as you can see in some of the pictures below, but it is also the homeland of any Carioca at heart, the warm people ready to hold you in a friendly embrace like no other city in the world. I will be back…and not only to get my suitcase back, now that Marta’s guesthouse has become my other home away from home!
If I had to summarize this Rio visit, I’d definitely insist on the Cariocas who are open-minded, charming with this beauty both inner and outside! They are gentle and hospitable to an extent I have never encountered on such a scale! As for the Christ redeemer, it is not as overwhelmingly present as posters and clichés lead you to believe, but this might be because I was in Santa Teresa, Copacabana and Lapa or Leblond…What is true however is that, maybe because I landed in Santos Dumont airport and was staying on Copacabana, the Sugarloaf was extremely present in my landscape vision. I probably never thought Rio was such a mix of unbelievable beaches and true urban areas with such a luxury of green forests. In fact, for long, I was not really attracted to this city the fame of which had been oversold to me…well, I thought it had been oversold and now dream of having yet another beer with a warm Pão de queijo…a local delight I now miss at breakfast…
I come back knowing there is another place I belong to, adding Rio and Brazil in general to my long list of wonderful memories. Discovering the Rua Bolivar, when you know since a previous premonitory post that I used to live Avenue Simon Bolivar in Paris, was another proof of yet the fact it’s a small world after all!
I need to share with you this angelical vision of Brazil, especially thinking of my great friend and reader, Ingrid:
Since then, I spent a splendid week in Barcelona, enjoying in particular the absolutely fabulous restaurants PAKTA (couldn’t be more cosmopolitan, allying Japanese and Peruvian Cuisines à la Catalane) and the definitely happy and funny TICKETS, resolutely catalan yet in a world mood. I’m still dreaming of his olives…And a few other goodies so wonderful to the sight and palate that this man deserves a special thanks!