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Dreadful, puzzling, almost lovely Brazil

 Dreadful, 
        puzzling, almost lovely Brazil

A
beloved music producer is murdered in cold blood; the
opposition becomes the government’s ally; and dirty, dangerous
São Paulo still hides some charm. Amid all of this, Chico
Buarque’s silence is a hit and Veja magazine puts on its own grisly

act profiling a mortuary attendant accompanied by a picture of him
with the tools of his trade, extracting instruments included.
by:
John Fitzpatrick

 

Here
are a few snapshots of the current scene, which might be of interest
to expatriate Brasileiros or the countless Brazil fans out there.

The
Day the Music Died…

Violence
is fact of life here and the crime pages of the local press make depressing
and horrific reading. Most violent crime is rarely reported and the
endless killings in the favelas, known as chacinas, which
cause scores of deaths every week are routine page fillers. These generally
arise from the drugs trade. The sheer pernicious of drugs has been highlighted
in two recent cases in which fathers actually killed their own sons
who had attacked them demanding money to buy more drugs. In one case,
the father himself died of grief in prison shortly afterwards.

Occasionally,
more high-profile murders hit the headlines, usually if the victim is
a member of the middle class, a politician, judge or personality. This
was the case this week when a music producer and writer called Almir
Chediak was murdered in Petrópolis, near Rio de Janeiro. During
his career, Chediak had worked with almost every musician associated
with the Brazilian popular movement known as the MPB. He edited the
songbooks of Dorival Caymmi, Caetano Veloso, João Bosco and Tom
Jobim, amongst others.

These
were not just rehashes of "famous hits" but academic works
involving meticulous research and collaboration with the songwriters.
Tom Jobim said of the Bossa Nova Songbook, "I regard the work of
Almir Chediak as a piece of patriotism since it has to do with the memory
of Brazil." Chediak was shot down in cold blood, with his arms
tied, by a murderer who pumped four bullets into him.

Want
to Be an Ambassador? Join the PMDB

As
expected, that broad church known as the PMDB (Partido do Movimento
Democrático Brasileiro—Party of the Brazilian Democratic
Movement) is about to enter the government, giving President Luiz Inácio
Lula da Silva an even broader power base. The PSDB of ex-president Fernando
Henrique Cardoso and the PFL are now the main opposition parties although
do not be surprised if the PFL sneaks back in too.

As
to the PSDB, some of its members have already switched to pro-government
parties. According to the local press, the price for the PMDB’s support
was an ambassadorship for a former senator from Goiás state (Spain
or Chile), the presidency of Transpetro for another and seats on the
board of directors of Banco do Brasil and Banco da Amazônia for
others. Whether any of those chosen few have the experience to undertake
their new challenges is not known but the PT leadership obviously feels
the price is worth the PMDB’s support in getting the government’s pension
and tax reforms through Congress. Quite a promotion. One day a senator
from a farming area in the MidWest, the next day Your Excellency.

Embu§Great
Place to Visit if You Can Find It

Every
so often some report is published showing that São Paulo is a
great tourist center with millions of visitors from Brazil and abroad.
You can always rely on some city official to say how much tourists like
the place and how tourism contributes to the economy. The fact is that
the overwhelming majority of the foreign tourists come here on business
and certainly not for pleasure.

Polls
have shown that foreign tourists do not like the dirt, poverty, poor
infrastructure, lack of English speakers and the feeling of insecurity.
There are some tourist booths scattered around the city but these are
poky little boxes, staffed by students who get 10 out of 10 for friendliness
but 0 out of 10 for professionalism. The resources consist of inadequate
maps and lists of events, sometimes outdated. These booths are more
often closed than open and the entrances are often used as sleeping
places by beggars and alcoholics.

Besides
this, there is virtually nothing for the tourist to see in São
Paulo. One of the "attractions" is the snake farm at Butantã
where you can look down at a pit and watch snakes devour live white
mice. Local schools even take children to this grisly spectacle. I admit
it is not as bloody as a Spanish bullfight but hardly what most foreigners
would regard as a tourist attraction.

Another
place the tourist is generally taken to is the town of Embu, about 25
kilometers from the city. The highway to Embu and the entrance are grimy
and ugly but the centre is pleasant and offers a popular arts and handicrafts
fair on Sundays. However, there are no signs to the centre, so the tourist
has a good chance of getting lost.

I went
there recently and shortly after entering what I thought was Embu found
myself back on the highway to São Paulo, thanks to the confusing
layout. Later when I was trying to get back to São Paulo I got
lost again and this time found myself back in the centre. If you are
thinking of going there, take a tip—take a guide, a compass and
a map or go by helicopter.

Veja
Magazine Needs Surgical Treatment

When
it comes to bad taste, Brazilian television is usually in a league of
its own compared with the printed media. Trashy novelas with
laughable scripts and dreadful acting are followed by inane "entertainment"
shows in which you can see everything from graves being robbed, midgets
being chased round studios by transvestites and staged fights as angry
women attempt to beat up former boyfriends who have cheated on them.
However, this week’s Veja magazine has given the television a
run for its money. It has presented a feature on the biggest hospital
in São Paulo called Hospital das Clínicas, showing how
this enormous place operates and presenting profiles of some of its
10,000 employees.

One
of the profiles is of a mortuary attendant accompanied by a picture
of him with the tools of his trade—a hammer, ladle, knife, scissors,
thread and some extracting instruments. Every day this employee removes
the organs from 30 bodies. The article says that with these crude instruments
the assistant spends 15 minutes on each cadaver. Considering that a
large number of readers have probably had some contact with the Hospital
das Clínicas, which attends 10 million patients a year, the chances
are that some of them have had relatives who have died there and undergone
some kind of post mortem operation.

The
assistant even mentions the name of a person whose body he cut open.
As Veja puts it: "As an actor in his spare time, his (the
assistant’s) greatest emotion occurred on the day when he received the
body of the playwright Dias Gomes. ´I never had the pleasure of
knowing him when he was alive but it was an honor to take care of him
here.’" Maybe this was just incompetent editing rather than bad
taste but some questions need answering and some surgery is in order
at Veja.

Plus
Ça Change…

Guess
who said this: "…the American government is imperialist: it
went to war against Spain, seized Cuba, seized Puerto Rico, made Panama
independent in order to construct the Canal, seized the Philippines,
seized the other islands in the Pacific, grabbed most of Mexico. The
whole of California was Mexican! Texas! What did it do with Texas? When
it discovered that Texas had oil, the American government promoted a
movement within Texas to make it independent and, a short time later
the people "accepted" its annexation by the United States."

Some
lefty outraged at the American attack on Iraq? No. It was Brazilian
president General Ernesto Geisel in 1977 criticizing a US State Department
report on the human rights situation in Brazil.1 Almost another
decade was to pass before the soldiers went back to their barracks and
let Brazilians themselves choose who        
should be their rulers rather than having army officers like Geisel
decide for them.

The
Sound of Silence by Chico Buarque

Poor
Chico Buarque. He really is top of the Brazilian hit parade at the moment
thanks to his silence over Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. While other
intellectuals, who have previously supported Castro, have started to
back off or even condemn him, Buarque has kept quiet. At the same time,
he is reported to have refused to sign a pro-Castro statement. The result
is that he is being attacked by the right and left. Still, at least,
he has been consistent, unlike Caetano Veloso who stated during last
year’s election campaign that he would vote for either Lula, Serra or
Gomes. Considering that there were only four serious candidates, this
shows that while he might be a great singer and songwriter, decisiveness
is not one of Veloso’s strengths.

 

1
Histßria Indiscreta da Ditadura e da Abertura by Ronaldo
Costa Couto, 1998.

 

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—
 www.celt.com.br,
which specializes in editorial and translation services for Brazilian
and foreign clients. You can reach him at jf@celt.com.br
 

©
John Fitzpatrick 2003

 

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