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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