When It Feels Good Being Brazilian

     When It Feels Good Being Brazilian

    The New Year’s celebrations in Brazil
    can be inspiring. Rio presents
    the world’s biggest outdoor party with fireworks, music and thousands

    dressed in white throwing flowers to goddess Iemanjá. São
    São Silvestre marathon is a show of camaraderie, which
    makes a
    heartening change from the town’s usual rat race life.

    by: John Fitzpatrick


    Brazilians are a social people,
    never happy when they are alone but as cheerful and noisy as
    a tree full of parrots when they are together. This is all well
    and good if you are part of the happy chatterers but, as a foreigner,
    I have often wished I was far from the madding crowd. However,
    there are times when it is inspiring to be part of the group
    and think you are a Brazilian, even if it is only for a few
    hours. The New Year is a good time for this.

    I remember I spent my first New Year in Brazil
    in Rio de Janeiro. I could not believe the enormous crowds thronging Copacabana
    and the adjoining areas of Ipanema and Leblon. On one side we had the dark
    rushing sea, pinpointed by the lights of small boats inshore and petrol tankers
    and other maritime beasts of burden in the distance. Thousands of people dressed
    in white waded into the surf and threw flowers to the African goddess Iemanjá.

    On the other side, we had the light and color
    and noise of a city preparing for one hell of a party. When midnight arrived
    and the fireworks started to explode over Rio’s graceful hills and the statue
    of Cristo Redentor, the biggest outdoor party I have ever seen started.

    This year I swapped the midnight dancing and
    singing in Rio for the São Silvestre race in São Paulo. This
    event was celebrating its 79th year and was as thrilling as the
    party. The 15-kilometer run starts in Avenida Paulista, turns down Rua da
    Consolação and heads towards the old downtown centre, passing
    the Teatro Municipal, Viaduto do Chá and Largo São Francisco
    before a grueling uphill stretch up Avenida Brigadeiro Luiz Antônio
    and back to Paulista.

    Unfortunately I was not able to participate but
    went along to watch a friend perform in the female race, which started about
    two hours earlier than the men’s event. The day started ominously, very hot
    and with strong sunshine, great for spectators but not for runners, but by
    the afternoon things had changed.

    Thick black clouds loomed over Paulista, scraping
    the tops of the high-rise buildings, a strong wind got up and there were flurries
    of rain. The runners loved this but the spectators did not. However, the weather
    was almost irrelevant since everyone was in a good mood and the most important
    people were the thousands of runners.

    Although the São Silvestre is called the
    São Paulo International in English it is really a Brazilian affair.
    There were some professional runners from Kenya, but virtually everyone else
    was a Brazilian. Many of them came from distant parts of this vast country,
    including the Amazon, the Northeast and the South.

    You could see runners in Indian headgear, others
    in traditional Northeastern garb—one was dressed like the legendary bandit
    Lampião in leather hat, bandoleiros and clutching a rifle—and
    others in gaucho gear. Thankfully, there was none of the irritating brand
    name flashing which makes a certain kind of Brazilian appear shallow and materialistic.

    The whole center was closed to traffic so we
    were spared the usual pollution, noise and bad manners of drivers who see
    themselves as kings of the road. Most of the entrants looked as though they
    were from modest backgrounds and there was a wide age range, with people in
    their 70s running. I have noticed this camaraderie and disregard for social
    differences at other races and marathons here. It makes a heartening change
    from the usual rat race life of São Paulo.

    The absence of the commercial hard sell is another
    good point about the São Silvestre. The sponsorship is split over a
    number of companies and the logos are discreet. The prize money is also modest
    by international levels—just under US$ 6,000 for the winners compared
    with US$ 100,000 for the New York marathon—which probably explains the
    lack of well-known international runners.

    The fact that the race takes place on the last
    day of the year may be inconvenient for international athletes but it makes
    the event a great run-up, if you will pardon the pun, to New Year. Although
    Kenyans took the first two places in the women’s race, the first two to compete
    the men’s race were Brazilians, which gave the crowd an extra reason to cheer
    and start celebrating.


    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
    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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