Concrete Jungle

    Concrete
Jungle

    Cariocas (people from Rio) and Paulistas (those from
    São Paulo) are afraid to visit each other. It’s too dangerous, they think. All the big
    car manufacturers are in São Paulo, including GM, Toyota, Ford, and Mercedes. For a sales
    rep., it is like the biggest cake in the world to eat, but full of razor blades I am sure.
    I am just looking at the cake and drooling, and knowing I will be here very frequently.
    By John Miller

    Thanks again to all those people who have written, sent gifts (sending flowers is a bit
    over the top, but much appreciated). I thought by this stage I might be running out of
    material, but it just gets more interesting (I hope for you as well). Boredom is a long
    way off.

    São Paulo

    How do you describe a city so this big? 18,000,000 people live here, the 3rd
    largest city in the world. It is the largest Japanese community outside of Japan (over
    1,000,000 in São Paulo alone, and 3,000,000 in Brazil). There are over 12,000 buildings
    higher than 10 stories in this city, and two new buildings of this height are completed
    each day! I would love to have 1 cent for each ton of concrete in this town. It is an
    absolute jungle, far more intimidating than the Amazon.

    São Paulo is at an elevation of over 800 meters, about 450 km from Rio. Even though we
    are near the tropic of Capricorn, São Paulo has a climate like Melbourne, four seasons in
    one day and is very famous for its mists, light rain, and fog.

    Like Rio it has the most amazing road systems, really brilliant, but again about
    3,000,000 cars too many using them. Gridlock is SOP. The taxi drivers seem somewhat less
    generous, and I got taken for an $60 round about trip one night in this featureless city
    (what can you do, ask to get out, and you have no idea where you are?). Few people seem to
    carry a street directory, but they know their way around. The air quality is less than
    perfect, as you would expect in a city that stretches from the equivalent of Wollongong to
    Gosford with 9,000,000 cars/trucks/buses. This could be the asthma capital of the world.
    Some other numbers to get your head around: 28,000 taxis (four times the number in New
    York), 12,000 public buses, 250 km of gridlock in peak hour.

    People from Rio (Cariocas) are scared to come to São Paulo as they think it is
    too dangerous. People from São Paulo (Paulistas) are afraid to come to Rio, as it
    is too dangerous. I am just a stranger in a strange land wherever I go, and cautious about
    everything.

    The economy of São Paulo City alone rivals New South Wales GDP if not a little more.
    All the big car manufacturers are here including GM, Fiat (supposedly Fiat’s biggest plant
    in the world), Toyota, Ford, and Mercedes trucks/buses, and a few others. For a sales
    rep., it is like the biggest cake in the world to eat, but full of razor blades I am sure.
    So far, I am just looking at the cake and drooling, and knowing I will be here very
    frequently.

    As to be expected the rivers that run through a city of this size are not suitable for
    fishing or swimming. Lots of work for Ian Kiernen (clean up Australia campaign leader) if
    he is short of things to do lately. Overall, outside of the favelas (shantytowns),
    the city seems to make quite an effort to keep clean. Brazil is a gifted country, with and
    abundance of fresh water, and hydro electricity so I guess if you make a mess of one or
    two rivers, you have plenty to choose from, but not sure this is the right attitude to
    take in the long term. Coming from such a dry continent as Australia, you look at the
    rivers in Brazil with much awe and I wish we could pipe some of this water to our dry
    continent.

    The local city administration of São Paulo has a large public housing project under
    way (called Cingapura, named after the government housing and pension program in
    Singapore) to replace the favelas with some form of high rise housing commission.
    (Rio de Janeiro is doing the same, but not as advanced). Some problems with moving people
    into these new flats, as they often move in, sublet/sell the apartment to someone else and
    go back and live in the favelas. It is difficult to solve problems sometimes.

    One Saturday afternoon, Marta, her cousin and I went to the São Paulo Formula 1 Grand
    Prix racetrack. It is a brilliant racetrack, much steeper and tighter than I expected. The
    ghost of Ayrton Senna can almost be felt racing around here. One of the really great
    aspects of this racetrack is that the entire racetrack is lower than the spectator area,
    with few buildings or trees to obstruct your view. Consequently, you can see almost the
    entire race from wherever you are situated, even in the bleachers or outer grassed areas.
    While we were there, the local 500cc bikes were practicing for races the next day. At the
    end, they put on an exhibition of trick riding and motorcycle dancing, lots of sparks,
    wheel stands (front and rear), "Look, mum no hands" tricks, side saddle, feet
    saddle, head stand rides, bum slides, etc. One particular trick I was impressed with was a
    rider would ride down the straight at about 100 km/h. Then he would kick the bike into
    neutral, full lock the front wheel, back flip the rear of the bike around, lock the back
    wheel before it hits the ground, and then ride the bike backwards at about 60 km/h in
    neutral. This is all done in about 0.5 sec. Neat way to turn around or what.

    On the Saturday night, Marta and I went to her uncles for a birthday of one of Marta’s
    cousins. This is a real family do, the four B’s (BBQ, beer, and black beans), cachaça,
    Scotch whisky, wine, and lots of laughs. Much poking fun about kangaroos on the BBQ and
    jumping steaks. Kids running everywhere and a little bottle dancing (use your vivid
    imagination to picture this), very entertaining I must say.

    Marta and I spend some time talking to an old Brazilian Japanese man. He was seven
    years old when the firestorms started in Tokyo in 1944, and has the scars on his back to
    prove it. At fifteen, he left Japan to come to São Paulo to work in his uncles car repair
    yard as a panel beater. At 63, he has retired, his wife died two years ago, and he has
    left his chain of car spare parts stores to his sons to run. He basically wants to make
    love now to all the women in Brazil, and Marta had to beat him off with a stick.

    Like some Japanese who have lived outside Japan for sometime, he has trouble
    identifying with current Japanese society. I am acutely aware of body language as a means
    of communication and it was interesting to see him retain many of the unique hand gestures
    of the Japanese (the vertical single clap of hands, the subtle eye contact and raising of
    eyebrows, the softer voice inflections, etc.).

    More Bus
    Adventures

    We are not yet at the stage of throwing money around on business class airfares. So we
    go by air-conditioned chauffeur driven Mercedes. This is a real treat as we get to see
    some of the rural areas around Rio de Janeiro, including the fazendas (farms). The
    highway to São Paulo is dual carriage, and has about the same element of risk as the
    highway between Sydney and Gold Coast. Buses actually travel slower on the highway than
    they do in the streets of Rio. The countryside is gloriously green, lush, and beautiful,
    and the rivers are quite spectacular. Like parts of the south island of New Zealand.

    The trip to São Paulo is rather uneventful, but not dull, although I have a great
    habit of falling asleep as soon as I sit in a bus. Marta and I get the best seats on the
    bus and I start singing the theme song from Midnight Cowboy.

    Everybody’s talking about you,
    I don’t hear a word they’re saying,
    Only through the echoes of their mind,
    I’m going to where the sun keeps shining,
    Pouring on summer rain,
    Backing off the northeast wind.
    Sailing on a summer breeze.
    Drifting over the ocean, like a song.

    Harry Nielson, eat your heart out. Rattzo Rizzo would love this trip on this bus, and I
    still have his flu hanging around. Is that Jon Voight at the back of the bus with Dustin?

    We arrive at the São Paulo bus terminal and it is like any bus terminal, except the
    passengers throw the luggage from the bus before it even stops to waiting relatives and
    friends. It’s chaos and you have to watch your luggage like a hawk. Taxi spruikers
    everywhere. Get me outta here.

    On the way back to Rio de Janeiro we decide not to book tickets in advance, and just
    roll up Sunday morning, as it should be pretty quiet. Wrong. The place is bedlam, but we
    finally get two seats on the return bus, and all is well, although some school students
    decide the bus is a good place to teach me how to speak Portuguese, so they play teacher
    and I play student. This is a lot of fun. The students are really excellent, very well
    behaved, take great personal pride in their clothes and grooming, and some spoke good
    English. I do a bit of geography and history of Australia with them, one of them was
    obviously a keen surfing type, and named many of Australia’s famous surf beaches.

    Halfway between the two cities is a town called Aparecida. The main feature of this
    town is the local church, or I should say CHURCH. It is the largest church in South
    America in the largest Catholic nation in the world. I would guess it would be 20 stories
    high, maybe 400-500 meters long, and 150-200 meters wide. The Pope has been here several
    times to give mass, forgive a few sins, break the bread, and drink a little wine. On the
    Sunday we returned to Rio, I estimated there were 200-300 buses out front, maybe 30,000
    people outside the church, God knows (I’m sure) how many inside. I have to go back and see
    this again, gee when man gets motivated about God; he can build some big edifices to his
    worship.

    Home to Rio at last. Can’t wait to get on my bicycle and have a swim. We are tired, and
    fall asleep quickly that night. Marta is wonderful. I love her very much.

    São Paulo
    Wine and Spirit
    Exhibition

    I nearly forgot to tell you why we went to São Paulo, the second annual São Paulo
    Wine and Spirit exhibition.

    This was held in the Bienal pavilion, about the same size as Darling harbor. The
    Germans and the Portuguese have massive exhibitions covering several hundred square
    meters. The German stand is excellent, with the usual Fräulein’s (why are they so big and
    buxom, big hands, big features, and so dominating) to hand out the Riesling’s and
    Schnapps. The Portuguese have also got a lot of costumed staff of even more stunning
    appearance, and the usual brilliant Ports and Madeira’s on display. All the big Port
    winemakers are here, including Croft, Cockburn, Sandeman, and Delaforce. The Germans have
    the usual low end products like Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch (they have the market by the
    short a curlies here), but also some of the most stunning German Methode de Champagnes,
    Beerenauslese´s, Eiswein´s, and Trockenbeeranaulese wines. All class when they want to.

    Strangely France is only represented sparsely by a few distributors, Chandon have a
    stand, and very few USA wines represented. The Sicilians come over and start bitching
    about OZ wine makers using geographical names that are not appropriate (I sympathize), but
    I felt the tone was one of piss off Aussies, we don’t want the competition. The rest of
    the Italians are great and lots of fun, and some very good quality amongst the Northern
    Italian vignerons.

    As for Australia, we have a modest 20 sq. meters in a good location. The novelty factor
    is off the scale. Penfolds Grange is on display at another stand but not for tasting. We
    are pouring the good oil down the throat of every Carlos, Júlio and Maria who even
    remotely looks at our stand. Marta is working overtime on the stand helping translate my
    commentary on OZ plonk, and I have to have a rest every four hours or I will end up pissed
    as a fart.

    I have some personal teething problems on the first day. I am still recovering from
    another bout of diarrhea, so when the rumbling starts, I have about 5 minutes before my
    body overcomes my mind. So I race off to the toilets, and guess what, NO paper! I am about
    to go into panic mode, so I race back to Marta and explain the problem. She goes off and
    talks to some administration people and returns to say the problem is solved. I go back
    into the toilet, and a guy is handing out the paper one sheet at a time to the visitors. I
    ask for about 10 sheets, and he says no! Now I have to think quickly, as time is running
    out. I open my wallet and the smallest denomination note I have is $R 5 (approximately US$
    5). I hand it to him and he gives me three toilet rolls. This is the most expensive shit
    in my life, so I take my time and really enjoy it. Thank God that the worst of this round
    of looseness is nearly over. I also have a very cooperative water closet attendant, and he
    agrees to shine my shoes each day for the rest of the week, brush my clothes, comb my
    hair, and probably clean my teeth if I wanted.

    The end of the first day there is a cocktail party for the exhibitors and a few special
    guests. The major sponsor, Playboy Brazil are the hosts, and what can I say, words fail to
    describe the elegance of these ladies (nothing as gouache as a bunny outfit these days
    please, the little black dress is still a girl’s best friend). I have rope burn marks
    around my neck from the leash Marta has installed.

    On the second day, I met a man by the name of Stewart Laing from Scotland. He is the
    managing director of the Douglas Laing and Company, a Scotch whisky distiller, blender and
    distributor with a few brand name products like John Player, etc. A really nice guy, a
    typical sweaty jock, and we hit it off like a house on fire. What is it about these
    Glasgow people that makes it so easy to like them. He lives in a castle outside Glasgow,
    can trace his family tree back 500 years, and is a walking encyclopedia about the history
    of Scotland. He was very impressed by Mel Gibson in Braveheart, except he wanted to
    see more English blood spilled on camera. I had the night out with him (Marta has been
    very generous with the leave passes), and we proceeded to push each others drinking skills
    to the limit. It was no contest; I lost in 5 hours. Bang, that was my head hitting the
    floor when I got home. Not much sympathy from Marta that night, or in the morning.

    Day three, the quietest day of the exhibition. We have a bit of spare time, and visit a
    few of the other stands, and get to taste some great wine, port, champagne, and whisky.
    That night dinner is at a 5-star Paulista restaurant, and waiters coming out from
    under the table to serve you. The owner of the restaurant, Maurice and his wife are
    hosting another table of people that were at the exhibition, and he is an absolute riot.
    He tells some good jokes about Paulistas and Cariocas.

    Day four, and its like the burly is in the water and the sharks have come to feed. The
    place is swarming. Glass washing is a non-stop process, and Marta leads the way with her
    energy and enthusiasm. We win first prize (red wine), third prize (champagne), and Playboy
    best exhibitor award. Not bad for a bunch of Down Unders. The end of the exhibition, and
    we swap a few products with the other exhibitors, a nice way to finish.

    Our new friend –
    Vanessa

    Outside our apartment, there is a girl by the name of Vanessa, ten years of age, who
    sells Chiclets (chewing gum) three nights a week on the streets to pay for her education.
    She lives in Niterói, about 35 km and comes by bus at about 6:00 p.m. and goes home about
    midnight. Marta and I adore this girl very much, and we have bought her box of Chiclets
    three or four times now (and then give them all back to her when she looks up with these
    black pearl eyes). She is the cutest thing you ever saw, dark chocolate in color, and eyes
    that cry out for love and affection. She wants a set of roller blades badly; we will get
    these for her in a couple of months. But in the interim, if you are coming over this way,
    can you bring some warm clothes for her. She is a slight build, average height for a
    ten-year-old, very well groomed, very proud of her appearance, and will break your heart.
    She is very adorable, and you cannot refuse her. Good salesperson too. Sells a shit load
    of Chiclets at outrageous prices.

    You may ask why warm clothes are needed in a tropical climate like Rio de Janeiro? Well
    it is all a question of climatisation. I have yet to be cold in Rio, a warm long sleeve
    shirt is the most that I have had to come at rugging up. But for some of the poorer Cariocas,
    warm clothes are needed, scarce, and expensive. T-shirts are cheap and available. But warm
    clothes are not so readily available. So if you come over, please find room in your
    luggage for some warm second hand clothes that you no longer need, and Marta and I will
    see that these get given to deserving people.

    Newspapers

    No shortage of newspapers here. Four daily papers published in both São Paulo and Rio
    de Janeiro (all broadsheets). They range from very high quality tabloids through to the
    most vile, violently photographed graphic tabloid you have ever seen (this paper sickens
    me). O Globo appears the most popular and newsworthy, and it is the largest selling
    paper in Brazil. It is a good way to learn Portuguese as the pictures convey half the
    story and I can interpret the words with the pictures. The graphic artists for this paper
    are outstanding.

    Beach Culture –
    Continued

    You will recall in last month’s episode, we talked about the beach life in
    Copacabana/Ipanema up to about 9:30 a.m. in the morning. Things were beginning to hot up,
    the selling has commenced, the tourists are packing down for a day of baking and frying,
    and the place is beginning to buzz. Let’s continue.

    OK, so it’s time to oil up the body. Now this is a real art form, the way this is done
    by the local Ipanema ladies. It’s like a dance in some ways, with great elegance, and
    sense of performance. I don’t know who is enjoying this more, the people watching, or the
    Girl from Ipanema knowing she has half the beach watching her do this. There is saliva
    running down the chins of most male tourists, and many are chain smoking four or five
    cigarettes at once. I saw one guy pour a beer down the front of his chest while watching
    one goddess do her routine. It is a laugh a minute.

    Sport on the beach is big time. Beach volleyball is an institution here, and invented
    by Brazil. There are many varieties played; traditional six a side, four and two per side,
    and foot volleyball. I play sometimes six a side with a group of pensioners (my standard
    at present) early in the morning for about an hour one or two days a week. The foot
    volleyball is the most difficult, and the skills displayed in this are just unbelievable.
    It is played with the same rules as soccer (you can use your legs, chest, and head, no
    arms) but with the rest of the rules as for two a side volleyball. Other sports include
    fresco ball, a type of shuttlecock with wooden bats and rubber ball, beach soccer, boogie
    and surfboards, chess, backgammon. No beach cricket so far.

    Reading books on the beach seem to be mainly pastime of tourists. Wearing a Walkman is
    recommended if you want to blend in and not get too much attention from the sales staff on
    hand.

    The action stays the same for most of the morning; the crowd picks up and by lunchtime
    it’s in full swing. In front of the Caesar Park Hotel is the center of gravity for
    tourists. Watching old guys come to beach with the most beautiful ladies in their mid
    twenties draped on their arms is a real sight. No doubt the lady is charging an absolute
    fortune for her services, and he most probably can afford. After all, this is the oldest
    profession in the world, and the prices involved would tend to indicate the exploitation
    takes place in both directions.

    Man and his Dog

    As only man knows, a special relationship exists between himself and his dog, something
    primeval. Man has been involved with the domestication of dogs for thousands of years. A
    dog is a man’s best friend, right? A dog can provide warmth, affection, security, hunting
    skills, companionship, and just a load of fun. A dog is loyal. A dog and man is like ham
    and eggs, they go together. A dog has character, a dog can make a man feel good about
    life. A man and his dog are amigos for life. A dog is a dog.

    So what happens with a poodle? I don’t know, all I can say is a man and a fancied up
    poodle don’t work for me. Now I hear all you Oxford Street people saying this is
    prejudice, it’s anti gay, or what. It’s not. I just don’t like poodles as man’s best
    friend. Yes, it’s mincy. It’s very European I know. And lot of men here have poodles. But
    I just think it looks, well, to put it bluntly, it’s like eating ice cream with a big
    juicy steak. It just does not work. OK, so maybe my tastes in dogs runs to border collies,
    Labradors, blue heelers, and those big dogs that slobber everywhere, but for start, I
    would have a dog that has a real bark, like ‘woof’ not like a poodle that ‘yikes.’ And a
    dog has to walk like a dog, with a sense of ‘Hey man, I’m relaxed, I’m on all fours, I’m
    balanced, in control of the situation.’ A poodle walks like it should be wearing high heel
    shoes. A dog should show affection like men, shake hands and hug each other, not like
    kissing on the cheek.

    The bizarre thing about this is the women of Ipanema seem to walk all the German
    shepherds, Labradors, huskies, and other sorts of macho dogs. I am out of touch with this
    thing about dogs. But don’t even remotely suggest a cat to me.

    Plataforma One

    One Saturday night in May, Marta and I went to Plataforma One, the largest and most
    famous of the samba show houses in Rio de Janeiro. It is situated in Leblon, in a large
    auditorium reminiscent of the old Palais Theatre in St Kilda, and decor of this vintage to
    match. The place seats about 1500 patrons at tables and tiny chairs, and the stage area
    would be about 20 meters wide with a 25 meters long cat walk down the middle.

    We arrived at about 9:30 p.m. to be given very good seats, and within another 15
    minutes it is packed with the usual bus loads of European, USA, and other Latin American
    tourists. Lots of photo sessions with the showgirls ($11 per photo), and then the maestro
    and music starts. About 2 hours later the show concludes. Cost is about $30.

    As for the show, it involves a 10-piece live band, four or five backing vocalists,
    about 40-50 female and 20-30 odd male dancers. The highlight of this whole experience is
    the costumes, which reflects a wide cross section of Brazilian culture, dance, and life
    styles. The costumes vary from minimal to the most elaborate Carnaval Queen outfits you
    could imagine.

    The dancing and show covers a number of styles including baião, samba, frevo,
    maracatu, and lambada. African influences in abundance. It is really well
    choreographed and very entertaining. As this is obviously geared for tourists, I look
    forward to experiencing more authentic examples when Marta and I get to go to Salvador and
    Bahia.

    For those with an eye for a keen physique, the bodies of all the men and women are just
    adorable and gorgeous. The men are just as well toned, tanned and rippling in muscles as
    the women. And teeth that the Colgate toothpaste peoples should be sponsoring. It is hot
    work up on stage, especially for the men who do a very physically demanding dance and
    gymnastic routine called capoeira (like a mixture of non-contact Kung Fu and
    Olympic gymnastics), and are covered in perspiration at the end of the show.

    Not having been to the famous Lido shows in Paris, it is hard to compare, but you would
    have to be ultimate wowser not to enjoy this night out.

    Brazilian Humor

    Maurice told this joke to me, the owner of the restaurant mentioned earlier. It is very
    subtle, and shows the relationship, opinion, attitude and envy between the Paulista
    and the Carioca.

    A Paulista comes to Rio on a Monday, and goes to Copacabana and sees a Carioca
    on the beach at 2:00 p. m. in the afternoon. The Carioca is sitting in a beach
    chair, sunglasses on, fully reclined, and enjoying the sun, surf and atmosphere to the
    maximum.

    Paulista: "Hey, Carioca, and what are you doing?"

    Carioca: "I’m relaxing, enjoying myself, and contemplating the meaning of
    life."

    Paulista: "But why are you not working? Don’t you have a job? What work do
    you do?"

    Carioca: "Of course I have a job. I shine shoes."

    Paulista: "Then why are you not shining shoes?"

    Carioca: "Because I am relaxing, enjoying myself, and contemplating the
    meaning of life."

    Paulista: "But if you were working and shining shoes you could make some
    money."

    Carioca: "But why?"

    Paulista: "So you could open a shop and get more customers and shine more
    shoes and make some more money."

    Carioca: "But why?"

    Paulista: "So you could hire people to work for you, and shine more shoes,
    and make even more money."

    Carioca: "But why?"

    Paulista: "So you could open up more shops, and franchise, and make even
    more money."

    Carioca: "But why?"

    Paulista: "So you could then relax, take a holiday and go the beach."

    Carioca: "I think that’s what I am doing now."

    The things I love
    and enjoy in Brazil

    · Vanessa, world Chiclets sales champion.

    · The sense of learning that is taking place.

    · Fresh coffee

    · Marta´s family.

    · The rare occasions when it is quiet.

    · Feijoada & Churrascaria.

    · Televised bottle dancing.

    · Marta´s Mum, Marina (can she cook or what).

    · Cold showers on a warm night.

    · Melrose Place in Portuguese.

    · Music in Brazil

    · "Domingo do Faustão"

    · Beach culture

    · The warmth of Brazilian hospitality

    John Miller is an Australian, living in Rio de Janeiro, selling
    Australian wine. ‘Postcards from Rio’ is a journal of his journey in the land of the Cariocas.

    For contact:
    John Miller
    Rua Joaquim Nabuco, 106 / Apt 1001
    Copacabana CEP 22080-030
    Rio de Janeiro
    Brazil

    Tel: +55 (021) 521 8568

    E-mail: millerj@gbl.com.br
     

     

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