Sunday, August 19, 2007

Final thoughts on Brazil, 4 countries later

On the SouthEast border of Venezuala with Brazil

Brazil is Big.

Random rememberings of the fond variety: Caipirinhas (preferably with 51 cachasa alchohol), more thumbs up than a Henry Winkler highlight reel, smiling faces, people truly wanting to help, oil change attendants wanting to hear my swear “like Hollywood”, beautiful theater in Belem and Opera House in Manaus, Rodisio’s of delicious Brazilian beef, everything is green, the Pantanal, wonderful open air evening of free music in Salvador, children in canoes on the Amazon receiving gifts from the Brazilian ferry passengers, an album cover of Kermit Ruffin’s plastered on a wall of a jazz cafĂ© (affirming for them and me), truck drivers providing passing clues with their turn signals, animals, and bird as if the whole country is an open zoo, helpful, fun and thoughtful fellow motorcyclists, beautiful beaches, a jazz concert that spilled over into the streets, and the overall general feeling of everyone that life is good, worth enjoying and worth sharing.

This was tempered by some issues, most of them caused by a growing population and economy that gives one the feeling of opportunity. Air pollution in the megalopolis of Rio-Sao Paulo, the poverty of the flavellas, trash in some poorer areas, and rough infrastructure in many areas are problems of this type. The $5 dollar a gallon gas didn’t help, especially when I look at the odometer and realize we have gone 7000 miles since Buenas Aires which doesn’t seem nearly so far away.

Brazil is unique from South America, and the rest of the world in more ways than just its version of the language of Portuguese. You can easily imagine that Brazil is a world of its own, so large as to have all ones needs encased in its borders. Really what else is needed other than sun, surf, sand, samba and smiles. Many of them seem to be surviving on just that. Brazilians like to travel, but few of them have left the country, and they do not know much about life on the other side of the solid lines on the map. For example, one of my panniers has a sticker with the name and flag of Bolivia on it. I also have stickers of Brazilian Motorcycle Clubs, and a license plate from Massachusetts which says “Spirit of America” on it. But for some reason, people in Brazil from police to gas station workers were constantly asking me if I was from Bolivia. It is not that they aren’t intelligent, it is just that they have no knowledge or preconceptions about the outside that they could believe that a 5’ 9”, blond guy with bad Spanish riding a BMW 1200 is just as likely to be from Bolivia as from China. Despite sharing a long border with their landlocked neighbor, they don’t know how poor and indigenous the country is, nor of course the fact that there is no BMW dealership in the whole country. I developed an odd sense of enjoyment of even the suggestion of being a resident of the highland country where Che was done in. It is not that they are xenophobic or closed minded, in fact just the opposite they are full of questions and interest but there is a reason for the saying that “God must be Brazilian”, and that is because if there is a heaven on earth it surely is found in Brazil.

Brazil is the least race conscious country I’ve ever been in. It is common to see hands held of black with white, white with black and every mix and match in between. After centuries of racial mixing there are more varieties of human here than any where, different skin, eyes, hair; most importantly no one seems to judge one just by color. This isn’t to say that complete equality has been reached. It is also clear that the lighter skinned one is, the more likely to have money they are. At the nicer restaurants and clubs, the clientele is noticeably more European looking, although certainly not exclusive. The greatest difference from the US is that people simply don’t look at someone, up and down, let alone sideways because of their looks. They just aren’t judgmental or bothered. Of course, the Brazilians aren’t bothered by much and that is a good thing. I’m sure there is an equivalent saying to “live and let live” in Brazilian, which probably doesn’t need to be said much, because it is ingrained in the DNA of the citizens.

Brazilians really look out for each other, also more than any other nation I’ve encountered. From the people in the lowest class of the ferry boats on the Amazon throwing gifts of food, toys and clothes to their poorer Amazon brethren, to men at bars buying homeless kids food and bringing them cokes it is not difficult to find these acts of kindness. “There but for the grace of God goes I” also seems to be part of the conscious. They way the look and treat beggars and the poor is different from the US where we often have such disdain for them. In Brazil, the people have a look of compassion that says ‘I wish our country were not this way’ in a way that treats the other as an equal fellow man, as if they were commiserating over a drink at a bar or at a neighborhood bbq.

As with the rest of South America there is a large lack of faith in the government. Even when one gives praise in the form of saying the government is better, there is the acknowledgement that it should be much better and that much corruption, inefficiency, and bad planning still remains. This came to fruition spectacularly with the plane crash in Sao Paulo, a runway we had been on the day before. Earlier this year a local judge had ruled the airport unsafe and had halted flights on the doomed runway. He had been quickly overruled by a higher panel of judges who ruled that it was too much of an economic burden to bear and so reopened it to its fatal business. Nearly every time we watched the news Prior to the accident there were stories about how messed up the air flight system was in Brazil.

Finally, (and I could write a whole chapter on this) the Brazilian Flag is the most representative of its country of any in the world. The country truly is green and yellow, from top to bottom and side to side, with a big sky full of stars over it. The green is prevalent, of course, in many countries but not as much as Brazil and not just because of the Amazon. The yellow is the more distinctive part and the more subtle. Because of the great power of the persistent sun, the greens are changed, shaded, and hued into different yellows depending on ones angle, view, presence and perspective. There are also, of course, direct yellows: flowers, stalks, leaves. But to me it is the way the everpresent green and the gold of the sun meet to give yellow to the human eye which was the inspiration for the green and yellow country of happiness and good will. Finally, the people wear the colors proudly, even more than the red white and blue of the USA, on jeans, shirts, sandals, pendants, hats, it is casual and dressy, and always appropriate.

Have a caipirinha to get a taste of the spirit, or better yet visit and have one offered to you.

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