Notes on Brazil for My Father

Personal Writings

            Sao Paulo        My father would have liked Brazil.  He knew “field” Spanish from time spent in the California orange groves when his dad was a foreman there near Orange and Santa Anna.  He would help out and talk to the Mexican workers when they were putting out smudge pots to ward off freezes or helping harvest.  It’s not Portuguese, but I found it often close enough in a pinch that people either knew – or could guess – what I was talking about.  He was a long way from fluent, but he could get over most of the time, if not all of the time.  The first time I was in Mexico City in 1974, we had breakfast together.  I wanted pancakes, so he ordered them for me.  They served me a heaping plate of bread, which is what “pan” means in Spanish.  He was out of practice.  We all had a good laugh.

There are some changes since I first visited Brazil twenty-one years ago.   We were there in the week before the first primary won by Lula de Silva.  Now having served a term both as president and in prison, he has been elected once again.  Then, many in social movements and unions were wary of each other and wondered if Lula won, would the army attempt a coup.  Now in taking group pictures some raised an “L” with their fingers, not for “loser,” but for Lula, after years of struggle since another coup.

Then jogging, sometimes with my companera Secky Fascione down to the park, we saw runners and walkers there, but nowhere else.  Now, it seemed everywhere we went there were bikers, joggers, walkers of all ages, night and day.  Then we were wary of the water, as if in Mexico City, but now the water was potable everywhere we went.  At least that was the story for drinking.  Hot water for showers was an issue everywhere.  In Salvador, five minutes might warm it up.  In Recife, it was cold showers all the way.  On the other hand, everywhere we were for breakfast, they offered two or three kinds of cake.  What a country!

Here’s an innovation.  As a matter of law, the priority line for airline travel has a half-dozen categories for people who get on first, even ahead of premier people except for super fliers.  It includes everyone over 60 or with children and so on.  No one complains, and it speeds up the loading.  We were also surprised at how the crosswalk system worked, and how much people respected it.  On the highways there were cameras that forced people to slow down to 60 kilometers per hour or about 37 miles per hour, so cars would almost screech to a stop and then speed back up, because of the price of the tickets.  Same in the city, running a red light is a pricey ticket on traffic cameras.  On the other hand, literally everyone would tell us not to put our phones in our back pockets, because they would be stolen, so that’s obviously a big, big security issue.  Waistbands were the “go to” solution for many, it seemed.

Salvador, Recife, and Caruaru in northern Brazil are much different than the south, where I had been before in Rio, Sao Paulo, or Porto Alegre.  It’s worth more than a visit.