Sunday, 7 February 2010

Brazil-istics Part One

“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It's one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it's another to think that yours is the only path.” Paulo Coelho

I have my share of pain and renunciation I guess, all neatly held back by denial; but, putting that aside, I was impressed with the path that was revealed to me in Brazil, and I crave your indulgence to allow me to expand on some of my observations about Brazil. I apologize in advance for any judgments – they are just my projections, my daydreams for how life should be. Finally, before I begin, I would like to point out that the ordering has no hidden agenda to it. That is just the way the thoughts fell out onto my notebook.

1) In the bus stations, airports and hotel lobbies the clocks show slightly different times. There is a nebulous 5 or 6 minutes-ish about all pretensions to an exact, official time. This seems to be especially true for departures. A bus scheduled to leave at 16.00 that leaves at 16.06 is most definitely leaving on time. This Brazilian generosity over time, this indifference to living your life at the mercy of the clock is slightly different to the famous Peruvian 20 minutes. In Peru when you arrange to meet, a person often responds by claiming that they will be over in “20 minutes”. This can lead to some infuriating waits until you realize that a Peruvian 20 minutes is somewhere between 40 minutes and 2 hours.

2) Northern Brazilians in particular are some of the most casually dressed people you are ever likely to encounter. They all appear as if they are heading out for a day on the beach. They wear beach shorts with bold splashes of colour, havaiana flip flops and football tops. Or they dispense with the tops and just let it all hang out. Women, especially bigger ones, will squeeze into tight leggings or hot pants and colourful blouses that show a generous portion of spare-tire midriff and overflowing cleavage.

3) Following on from number two, women seem unashamed of their body shape and their extra weight. The average over-weight woman has no problem grabbing the affections of a young slim chap. At the beach they wear the tiniest bikinis that reveal a wealth of stretch marks, cellulose and big wobbly behinds. This fulsome package turns the heads of the young men.

4) Brazilian men of the north who are permanently attired in beach shorts seem to forever be grabbing their nuts and scratching them in public. That is what men do.

5) Brazilians, as everyone will tell you, are the happiest folks you will encounter in South America. They are forever smiling and love nothing better than to meet a foreigner and give them the thumbs up. This thumbs up business is a core characteristic of communication. Life is a continual round of thumbs up. I never encountered a thumb down when I was there. Apparently, Brazilians have an alter-ego to their sunny dispositions called saude. It is claimed that saude is untranslatable. It is a type of philosophical melancholy which will periodically wipe the smile from their faces and cast a shadow on their hearts. There's something beautiful and human in that as well.

6) The stereotypes of normal folk struggling to survive in developing countries are nearly always wrong. Yes, the majority of Brazilians are not wealthy and matters are not helped by the high prices in Brazil to buy food, bus tickets and other everyday stuff. Yet, I saw so many people use credit cards to make purchases. I guess they have tiny overdraft facilities. It also makes sense when you consider how rampant armed robbery sadly is in Brazil.

7) Brazil seems to have the highest percentage per capita in South America of hippy folk who live on beaches and at the edge of towns and villages. They are allowed to put up tents, erect make-shift accommodation and sling up their hammocks. Perhaps the country is so big and nature still, despite the inroads made by loggers and farmers, so pervasive that they can afford to be more relaxed about the laws of land ownership and allow land squatters. These colourful folk aren't usually your average beggars. Instead they cultivate talents for juggling, diablo sticks and making jewellery and manage to get by that way. There is always fishing and selling the odd bit of weed to keep things ticking over and hold back hunger. With the weather always hot and a place to stay free, they seem to get by.

8) Brazil is less overrun with backpackers than other South American countries. The masses are drawn to Machu Picchu in Peru and the high Andes in Bolivia. Concomitant to this, there are fewer hostels. Instead you find yourself staying in bed and breakfasts called pousadas. They cost more than your average hostel but the breakfast (café da manha) is much better than the poxy coffee and croissant that passes for a breakfast in much of the rest of South America. To save money camping is a good option.

9) There is a logical explanation for the huge ladies. Brazil serves the biggest plates of food I've ever encountered. They have this amazing thing called prato feito, universally known as ‘PF’, which consists of rice, beans, some type of meat and manioc powder. It is a mountain of food with only the smallest amount of vegetables. It is amazing everyone doesn't die of scurvy.

That is it for part one of Brazil-istics. Just writing this has filled me with joy; it has thrown me back to all those idyllic days spent getting high and lying in a hammock; and it has left just a trace of sadness on my soul when I consider where I am now – in Japan where all the clocks are synchronized.

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