God may well be Brazilian!Where else would an aircraft registered and operated by a US carrier and with an on-board staff all American, only two of whom speak Portuguese, make its final approach into Rio de Janeiro allowing passengers peacefully asleep over two seats to continue their rest until we reach the gate... In fact, the announcement for the final descent, as we flew over the Serra dos Orgaos mountain chain that surrounds Rio's Bahia de Guanabarra to the North, the announcement in which passengers are asked to "return their tray tables and seats to the full upright position", the Portuguese version was something like "estamos começando a nossa descida final pro Rio de Janeiro, Graças a Deus" - Thank God, we're approaching Rio!
|Dedo de Deus (God's Finger - no one asks which) in the Serra dos Orgaos |
that encircles the Bahia de Guanabara NW of Rio de Janeiro
|3000-ft descent from the Serra dos Orgaos|
and the beginning of Rio's Zona Norte suburb
Innocuous as it seems, a simple butterfly ("borboletta" - also the last fabulous "old" Santana album) fluttering between palm trees along the completely jammed highway is a most appropriate symbol of Brazilian Life. Behind the favelas in this poorest section of the City, the 3500-ft Pico da Tijuca towers above 20 square miles of forest nearly entirely surrounded by the City. The contrast between the butterfly's lightness amidst powerful turbulences of the air is a fitting symbol of the unique spirit of the Brazilian people: no others master freedom and nonchalance in the face of adversity so well as do the Brazilians.
Indeed, we've been half an hour on the bus and we've barely covered one mile in an endless, mid-day bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. Friends had warned me, "this will be your first shocking experience in the "New Rio"". Sure enough, people walking along the higway are moving faster than we are...
|Pico da Tijuca and favela near Galeao/Tom Jobim airport|
Twenty or so years ago, returning from a day paragliding in the site of Marrica, 40 miles Northeast of Rio, we had run into a similar massive traffic jam and after but a few minutes, I was terribly car sick. I had spent the next three hours walking along the parked line of cars and stopping every so often to wait for my driving friends to catch up. In tyical Brazilian style, other curious drivers began to recognize me as we passed one another. Some would offer caipirinhas (heavily alcoholic - but traffic was all but stopped, so who cares?), pieces of meat they'd be grilling in their open trunks, and by midnight, when traffic finally began passing me without hope of meeting again, one in ten cars knew something about France. That was on a Sunday night, returning from a long week end on a two lane road. Now it's virtually the same on the 4 lane expressway at noon on a Monday - though we're finally moving even as I write this.
"Brazil maravilhosa, cheia de tantas flores, ..." Despite the favelas and remaining poverty, despite the remote areas in this immense country where education and basic services have a hard time arriving, despite the persistent corruption (I would humbly argue that it is not disproportional to that than in most nations, and less "corporat-ised" than in the US) Brazilians are unequivocally proud to live in a land "abencoada por Deus" (blessed).
This unity in "celebrating Life" is stronger among the people of Brazil than in any other nation I have known and one of the nation's greatest strengths!