Category: Brazil, 2014

Let the games begin

April 24-25

Spent the day packing and getting ready (okay, piddling around) for our 9:30 PM departure, a non-stop flight to Sao Paolo, more than 10 hours and over 5000 miles away, where we’ll have a layover of about 3 hours before continuing on to Salvador de Bahia, a flight of a bit over two hours. Yes, it’s a pretty long haul, but we’re rather used to it, and have done considerably longer. Truth is, it would be a really long walk, so it’s best to just suck it up and get on with it.

The airport experience was pretty-much the airport experience. There was some unexplained trouble in getting our boarding passes. Carol was randomly selected for the fast security line; I was not.

Yesterday I’d had lunch with a friend who had been to Brazil four times, and cautioned me strongly about the dangers of travel there, advising me to get a money belt to wear. Really, I asked. Really. I’d told Carol, so, as she got through the security line first, she found a store that sold money belts and had one put aside for me. At the counter, I asked one of the two young male employees whether the belt was worn under the pants. When they said it was, Carol asked whether I’d be able to close my pants. If not, I told her, you’ll hold them up. One of the two guys immediately asked how long we’d been married. I said that, if we make it to June, it will be forty-nine years. They were amazed, smiled and congratulated us. We’re amazed, too. Money belt purchased, but not yet donned (I’ll have $21 less to store in the belt), we headed to the United Club, where I overloaded with crap, before it was time to board our flight.

Now’s the time you regret not having read more about where you’re going and how, despite your vow to do better, you’ve once again put more in your suitcase than you need. This reminds me of a story that a very bright young woman investment banker told me about her interview experience. As a consultant, I was talking to some prize hires of my premier investment banking client so as to be able to give them advice about recruiting. The woman told me that she was asked repeatedly by bankers what her worst characteristic was. Evidently bankers thought this was a clever question and that they were the only ones who used it. Most interviewees answered by sneaking in a positive trait as their worst characteristic, for example, “I’m a perfectionist and can never settle for less than the best” or “I sometimes drive myself too hard to accomplish my goals.” Anyway, this woman said that she got so sick of it that she began to answer the question of what was her worst characteristic by saying, “I over-pack.” I’d have hired her on the spot.

But I digress….We are traveling Economy Plus, which is roomier than coach, but much less expensive than Business Class, a sort of compromise. Announcements are in English and Portuguese, a language I’ve not heard before, a kind of cross between Spanish and French. I can pick out a (very) few words with my Spanish. Luckily, though, I’m fluent in English. I’ll use my ten hours of flight to read some short stories by Native American author Sherman Alexie, which Carol and I are reading for our book group, review a book I bought on the operation of my camera, waste time on Sodukos and try, but fail, to sleep. All of my reading is on my iPad, as I’ve totally crossed over to the dark side. Oh, yes, and write in the blog. For instance, now I’ll give you some information on where we’re headed, Salvador de Bahia.

As the first capital of Brazil, from 1549 to 1763, Salvador de Bahia witnessed the blending of European, African and Amerindian cultures. It was also, from 1558, the first slave market in the New World, with slaves arriving to work on the sugar plantations. The city has managed to preserve many outstanding Renaissance buildings. A special feature of the old town are the brightly colored houses, often decorated with fine stucco-work. As the first capital of Brazil, from 1549 to 1763, Salvador de Bahia witnessed the blending of European, African and Amerindian cultures. It was also, from 1558, the first slave market in the New World, with slaves arriving to work on the sugar plantations.

As early as 1549, the Governor General, Thome de Souza, on the orders of João II of Portugal, made Salvador the seat of the royal administration. It played a leading economic and political role until 1763, when the seat of administration was transferred to Rio de Janeiro. The upper city, located in the area of Bahia de Todos los Santos, was discovered in 1502 by Amerigo Vespucci, and has been preserved by its historical evolution. It was built upon a ridge parallel to the Atlantic coast, which made possible defense against Spanish (1580) and Dutch (1624) attacks.
The historical centre itself, which revolves around the Pelourinho quarter with its triangular place, is characterized by its fidelity to the 16th-century plan, the density of its monuments, and the homogeneity of its construction on a hilly and picturesque site which embellishes the urban scenery by providing steeply falling and ascending views of incomparable beauty.

For those who may be interested, here is a very brief (and not very pretty) history of slavery in Brazil:

The slave trade

Initially the Portuguese seemed to hit it off with Brazil’s natives. There was even an exchange of presents between Cabral’s men and the Indians on the beach, with a Portuguese sombrero swapped for feather headdresses. Relations cooled when the Portuguese started enslaving their neighbors for work on the sugarcane plantations. Yet, for a variety of reasons the Portuguese felt the Indians didn’t make great slaves and turned instead to Africa’s already existing slave trade.

African slaves started to pour into Brazil’s slave markets from about 1550. They were torn from a variety of tribes in Angola, Mozambique and Guiné, as well as the Sudan and Congo. Whatever their origins and cultures, their destinations were identical: slave markets such as Salvador’s Pelourinho or Belém’s Mercado Ver-o-Peso. By the time slavery was abolished in Brazil in 1888, around 3.6 million Africans had been shipped to Brazil – nearly 40% of the total that came to the New World.

Africans were seen as better workers and less susceptible to the European diseases that had proved the undoing of so many Indians. In short, they were a better investment. Yet the Portuguese didn’t go out of their way to protect this investment. Slaves were brought to Brazil in subhuman conditions: taken from their families and packed into squalid ships for the month-long journey to Brazil.

Visitors to the beaches of Porto de Galinhas, near Recife, might not pick up on the area’s grim past. Even after abolition, slave traders continued to smuggle in slaves often packed into a ship’s hull under crates full of galinhas (chickens).

Masters & slaves

For those who survived such ordeals, arrival in Brazil meant only continued suffering. A slave’s existence was one of brutality and humiliation. Kind masters were the exception, not the rule, and labor on the plantations was relentless. In temperatures that often exceeded 30°C (86°F), slaves were required to work as many as 17 hours each day, before retiring to the squalid senzala (slave quarters), and with as many as 200 slaves packed into each dwelling, hygiene was a concept as remote as the distant coasts of Africa. Dysentery, typhus, yellow fever, malaria, tuberculosis and scurvy were rife; malnutrition a fact of life. Syphilis also plagued a slave population sexually exploited by its masters.

Sexual relations between masters and slaves were so common that a large mixed-race population soon emerged. Off the plantations there was a shortage of white women, so many poorer white settlers lived with black or Indian women. Brazil was already famous for its sexual permissiveness by the beginning of the 18th century.

Aside from the senzala, the other main institution of the sugar plantation was the casa grande (‘big house’) – the luxurious mansion from which the masters would control their slaves.

Resistance & the Quilombos

Resistance to slavery took many forms. Documents of the period refer to the desperation of the slaves who starved themselves to death, killed their babies or fled. Sabotage and theft were frequent, as were work slowdowns, stoppages and revolts.

Other slaves sought solace in African religion and culture. The mix of Catholicism (made compulsory by slave masters) and African traditions spawned a syncretic religion on the sugar plantations, known today as Candomblé. The slaves masked illegal customs with a facade of Catholic saints and rituals. The martial art capoeira also grew out of the slave communities.

Many slaves escaped from their masters to form quilombos, communities of runaway slaves that quickly spread across the countryside. The most famous, the Republic of Palmares, which survived through much of the 17th century, was home to some 20, 000 people. Palmares was a network of quilombos covering a broad tract of lush tropical forest straddling the border of Alagoas and Pernambuco states. Under their leaders Ganga Zumba and his son-in-law Zumbi, its citizens became pioneers of guerrilla warfare, repeatedly fending off Portuguese attacks between 1654 and 1695. Eventually Palmares fell to a force of bandeirantes from São Paulo.
As abolitionist sentiment grew in the 19th century, many (unsuccessful) slave rebellions were staged, the quilombos received more support and ever-greater numbers of slaves fled the plantations. Only abolition itself, in 1888, stopped the growth of quilombos. Over 700 villages that started as quilombos remain today. Some were so isolated that they remained completely out of contact with white Brazilians until the last couple of decades.

In San Paolo, we collect our bags and, of course, run into a fellow we know who is in our congregation in Evanston. He’s in San Paolo for business for a couple days. We recheck our bags to Salvador, change money and have time for a drink and ice cream. We’re able to get wifi and so check our email.

Trip to Salvador is uneventful, and we meet our guide, Gabriela outside baggage claim. She is a live wire, originally from Buenos Aires, and we ride with her in the air conditioned comfort of our car some 40 minutes to our hotel, which is in the heart of the cobble-stoned historic district. Quaint hotel, Casa de Amarelindo, with a very comfortable room on the third floor, which hereafter I plan to take the slow elevator to reach. We forego a walk around the cobblestones and colorful historic district to rest up AND SHOWER, before dinner.

We take about a half hour taxi ride to the authentic, local restaurant called Restaurante Yemanja, where we meet Rodrigo and Fernanda, two delightful and lovely 30-year old doctors with whom we’ve been put in touch by the Olopades, our Nigerian doctor friends at the University of Chicago, with whom we’ve traveled to Ghana and Nigeria. Rodrigo is an oncologist, who spent two months at the U of C, and Fernanda is a radiologist who spent the time in Chicago at Northwestern. We learn all about their families, including their 4-month old daughter, Julie. They could not be more delightful dinner companions and, before they drive us home, we make plans to get together tomorrow night. Below is a photo of them, and of Carol, checking emails.

It’s about 11PM, and we plan to crash, hoping to be ourselves (whatever that means) tomorrow. Then we begin the real trip, and, hopefully, photographs.



5 comments to Let the games begin

  • Zoe-Bug

    Sounds like a lot of money for a money belt. It’s cool that you met a friend there. Have fun on the rest of your trip!

  • Wendy

    Glad you gave Maz a break from holding up your pants, long enough to check email. Glad I’m fluent in English, too, cuz that means we can keep in touch.
    Looking forward to more updates and photos . . .

  • lauri pollack

    Hi there,
    This sounds just great. Thank you for sharing and have a wonderful time.


    Lauri and Dick

  • PRskie

    Hi, Boppp. I like the pictures, (especially the one of Gee-Gee on the Ipad, it looks very pro.) I love you, and will keep intouch…

  • Kay Osborne

    I bet Carol is disappointed she didn’t have to do pants hold up duty. How could you withhold this earned privilege? Glad all’s well so far. Not that I expect anything different. Lest I forget, remember to hang on to your money belt. Belts are known to disappear at times. But…I digress. Enjoy!

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