Sunday, June 17, 2012

500 from Jorge Amado and Me

Yesterday we got up very early, ventured out into the cold darkness of the Brazilian morning, and loaded up on a tour bus to ride the 4 hours into Sao Paulo.  We were going to visit two museums with a field trip group of students from Rita's public school.  Both buses loaded up, I put in my headphones and started Bob Dylan and promptly fell asleep.

We stopped at a gas station for breakfast.  That may not sound very nice to some people, but gas stations here are fairly fancy, almost always with a restaurant attached.  I had woken up sufficiently at this point to have an empada, a food I think I love, with palmito (heart of palm), a food I know I love, in it.  We clambered back on the bus and more sleeping on my part ensued.

When I woke up again, we were on the fringes of Sao Paulo.  I had been waiting to see this city because I have a good friend from it, and I had been wondering for a long, long time what it looked like.  This whole trip, I've felt like I am putting together pieces of people dear to me as I see things they have told me about and the country they are from.  It is a feeling that is important and precious.

Sao Paulo sprawls and towers at the same time.  We wove our way through the streets to the old part of the city and got off the bus at the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo.  All the museums have free admission on the weekends, so it was a busy place. We had to wait awhile for our guide since we were a large school group.  As we waited, we observed a massive Gospel concert that was wedged between the Pinacoteca and the Museu da Língua Portuguesa.  It was incredibly loud, and there were massive numbers of people attending.

When we finally entered, there were fantastic works of art everywhere.  I did my best to photograph some of them.  We couldn't understand all the explanations of our guide, but there were some helpful explanations on cards along the way, so we enjoyed what we saw.  I was particularly pleased to see a rendition of my favorite fictional character hiding along the way, and I snapped him with my iPhone.

After leaving the Pinacoteca, we moved to the Museu da Língua Portuguesa.  I didn't know what to expect, and I was worried that since my command of the the Portuguese language is virtually nil, I would have a hard time understanding anything.  It turned out to be the best part of my day, though.  My first indication that it was going to be good was when I turned over my ticket and saw the Jorge Amado exhibition advertised on the back.

We looked at the first floor with its history of the development of Portuguese in Brazil, watched a huge and wonderful ribbon video of the different words and cultural influences, and then we went upstairs to see the Jorge Amado Centennial exhibition.  It was fantastic.

One of my Brazilian friends recommended that I read things by him before I came, and I started Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands during the school year.  I still haven't finished it yet because of no time to read while I'm teaching, but it is wonderful.  Amado, despite the linguistic, temporal, and cultural differences, somehow reminds me of Chaucer.  He has a sharp wit but is never cruel.  He has a great eye for detail and gives a thorough feel for character and place.  He does what Chaucer does as far as giving you the picture and letting you decide for yourself what the person is like.  He also isn't afraid'll say it that way.   It's great stuff if you haven't read him.

There were art pieces using the characters, items from the book and from Bahia in general, and an entire wall of cacao and dende oil  (I don't have all the right accent marks over these things....I am sorry...).  Since they talk about the dende oil so much in Dona Flor, it was so amazing to see it.  They had personal items from Amado including clothing and personal papers, and a wonderful wall full of book covers about him, but my favorite thing was an art installation with the names of all 500 of his characters printed on the traditional ribbons people get from a church in Bahia.  I took my picture in front of them, something I rarely do, and it's now my new Facebook picture.

We walked to another part of the Pinacoteca Museum, the Station Pinacoteca (not even remotely trying for the Portuguese), which had been used as a jail for political prisoners during the dictatorship.  Being in the cells where people where held after being "informed" on was very powerful.  Again, there was a language barrier, but human torment and pain translates with very little difficulty tragically.  Pictures will be up as soon as I can have a little time to edit and upload.

Our day ended with another drive and time spent at the largest retail space in the Southern Hemisphere.  Since I am not much of a "shopper," I went to the two bookstores, we all ate, and that was about all.  The high school kids, of course, were in a kind of heaven.  I guess some things are truly universal.  Well, to each his own.

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