Mike has told me that views and visitors are both up since I began blogging on his site. I’m so glad that this experience is having a positive impact on others. Tonight, I’m blogging from the lobby of my hotel. Sorting photos, reviewing notes and writing takes at least an hour or two each night, and I disappear from the rest of the group. Perhaps tonight, by working here, I’ll see more of my group. This is a very talented group of faculty from all over the US, many of whom are knowledgeable about Brazil and have visited many times before, and most nights they go out for dinner, music and dancing, sometimes coming in hours after midnight. I am a typical, introverted academic, and so I enjoy this instead.
I just came back from an excellent meal at the next-door sidewalk café. I knew they wouldn’t speak English there, so I practiced my Portuguese before I went and all went smoothly. The chicken Milanese, with rice and beans and fries, was excellent. Except, when I tried to say the food was “excellent”, my waitress thought I was asking for a condiment, and brought me a bowl of peppers in oil. I tried a little bit, and it was so spicy hot I couldn’t taste my food for the next 5 minutes.
I’ve decided to share some background to start today’s blog. Brazil is the 5th largest nation in the world, and has the 5th largest population. For comparison, that is larger than the 48 contiguous US states, and the US is 3rd in overall population. More than 50% of Brazil’s 203 million residents live in urban areas. There are 6.3 million living in the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city, and more than 10 million in the metro area.
One of the distinctive features of Rio that has affected its development is the fact that numerous granite mountains rise up right near the coastline (and in the bay), providing a physical separation from the South Zone (Zona Sul – Ipanema and Copacabana) and the downtown (Centro) from the North and West zones, which stretch for many miles. Tunnels and bridges lead to huge traffic jams, and a sense of social disconnection.
The World Cup FIFA soccer tournament begins here June 12. It is the second time that Brazil has hosted, and the country is starting to get seriously revved up for the event. Soccer is a unanimous passion among Brazilians, and the excitement is palpable here.
Today, we had excellent presentations on two topics: the educational system in Brazil, and the urbanization of the country. Both experts gave us a national view, then focused on the situation in Rio, and specifically in the favelas.
In the afternoon, we visited Santa Marta, the first favela to be officially ‘pacified’ through the UPP process. That means that there was so much gang activity, the military police went in like an invading army and took over the entire area by force. After driving out the gangs and/or militias, new civil police stations were established and a huge police presence was installed. Once the violence was driven out, improved social services are supposed to come in. That means investments in infrastructure, education, health care and other human services. So far, it’s mostly just infrastructure. For example, Santa Marta got a new incline railway to help residents navigate the extremely steep final 500 or so vertical feet up into the favela. It wasn’t running when we arrived.
We went to an NGO called “Altitude Social” for an intense percussion lesson today; it was about 350 vertical feet above the nearest road, where our van dropped us off, and it was stairs straight up all the way. Basically, it was like walking up 30 stories of stairs. Except we went about 5 stories too high when we missed our turn, and had to come back down to Altitude Social. The favelas are like vertical mazes; I could never find my way through them without our guides. Only two of our group got lost, but fortunately we reunited with them just before dark.
Our destination was Michael Jackson Square. MJ came here in 1995 to record one of two videos for his song “They Don’t Care About Us” Spike Lee directed (the other was shot in a prison). Here’s a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QNJL6nfu__Q
I don’t care much for the song or the video, but the shots of MJ on the stairs in the favela are real. At 1:35 and 2:25 you can see the exact location of MJ Square where we had our percussion lesson. There is a life-size bronze statue of MJ there, and a larger-than-life mosaic of his visage. Much of the video appears to be shot on wide, cobblestone streets, which is probably the neighborhood below Santa Marta or Little Africa. The statue of Christ the Redeemer stares straight down into this favela. By the way, if you’re wondering how MJ managed all the climbing…he arrived via helicopter for the shoot.
When I travel home Sat/Sun I expect to have more time to write about today’s educational component. It will be a very long travel day, with many hours in airports. BTW: it is “winter” here, but the temps have been up in the 80s most days, except for the rainy ones.
Peace and blessings from below the equator,