All quotes are from Farewell Rio, a novel by Roa Lynn.
Page numbers refer to the paperback edition.
I occupied my narrow room with a jittery unease.
Preparations for the annual rite had begun in late December. I became aware of them when I first heard the gentle throb of drums coming from the favela perched precariously on the hill behind David Jr.’s apartment. The compelling beat mingled with the ordinary sounds of the city at work. At night the drums grew louder and voices were added. A fast-paced chanting in a hypnotic, nasal singsong broke into my meditations.
My dear Catherine, what could be more fun, more gratifying, more absurd, than getting paid to snoop? Everybody wants to know what goes on behind the closed door. It teaches us how to live. And that’s what we’re all looking for—lessons on how to live. Because, at
bottom, nobody really knows how.
As they dozed they prayed that some unfeeling citizen, secure in his employment, wouldn’t toss a lighted match at them. It had happened.
We stopped talking. We were dependent on the sound of the ice cracking in my vodka and tonic. Our bodies barely touched on the banquette. For a moment we were businesslike. For a moment we were entranced.
Rio’s numerous favelas, or shantytowns, didn’t observe geographical boundaries. They marched straight up the city’s forested mountains, devoid of municipal services, or they squatted, restless, on scattered flat marginal lands.
“You think there’s not enough sex in Rio?” I said.
“It’s all bound up in perceptions. People have sexual energy and
they don’t know what to do with it. We’re a Catholic country, baby.”
The students, in effect, are demonstrating against themselves. They march against privilege, but without their families’ privileges they wouldn’t be attending the university in the first place.
When I got outside I could feel energy building in the government’s show of force. It was matched, fidget for fidget, shove for shove, by a growing crowd of demonstrators. Suddenly people were screaming and running. I tried to push my way through to the nucleus of the mob, where I thought something was happening.
In general, the women in Rio were both gorgeous and inquisitive. They turned heads with the sway of their hips. Their carriage was erect and proud. They liked to practice their English with strangers on the beach, and they paid full attention to new ideas, promptly incorporating them into their cosmopolitan, assured approach to the world.
Later in my journal I wrote: “I pray for anger. We write against the distress of our lives. Writing is a revolt. To remember is to renew.”
The train to Santa Cruz was crowded with scrawny odd-job laborers and domestic workers in shapeless, faded cotton dresses. The animated passengers gabbed and flirted. We didn’t get seats until half an hour after the train pulled out of downtown Rio.
Sadness, a vague loneliness that crept inside the heart, came unbeckoned in the dusk. It was nursed in a feminine breath, heavy, sweet and warm — the breath of Rio itself. For brief moments it could be quenched by a glance, a promise, a few seconds of engaging conversation.
Trapped, disheveled, kicking around Rio wondering
Where to sleep, or with whom, if necessary.
We were taken to Botafogo, to the baroque gray castle that served as the headquarters for the Shock Battalion. Across the street was the British Ambassador’s residence and next to that the residence of the American Ambassador. As we were led out of the wagon, I thought of making a run for it.
Congress was debating the regulation of heart transplants, and there was a deadlock when a deputy proposed that a man’s mistress be authorized to give permission for a transplant if his wife wasn’t available. One of the five priests in Congress put up a fierce fight.
In Rio the quality of the atmosphere teases with possibilities, but in the end disappoints. The soft air beckons to beauty, to romance without pain, to resolution, to excitement just beyond reach. You own the day; the day does not own you. Each day begins with excited renewal, the fresh restorative morning coffee with warm milk, the finger banana, the papaya with its tiny, bitter, black seeds. You begin with hope: The phone will work. Simple promises will be kept. An opportunity for fame will stride forward. Gumption is what you want from Rio de Janeiro. Propaganda and boldfaced lies are what you get.
Her adornments were many, literally dozens of necklaces made out of bone, silver, gold, dark-polished jacaranda wood. Her arms were filled with bracelets, and no finger, not even her thumbs, lacked multiple, slim silver bands. Her skin was the color of milky coffee. Her gaze was unforgiving.
Each morning a porter brought breakfast to my room on a tray — coffee with warm milk, a finger banana, an orange partly peeled in a decorative spiral, two hard rolls, butter and guava jelly.
My plane took off into the wind, south by southeast. There it was, out the window a few thousand feet below me, a poet’s Rio — a gorgeous, romantic, sexually exhausted, infernal, poetry-loving, frustrating, jealous place.
I set the table up in front of my window, which I left open to the night. The evening temperatures in May had dropped to the low 70s. From the back of the house, facing west, I had a view of the lights of nearby houses set into the dark hillside. The muse flitted in and out of the window, bringing me the sullen, rapturous tropics on the breeze.
That damp cold chill that
Fills the ribs with sex and
Can only be warmed against
A sweating man under covers.
They also spent countless hours in the peculiarly Brazilian activity known as “looking for someone.” Since telephones had minds of their own, connecting by phone was next to impossible. It could take hours of frantically clicking the disconnect button just to get a dial tone. After that the chances of completing a call were only 50-50. In addition, people had to wait years to get telephones installed in their offices or apartments. Many potential subscribers went without.
Brazilwood, the tropical source of a red dye
valued by the Portuguese,
has given its name
to a country in South America.
Sunday morning we played tennis. John was quick and agile with a powerful serve I could barely return, but enough out of practice that he often double-faulted or shot out of bounds. I played a patient and ultimately winning game by just trying to return the ball while waiting for his mistakes.
The young women who lived in David Jr.’s apartment adorned not only themselves but Rio itself. They walked with the assurance that all eyes were upon them.
The hypocrisy of charm. The neurotic machismo that is Brazil. Brazilians respect nothing and no one. Rio is a city of stunning beauty full of tropical Walter Mittys.
Everything surrounding me was magnified — the movement of the air, the shadows, the buzz in the overhead electric wires, the chatter of cicadas in the shrubs.
Are you crazy? You actually walked into a police station. Christ, you should know better than that by now. Nobody in his right mind talks to the police.
Informally, when José wasn’t otherwise engaged, one of his duties had been to sit at a vacant desk in the newsroom with a telephone receiver glued to his ear and repeatedly tap the disconnect button until he got a telephone line to the outside world. When he heard the right noise — which could take from 5 to 15 minutes or more — he would yell out to a reporter who was trying to make a call: “I have a line.”
Secret societies sprang up to dance samba.
From their beginning in March, the student protests had been organized under a pretense. As the crowd gathered, manifestos would be distributed deploring university budgets, classroom overcrowding, outdated methods of instruction. Banners, prepared in advance, reinforced the manifestos with their own jejune slogans. The demonstration would coalesce. Within minutes educational concerns would be abandoned. Instead speakers would begin to attack the military regime, the crowd would dutifully break into chants and the true face of the protest would appear. The cry was unmistakable — government repression, in all its perfidy, had to go.
Seu Gonçalves seemed to know about everybody in Rio and have opinions on many matters of high culture. When I inquired discreetly about his background he directed my attention to a pile of newspapers and leather-bound books sitting on a shelf under the desk. “Reading, miss. Reading can make a nobody a somebody.”
What is passion without trust? It is Brazil, where there are fish that walk, trees that wander, birds that fly backward—and where a man can be pardoned for killing his unfaithful wife. It is unorganized sensitivity. It is sleeping until afternoon without a care. It is transcendent, as if it were love.
Some gas heaters were self-lighting but, unfortunately, not the ones I encountered. These snarling jets scared me because of the way the gas erupted in a smelly fire-clap. Jaime had told me of his 14-year-old cousin who had been killed in a freak explosion lighting a gas heater for his bath.
They excuse the crime of passion. We don’t. Maybe it just comes down to that. Did you know that in Brazil a man can kill his unfaithful wife and get acquitted by claiming he did it to clean his honor?
After the first time my father met Sérgio he had warned me: “I’ve seen this play before, Catherine, and so have you.”
It was a time measured in excitements: youth, truth, death, prison, repression, censorship, dictatorship, torture, the stripping of political rights, expensive hippie fashion, the cult of the beach, long hair pressed on an ironing board, soul music from the Motor City, music festivals dominated by protest songs, “happenings,” micro-minis, poetry, photography,
one-night stands, robbing banks, armed struggle.
Rio de Janeiro, Jan. 21, 1969 UPI—Civil authorities searched with heavy earthmoving machinery today in a canyon near the center of Rio de Janeiro for victims of a landslide that sent 20 slum shacks and their inhabitants plunging down a hillside.
The bodies of eight persons, including four children, have been recovered. The authorities estimate that 40 to 70 more are missing. The inhabitants of the other 140 crude homes perched above the abyss have been evacuated to safer ground.
The slum, called Favela of My Loves, is on an outcropping of rock overlooking the central railway station and the War Ministry in the center of the city. The oldest hillside slum in Rio de Janeiro, it gave its name — favela (a kind of wild flower) — to the dozens of similar shantytowns that dot the city.
Jorge dos Santos Generoso, an inhabitant of Favela of My Loves, was brushing his teeth when the earth collapsed. “It sounded like a gunshot,” he said, “and then everything was falling.” He watched the home of his sister and her eight children go over the brink.
A policeman, Mario Martins Taveira, was chatting with a neighbor, known as dona Augusta, when her shack fell. Both are presumed dead. The policeman’s wife, Ismênia, saw them go over. Friends tried to restrain her but she jumped after her husband.
We had all scrambled Friday to cover an appalling riot. A policeman had been killed when an office worker, expressing sympathy with the student activists on the street, threw a typewriter out the window of a tall office building and struck him. Five other people—four students and another policeman—were badly injured in the enormous clash that followed.
Looking over José’s shoulder, I could see his entire abode: a lumpy, unmade double bed, a tiny refrigerator, a small TV with several empty shot glasses sitting on top and a scarred plastic table surrounded by three chairs. The illumination in the room came from two lamps with red shades; one lamp sat on the table, the other rested on the floor near the TV. I could see a sink in the corner of the room and a faded floral-print curtain that might have concealed a toilet.
Virginity’s a serious business. Some girls have operations to get
it restored. I’m sure in Uncle Sam’s country you do the same.
His hair blacker than the hours
Which separate our meetings,
Blackest now, like permanent night.
“I’ve never known a woman friend who was spellbound over a man to be completely rational,” Anabela said. “And I include myself. At bottom, Kate, which would you rather have, passion or trust?”
She knows only two ways to kiss,
Like a friend or with tears.
I was living with a free-floating gang of students, writers, middle-class girls who held normal jobs, hangers-on and millionaires.
This isn’t the kind of conversation one can continue naked.
As a fledgling reporter I had thought that if you get on the right helicopter, on the right luminous morning, fly low over the beaches, the dense neighborhoods, your mouth still tasting coffee and orange marmalade, it’s all there, spread out, waiting: The impenetrable exotic paradise.
I thought about being a reporter, a paid observer for whom every second was a deadline, punctual in a country set to no clock. I didn’t see Brazil’s promised technological future, I saw its sex. I saw men’s passion in the dusk, lechery replacing industry, bits of glorious coasts under the stars. I thought about the big lie of the country. The reckless search for diversion that ended in promiscuity. Restitching virginity. A couple drinking the watery milk of a green coconut on a beach at midnight, sharing the straw, each seducing the other. “Beloved one, meu bem. The sand is soft.” The woman taking the risk.
In the two weeks since I had moved into his household, Nelson Claudio had invited me to dinner, to the movies, to the beach, to photography sessions, to parties, to bowling, to bed. He dated models and some of them stayed the night with him, but I must have been especially on his mind when he slept in his bed alone, which was about 70 percent of the time.
The dirt alleys were bustling. Shoppers carried string bags of produce. Naked toddlers squatted to play. Teenage boys kicked miniature soccer balls and shouted as they made goals in semi-collapsed cardboard boxes.
I think of unmixed wants, a bed with sheets, not
Some stinking mattress speaking of departed love,
An antiseptic bath dusted off with a tender kiss
And a signed contract for a good day tomorrow.
Everything was exciting, the way life can seem before a war is old.
The plot to assassinate whom?
A meeting at the Casablanca café.
Jaidi, myself and a small battalion with solutions.
We hold hands and schedule his death by hair tonic poison.
The plot to assassinate whom?
Oh, you know, that madman.
I had become besotted with a city that was slightly Victorian, slightly mad, confident, tantalizing, concerned with its prestige and unfailingly tolerant of dawdling. No misstep was fatal, no conversation more interesting than one concerning the complications of love.
Quaresma palms and breadfruit trees canopied sharp ruts hardened by the baking sun. In several places where it crossed a stream the road disappeared completely, dissolving into circular muddy ponds surrounded by thick shrubs.
“What would happen,” I asked Walter, “if you had been tortured by DOPS . . . Five years from now Brazil has a democratically elected government . . . The military has been hung out to dry . . . Everybody is as content as they can be, considering that there’s still plenty of poverty. One day you go to a party in Copacabana and the hostess introduces you to one of your torturers. What would you do?”
I was coming to understand that John played the whole world as if it were poker, constantly calculating the odds, showing nothing on his face unintentionally.
The Vermont was a small, inexpensive residential hotel two blocks
from the beach and one block from the bar where “Tom” Jobim and
Vinícius de Moraes first observed the girl from Ipanema and put their
thoughts on a napkin.
a droll story from Recife about a mortuary he happened to pass — the Bon Voyage Funeral Home.
I could light a match to my book
And write another one.
It doesn’t matter, it’s all the same,
Because I will live to be
One hundred thirty,
The only survivor after World War III.
I write a poem,
I save a life.
Ten days later, on June 15, the war in Rio heated up again. The marchers began to number 10,000 to 20,000. It was a mesmerizing time for the marchers and for me. I loved almost everything about it: its pace, its nonsense, its outrage, working late, overindulging on rich food, the discussions it provoked with Walter and Nelson Claudio, its innocence, its just cause, even its menace. I lived for the smell of tear gas.
I entered the lobby early each morning in clothes that lacked a wealthy tourist’s attention to fashion and pressing. Still, the doorman greeted me as if I belonged. I knew he was responding to the education he saw shining through my rumpled attire, and I received his greeting as my due. The cheerful attendant in the ladies’ room came and went throughout the day in a professional round of scouring, refilling supplies, collecting tips, never questioning my hanging about. I was an American and therefore rich and entitled.
People were staring at us — a handsome, felicitous man, a tearful young woman. Sérgio suggested we go upstairs to his room. I didn’t refuse. He sat on the edge of the bed. I sat in a nearby chair facing him, ramrod straight.
The wounds were ugly and deep that day, but no one had been
hacked to death. Two dozen people had been arrested.
The British Embassy diplomatic staff looked relieved that their royal charges had passed out of their hands without major mishap. I settled myself with a vodka and tonic and was just learning from the pregnant wife of the British First Secretary that the Queen’s toilet seat aboard the Britannia was covered in finest pigskin when I caught sight of Sérgio talking with a plumpish blonde. She had hold of his arm, attempting to direct him around the crowded room, as some wives do to make themselves important.
My mother married an educator, and then one day she was married to a soldier who carried a gun and killed people.
Brazilian girls on dates, I learned, found protection from unwanted advances by linking up with acquaintances during their evenings out.
A melancholy lover, exhausted from fornication, could always stumble out of bed and fall straight into the comforting arms of politics.
I stared into the darkness of the room listening to the howler monkeys, to strange buzzing sounds, cicadas, high bird trills.
In the face of a show of force that included 13 light tanks, 40 armored cars and half-tracks, 8 Jeeps mounted with machine guns, 1,500 infantrymen and state policemen, over 50 DOPS police in plainclothes swinging blackjacks and another 500 state police armed with rifles, the students didn’t appear. The soldiers napped in the sun or lounged on their tanks, flirting with girls.
Page 5 In later generations, the family’s fortunes had faded, and they had slid into the upper middle class.
The Governor of Guanabara, elected by voters opposed to the military, had to subdue the students or risk being dismissed from office by the military government. He authorized the police to use arms. This order injected a new seriousness into future resistance. In the minds of the rightists it also legitimized the police’s previous use of firearms. The Governor closed all institutions of higher learning without saying when they would reopen. The war was on.
Customs officials today opened a 60-pound teddy bear they found lying on a bench at Galeão International Airport in Rio de Janeiro. The bear contained 311 women’s nylon panties and 82 dresses. Customs officials said that within the past three months they have seized about U.S. $450,000 worth of contraband, including nine machine guns, 7,600 electric razors and 770 pounds of human hair.
A 32-year-old newspaperman, Marcio Moreira Alves, had been elected to Congress in 1966 on the strength of his widely read column in Correio da Manhã in which he frequently assailed the armed forces. On September 2 he had made a speech on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies urging people to stay away from the annual military parade on Brazil’s Independence Day as an act of protest. He compounded that affront in October when he advised Brazilian mothers not to let their daughters go out with military men, and then had the impudence to deny that he had intended to insult the military.
I cannot support this feeling,
Of give and give,
This crisis of love
In Paraty the threat of tourism was unmistakable. The tiny colonial village had a fine harbor, baroque churches, charming squares. It was being rediscovered by people from São Paulo who were restoring some of the abandoned houses.
He was comfortable with his asceticism, which wasn’t spiritual — it was just easier not to own too much.
In my high-heeled pumps, my gait invited street comment. A man with an umbrella pressed firmly against the side of his pot belly called out to me: “Olá, bomba atômica.” He invited me to run away with him, the sooner the better. I acknowledged his attention with a barely perceptible sashay.
“In a month the rains will come and the land will be transformed into water,” the lieutenant colonel said. “Life won’t return to the forest in all its variety for six months.” He spoke slowly, as if summoning weighty memories and images. “Bananal is especially beautiful in the dry season. Along the river, white sandy beaches appear. What’s dangerous
isn’t the jaguar or the maned wolf, it’s the struggle between the Stone Age and commerce. If the Indians don’t own the land outright, at least they should have the right to live unharmed on lands they’ve inhabited for centuries.” He paused to look directly at us. “Perhaps you think the Indians are bloodthirsty warriors with poisoned arrows? They aren’t, though they can become that when they are pushed. The Indians are in the way of the farmers, the cattle ranchers, the gold and diamond prospectors. It takes a lot of nerve to make a fortune in the Brazilian jungle.
“For the businessmen, Indians are worse than useless. They occupy government-protected land and they resist work. The Indians would rather die than be enslaved. So what do the land grabbers do? You know the answer — they massacre the Indians. Torture them. The misery is immense. They use planes and bomb them or shoot them
from the air with machine guns. They give them poisoned candy. It’s all in the Figueiredo Report.”
Everyone expected to be met by force. We were prepared for clubs, but instead we were confronted by 50 policemen on horseback, waving naked sabers. The color drained from our faces. For a moment the scene could have been mistaken for a dance performance, a lethal ballet. The swords glinted in the sun. Disbelieving, the marchers backed away from the horses, huddling themselves into smaller targets as they recoiled. I folded my arms tightly across my chest and hunched over, realizing only later that I had been exposing my neck. The sabers tested the air in small circles, then randomly slashed downward.
Brazil is a private club. By half past 11 in the morning, its members — the conspirators of the day — have met. They darken your path, confuse your messages, send you on wild goose chases to see someone who couldn’t help you even if you found him. By late afternoon the traffic moves in, trapping you in the post you are guarding.
Things are never what they seem. You begin to think you understand at your peril. Two men spread the word that they are enemies; they turn out to be accomplices.
Brazil is a spider’s web.
A loud crack cut me off. A piece of something went flying. Another crack. It took me a few seconds to realize it was not a backfiring car but a gunshot. I felt my face flush. Another gunshot rebounded to our left.
No need to cure diseases, life expectancy
Is just not to expect.
David’s apartment was immense. Rich nut-wood burled paneling, the color of caramel candy, came halfway up the ivory walls. Etched-glass art deco cocktail tables were interspersed between vanilla-colored sofas and ottomans. The living room, dining room and library were satiny smooth and sumptuous.
Among the more incredible scripts of horror discussed by the high command was a plan to blow up the gasworks adjacent to downtown Rio during the evening rush hour. This provocation, with deaths estimated at 100,000, was to be blamed on communists.
Ash Wednesday dawned bright and hot. I left the apartment at 9 to take a bus to the hospital. Rio was a shambles. Sleeping bodies lay everywhere. Drunks sitting on curbs held their heads between their knees. Tattered princesses, stumbling viceroys, dazed Arab chieftains wandered in the middle of semi-deserted back streets. Couples in all
stages of dress and undress slumped together in doorways or lay in each other’s arms at the bases of staircases.
From the tenth floor, the residents and their guests looked past the beach in its evening costume to follow the lights of an ocean vessel gliding through the luscious night.
Captain de Carvalho had continued to hold his ground throughout the winter and into spring. His superiors intended to order the Para-SAR to kidnap 40 political leaders and other “inconvenient persons,” take them by plane over the Atlantic and drop them in the sea. They had targeted two former Presidents, Juscelino Kubitschek and Janio Quadros, the outspoken liberal archbishop of Recife, D. Hélder Câmara, and the former governor of Guanabara State, Carlos Lacerda.
John’s instincts were uncanny. He always seemed to know where to be and where not to be. Slipping between shoving demonstrators and police brandishing rifles, I watched myself sidestep a dangerous knot in the crowd. Faces were sweaty. Someone handed me a mimeographed one-page manifesto. I caught the name Trotsky across the top.
The mob was excited, pious, happy. Tear gas canisters fired. They sounded like dull pops. People stumbled away, wiping their eyes, coughing.
Effortlessly, the city itself stimulated the general sadness by lying invitingly curled around the blue-green bay like a languid woman pressed against the buttocks of her lover. By day her hair was adorned with butterflies, flowers, fleecy clouds. At night she wore a string of glowing
lights — strands of diamonds entwining the tall buildings, the mountains
and the outstretched arms of Christ the Redeemer. Her movements were slow, easy. Rio, the woman, was not in a hurry.
We were at the end of Rio’s suburbs, 30 miles west of the city, not far from the coast, a place where only God survived without hard work. In downtown Rio, the paddy wagons, nicknamed “the Mother’s Heart” because everyone knew there was always room for one more, collected protesters itching for revolution, while outlying Santa Cruz was a place of scavenging after dreams.
I needed time to think, to travel the world, to have experiences that would inspire poems, take risks, keep my eye to the keyhole.
As I walked toward the big movie houses I saw police fanned out everywhere. I was 100 feet away from former President Kubitschek when he was taken into custody as he left the Teatro Municipal. A group of Army officers cleared a path and took him. He looked astounded as he was marched toward a black sedan idling at the curb.
There are two races in Brazil, the beautiful women and the unattractive men. In New York I met incredibly handsome Brazilian men, but in Rio they’re mostly plain. They must give passports only to the handsome ones. The beautiful men are for spreading false impressions about Brazil abroad.
Let’s marry on horseback
At the Police Academy,
With an apple split in two,
Half for the marrying magistrate
And half for the horse.
The front of the house looked down on Santos Dumont, Rio’s airport for domestic flights. There was a broad stone terrace where Nelson Claudio and his friends would sit drinking beer and watching the planes take off and land. From time to time I would leave the typewriter to stretch my legs and join them. If he was alone with a girl, I would often find them pressed together.
The moon would never again seem so far away, so unreachable and mysterious after Apollo 8’s circumlunar trip. Later we learned The New York Times had reported that, while the Pope spoke from the balcony of his private study on the top floor of St. Peter’s Basilica, a
group of 150 people, mostly youths, demonstrated against the Brazilian government in the square below.
I now know that, as a result of the events of December 1968, lives would be lost, dear friends forced into exile and an entire generation of Brazilians grow to middle age without ever having voted in a democratic election.
I found my way to a helpful clerk who handed me clips about the killing of Herberts Cukurs, a famous prewar aviator who had become an SS officer. He had fled Germany with the retreating Nazi troops and turned up in Brazil in 1946. He was so sure Brazil wouldn’t extradite him that he lived in São Paulo under his real name, married, had children and set up a thriving tourist excursion business. In 1964 he was lured to Montevideo, where he was shot to death in an isolated beach house. The killers had sent messages to the press, signed: “Those who will never forget,” saying that Cukurs had been found guilty of murdering thousands of Jews in Latvia and had been executed for his crimes. The messages told the Uruguayan police where to find his body. Pinned to Cukurs’s shirt were the charges leveled against him and the verdict of death.
On Friday nights, macumba priests would arrive to honor Iemanjá, goddess of the sea. Worshipers dressed all in white lighted candles whose flames fluttered in the warm breeze. They offered gifts that a proud woman would esteem: lipsticks, fragments of mirror, combs, hair ribbons, fresh flowers, perfume.
A gasoline bomb set a Volkswagen Beetle on fire. Within seconds the car was enveloped by flames, so hot they seemed to suck me toward them. The heat tore at my face, singeing my eyelashes. People standing around me were immobilized. Finally, with great effort, I managed to push my way backward through the crowd, away from the car. It was impossible to turn to run. I reached out and grabbed the arm of a young woman and pulled her along with me. Another car burst into flames several yards away from the first blaze.
I was filling my notebook with the practical things the reader of my article would want to know: that all the beaches in Rio are free, that there are no restrooms, that oceanside hotels do not provide private cabanas, that volleyball players eager to set up their nets may unceremoniously disrupt your peaceful sunbathing, that skinny black vendors incessantly march up and down the beach blowing whistles to hawk their ripe coconuts, pineapple, skewered bits of filet mignon, Coca-Cola.
Politics — at least the kind I was used to, with contested issues, campaigns and regularly scheduled elections — didn’t exist in Brazil under the military government. Instead, what passed for political activity was limited to intense rhetoric.
Bounded on the west by the broad green waters of the Araguaia River and on the east by the narrow black waters of the Javaés, Bananal is the largest river island in the world, about the size of Belgium.
I was determined to be exuberant, incautious, as if everything I would think and do would carry the permissions, the possibilities, the grandiose delusions set loose in that year.