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Published: April 18th 2009
I should really feel ashamed of my current blogging performance. My latest entry was on the 31st March, and was really uninformative. I will do my best to make up for it.
I am still truly enjoying Lençóis. Its small size allows one to meet many of its inhabitants in a short period of time and to soon call it home, whilst its cosmopolitanism (a large part of the population came from other parts of Brazil or from ‘o exterior’) makes you feel connected to outside, makes you feel no different from many of the locals.
My work at the pousada has evolved progressively. Initially, it merely involved translating standardized email responses, trekking information and website information into French and English. Next, I demonstrated some of my excel skills in the hope that it would extend my stay, and it turned out to suit them perfectly. Being an environmentally friendly pousada, they had been trying to measure their water and electricity consumption, but had been writing down the data on paper and making calculations with a pocket calculator. Naturally, I was able to make the whole process much faster and more precise, introducing new variables - such as different parts of the laundry service, garden watering, etc - for them to, in the future, be able to better understand where their energy costs lie. This work was interrupted, however, by a severe storm, during which a lightning bolt caused a lot of the electrical equipment of the pousada to burn (including computer power supply). Since then, my job has been more or less that of an auxiliary receptionist, which a lot of the time simply requires being nice and helpful to what are generally friendly customers.
One of the interesting aspects of living in Lençóis is to be so subjected to the whims of the local natural environment. As I mentioned, a storm caused electrical equipment to burn. I should also mention that almost every time it rains, it cuts the internet supply for the entire town for a few hours and even a few days in the case of more serious rain. After a night of rain, the river which is usually little more than a stream had overflown the bridge by morning. A few days ago, a group of French tourists had to backtrack from their walk because a bridge had been carried away during the night.
Another interesting anecdote: over a week ago, a beehive fell from a tree right next to the pousada’s main building. I was out on a walk and unaware of it. When I returned, I entered the kitchen to get a glass of water, at which point I internally noted that there was a surprisingly large amount of flies in the kitchen today. The cause for confusion comes from the fact that the bees were, luckily, not aggressive African bees but the peaceful native black bees, the size of a fly, and unable to sting. I left the kitchen to warn the other workers of the presence of the ‘flies’, when I heard a buzzing sound following me around. I waved my hands around my head, thinking it would get rid of the insects. How wrong I was. Those bees get stuck onto your hair, clothes and skin, buzzing happily (or not, I couldn’t tell) away as they refuse to budge when you try to brush them off. I had to pick them out of my hair and clothes one by one. Strange experience. I pitied the poor guy with dreadlocks who entered the kitchen shortly after, equally unaware.
Reading wise, I had started what promised to be an interesting book: Memórias das Trevas, by João Carlos Teixeira Gomes. The aim of the 700 pages book was to describe the conflictual relationship between the Jornal da Bahia, a regional newspaper based in Salvador, and Antonio Carlos Magalhães, mayor of Salvador and then Governor of Bahia for many years. I was particularly interested because Magalhães’ reputation had preceded my discovery of the book. He is widely considered as one of the last ‘coronel’, these large land owners who controlled large swathes of the North East of Brazil in many ways: economically, politically (by cumulating as many functions as possible) and often even militarily as it was frequent to have control over militias. Magalhães’ fortune rose during the military dictatorship which lasted from 1964 to 1985, and ruled over Bahia using some of the most violent methods permitted since the promulgation by the regime of the AI-5 (Ato Institucional n°5), which gave the executive power to dismiss parliament and MPs, suspend legal rights and fire judges, rule by decree, and generally gave the military extended powers, which would obviously lead to severe repression of political opponents. In this context, the Jornal da Bahia was one of the Governor’s fiercest - tolerated - opponents. The author of the book having been its ‘redator-chefe’ during that period, it appeared an interesting read. I learnt quite a bit through it, especially the many - legal and not so legal - ways Magalhães used to try to close the newspaper. I stopped reading after about 250 pages however, as I got a bit fed up with the self-congratulatory tone of the book, which had no real historical interest and gave the impression of a somewhat biased account of the period. From reading the book, you could be excused for thinking that he had been standing on his own facing the entire dictatorial system - without much mention of the many people who died at the hands of the regime. In fact, the precise moment I decided to stop reading was when the author started writing pages and pages about a reception given in his honor, and went on publishing all the congratulatory toasts in their entirety. A bit too much.
As for Magalhães, you may well think that the end of the dictatorship led to his downfall. How wrong! In 1985, he became Communications minister under José Sarney’s government, a position which allowed him to hand out favours to his friends and supporters as well as control the national media. In 1991, he was re-elected governor of Bahia for the 3rd time (people never learn apparently), and in 1994 was elected Senator. In 1997, he became president of the Senate, from which he was forced to resign in 2001 when it was revealed that he was spying on fellow senators. He then left his seat to his son, Antonio Carlos Magalhães Junior, but then got re-elected to it a couple of years later. His other son, Luis Eduardo Magalhães, was an MP for Bahia and was president of parliament before he died of a stroke in 1998. You can see vestiges of Magalhães’ power everywhere in Bahia: the international airport bears the name of his deceased son, whilst many streets, schools and other public buildings are named after the father, celebrating his paternalistic care for Bahia.
More entertaining: I have been brushing up on my Brazilian music lately. I suggest you listen to MPB FM online, at http://www.mpbfm.com.br/radinho.asp?bitRate=24. It generally has a good selection of MPB (Musica Popular Brasileira). I knew her before leaving, but after buying a couple more of her CDs here, I have been even more hooked on Marisa Monte’s wonderful voice. I am this very moment listening to Gilberto Gil, who along with musicians such as Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa and Os Mutantes formed the vanguard of the Tropicália movement in the late 60s and early 70s. I have also found some lovely timeless bossa nova style music, by (obviously) Chico Buarque, but also by Tom Jobim, Baden Powell, Toquinho, Vinicius de Moraes, Milton Nascimento and probably many more I forget. In his own style, João Bosco is well worth listening to, with his unique way to make his voice follow the wanderings of his guitar. I could without a doubt add to this list, but that’s what comes to mind right now. I know I’m probably not making justice to Brazilian music but that should do for now.
After tomorrow, I should be going of for a 5 day trek across the National Park. It should be a lot of fun, and I’ll be sure to post an account of it with picture s if I come back alive.
One last thing: Anne has started what promises to be a great blog over at ohthecheek.blogspot.com. You should check it out.
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