PC 06 Petropolis

The road to Petropolis, a one-way dual carriageway, rises up from sea level into the green and lush mountains where the city lies. The air is clearer here, almost 10 deg C cooler than on the coast and the pace of life more relaxed. We arrive at the central bus station after an uneventful 90 minute trip from the centre of Rio. One of the great aspects of life in Brazil is the quality of the loos and after our long journey this is where we head! Celina suddenly asks: “Have you got your passport?” …….. and here’s me thinking I’m just going to have a pee! “Yes!” I reply, not really understanding the significance of the question. Whilst in the UK we don’t have a national ID card, they do here in Brazil and it’s often asked for, so it’s advisable to carry one’s passport for ID purposes ……. I pull it from my pocket. The Loo Attendant (note the capital letters!) scrutinises it …….  and suddenly I am waived through the turnstile without paying  – being over 65 can be an advantage here!!!!

Whilst history was not one of my favourite subjects at school, I now love finding out how certain events have shaped nations and been catalysts for change. If history bores you, skip this bit! When Napoleon was rampaging through the Iberian Peninsula in the early 1800s, confronted amongst others by the Duke of Wellington, the Portuguese Royal family decided Lisbon was too dangerous and sailed for their colony Brazil. After Napoleon’s defeat in the Peninsular War, his failure to win at Waterloo, and his exile to St Helena, the Portuguese king, Juan VI, decided it was safe to return to Portugal. His (crafty?) son stayed on and in 1822 declared himself king, Pedro I, of an independent Brazil. King Pedro I liked Rio de Janeiro but found the summer insufferably hot, so decamped to the mountains some 90kms north, and started the construction of a palace. Well, he didn’t, obviously; he told some senior officials who told some lesser minions and so the palace was built ……. and Petropolis was founded in 1843. Pedro I eventually went back to Portugal and his son, Pedro II, and his family would spend the hot months here and it flourished as the summer court. German farmers from the Rhineland were encouraged to immigrate and to settle on the King’s outlying lands, to help give the palace a charming urban setting. The city becomes a magnate for the rich and famous, all anxious to be connected in some way to the Royal Family and it remained the centre of Brazilian society until the declaration of The Republic in 1889. Their huge ostentatious mansions, now either owned by the State or by medical clinics, stand as a reminder of a bygone age. Petropolis was the official capital of the state of Rio de Janeiro between 1894 and 1902, when that status transferred to the city of Rio. (What if Napoleon hadn’t lived? What if the King of Portugal hadn’t spent time in Brazil? What if his son hadn’t stayed? What if …..??)

We stayed in the summer house of Celina’s father Carlos’s half-sister Teresa, who sadly remained in Rio but who had ensured we had a comfortable night. Her house is very central and lies just behind the Cathedral of São Pedro. The cathedral is made of grey granite and reminded me of something Scottish, although it had been designed by a Frenchman. A small side chapel holds the remains of King Pedro II, his wife Teresa, their daughter Isabella and her French husband Count d’Eu.

The Imperial Palace is now the Imperial Museum, housing memorabilia of the family including the Imperial crown; it’s worth a visit. And for those who run stately homes and palaces worried about the wear and tear on the floors of countless visitors, do what the Imperial Museum does; soft slippers that fit over your shoes are provided, so you can glide around without scratching the floors! A little like speed-skating I suppose; never done it but I imagine?

Another interesting place to visit is a quaint little house built for the Father of Aviation Alberto Santos-Dumont. Whilst history debates whether he or the Wright Brothers could claim the title, this quirky rich son of a coffee plantation owner certainly flew the first heavy-than-air machine supported by a wheeled undercarriage in 1906. Most of his life he spent in France where his aviation inventions are hugely admired. His friendship with Louis Cartier led to the latter designing him a watch he could wear on his wrist, as he needed two hands to pilot his aeroplane and couldn’t look at his pocket watch! He developed MS and returned to his native Brazil in 1931, settling in Petropolis. Look on-line at this house and see the staircase that can only be used if you start with the right foot! His suicide in 1932 is generally thought to be caused not only by his depressed feelings about his MS but also the guilt he felt that his machines were being used in warfare, locally in a 6 month conflict in the state of Sao Paulo.

Growing up in England I used to believe that virtually all the important inventions in the world had been made by the British. Then I began to understand that that wasn’t quite true, that actually the Americans had had a few successes, not to mention the French, then that actually the Chinese had invented everything before everybody else …… and now I have to accept that it was a Brazilian who first flew a heavy-than-air machine and not the Wright Brothers. Heh! Ho!

Back to Rio the following day, a longer journey timewise because of the traffic. We came down to Barra de Tijuca which lies just to the west of the suburb of Sao Conrado and is the site of the main Olympic park for 2016. There is a new bus station and by 2016 the new Metro extension will link Barra with central Rio; currently it’s a huge construction site.

Hope all’s well with you. Smile!

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

PC 05 Sāo Paulo and Cananeia

For those of you suffering the wet and stormy weather in England …… look away now!

Down in Cananeia, when the water in the swimming pool is too warm to be refreshing, you might think one would head out to a beach in a boat. Here the sea was equally warm, maybe even too warm ….. but you have to grin and bear it just the same!

Have just come back from a week in Sāo Paulo and Cananeia, two contrasting places. Sāo Paulo is the largest city not only in Brazil but also in South America with a population of about 11 million; Cananeia is a small coastal town on the border of Sāo Paulo and Parana States. It was founded in 1531 by the Portuguese and lies 300 kms to the south west, sitting on an island in the middle of a tidal estuary – population? 12,000 except during the holiday period when it goes up enormously!!

Celina’s cousin Teresa has an apartment in Sāo Paulo and a beach house in Cananeia. In Sāo Paulo we ate in Japanese and Russian restaurants, visited the large covered market where I tried to eat a Mortandela (see note below!), went to the Bikram studio three times and generally enjoyed our time there. The city, famous for its horrendous traffic and mixed weather, was sunny and the traffic flowed (for us). The part where Teresa lives, Jardins, reminded me of Sydney in Australia although there is no sea!

To drive to Cananeia, you take the main road that runs to Curitiba; it is heavily trafficked with lorries, lorries with trailers, coaches and lots of cars. For a 30km stretch they are building a fourth lane to complete the dual carriageway nature of this arterial road. It should have been finished 3 years ago; the money was granted … but this is Brazil, and not all the money made it to the construction company, hence the delays ….. maybe another 2 years!! It was a long drive to Cananeia and an even longer return!

Cananeia is one of those coastal towns that begs investment ……. but you sense it would spoil it. What price progress for the holiday hideaway where the pace of life is extremely slow, Main Street is a collection of colourfully painted shop fronts, old Portuguese naval canons guard the town hall and the fish shop, in addition to selling all sorts of fish, sells shells, model boats and nautical stuff, all ‘Made in China’!

How do you spend your time in Cananeia? You have a late breakfast, take chill bins loaded with drinks and snacks down to a motor boat, head out to an island offshore or negotiate the inland mangrove channel between the mainland and the Ilha do Cardosa  …….. and find an empty beach; there are many to choose from! The water was warm, the sun strong and hot, the sky that beautiful blue that makes one feel good to be alive. Later you watch pink dolphins playing in the estuary as you head back for a very late lunch; so late that supper is a help-yourself!! On one of the islands, in a little cove that rumour had it had been used by pirates, we found a small crocodile. Teresa’s son Henrique, aged 13, decided to lasso it, hold it up for the photograph (!) before he was persuaded to let it go. When we got back to the beach house, it was about 3 seconds before he was pestering me to email the photograph to him to show his chums – wonderful street cred, I guess, especially if you’re 13!

Some of you may remember me mentioning that my maternal grandmother Grace Corbett’s father was born in Recife, in the North East of Brazil, in 1850. Some of his brothers and sisters married and stayed here. Celina found a Corbett Moreira in Sāo Paulo, who is indeed a relative; there are others. It had been our intention to have lunch with her on Monday, but for some reason she’s staying with her son in Rondonia, up by the border with Bolivia …… a three day camel ride maybe. So we didn’t!!

We trust you’re well and enjoying life.

Love etc

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

P.S. Mortandela is probably the largest ‘sandwich’ I’ve come across. The bread bun must be 15 cms diameter and the filling? 20 pieces of thinly sliced processed meat or turkey interlaced with cream cheese. I struggled to eat half!

PC 04 from Rio de Janeiro

January is the month of holidays here in Brazil (the UK equivalent of August!) but they ended today and everyone is back to work, back to school. And the traffic is back, making trips within the city long and frustrating, with journey times unpredictable.

Weather seems to have dominated the news across the globe in the past month, with extremes in both hemispheres. Here pictures of Christ the Redeemer (Cristo Redentor – Corcovado) surrounded by lightning during an electrical storm were surpassed a couple of days later when lightning struck his right hand, causing damage! As to the heat, well, 35-39 deg C seems to cover it, with night-time temperatures rarely below 28 ….. but then it is Summer. Rain? Er! Once in the last 4 weeks.

A lot of people we know seem to be planning to leave Rio or Sao Paulo during the football World Cup, 17 June – 17 July. Rather like in the run up to the London Olympics, the prophets of doom here imagine a rather chaotic month, but one hopes the reality will be different. Down south in Curitiba, they have until the 18th of February to finish a stadium, or all the games planned there will be moved elsewhere. Pressure! Pressure!

Last Saturday had a day’s sailing. Celina has a friend, from decades ago and who lives in Paris, whom she asked whether she knew anyone with a yacht in Rio. “Well, my brother has ….!!” …….. and this led us to last Saturday, boarding a 38ft yacht with Sergio, Ricardo and Larissa Mirsky and sailing out of Guanabara Bay heading for Niteroi, East of Rio. The weather in this part of the world is generally good for sailing and so it was, with a pleasant breeze, clear sky and a strong sun. We found a good anchorage off a crowded beach, ordered a huge Anchovy (fried!), some pastel (rather like a Cornish pasty without the Cornish!!) and other Brazilian croquette-like fried vegetable Manjoc called Aipim, which was all duly delivered by boat. We sailed back in the early evening, past Sugar Loaf Mountain which forms the western edge of the bay’s entrance and old Portuguese naval fortresses which line the eastern edge, into the Rio de Janeiro Yacht Club (Iate Club RJ) around 7pm having had a great day.

It’s an odd thing to do, maybe, to go to the cinema when the sun’s out and it’s 30 C in the early evening, but we went and saw the Wolf of Wall Street last week. I’d seen a video clip of a discussion between two Times film critics (one Kate Muir) in my digital newspaper, one who liked it and one who thought it overly long. We both liked it and thought Leonardo di C brilliant as Jordan Belfort – highly recommended!

Amazing to think at the end of this week we’ll be half way through our 12 weeks here in Brazil. Time flies when you’re having fun, huh?

Keep in touch.

Love etc

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com