PC 34 Recife, Brazil

Palm trees …… sea breezes …… the sound of the surf … and warm air; it’s easy to conjure up a typical tropical shore, huh? So we went north to Recife, a city at the eastern tip of Brazil, closest to Africa, where we found palm trees, sea breezes, the sound of surf and warm air. If you will indulge me with a little imagination and time travel, we met Robert Avé-Lallemant, an explorer from Lübeck in Germany, who described his visit to Recife in 1859 thus:

“A city entirely devoted to commerce with a population of around 100,000 souls. Lining the enchanted lagoons and in the city centre, the recently constructed houses and public buildings have already begun to take on a certain air of distinguished beauty which promises, one day, to make this city, risen from the waters, one of the most beautiful in the world, to rival even Hamburg with its magnificent Alster Bay. The views from the various bridges in all directions, especially to the north where the old city of Olinda sits majestically on a hill, are indescribably beautiful. With all this Recife in Pernambuco State is the true city of the future of Brazil.”

“So clearly, Robert, you enjoyed your time in Recife and saw its potential?”

Absolutely! It is a wonderful location, ja, with the Sāo Francisco river estuary creating these three main islands. Thanks to the Dutch and their experience of waterworks in Holland, they managed to drain and channel the river in a way that the Portuguese never imagined. The natural off-shore reef allowed for a wonderful protected harbour and this city became the major port of Brazil. Incidentally, the Dutch were thrown out in 1654and most sailed to New Amsterdam, which became New York.”

 “But wasn’t it the capital of Brazil?”

Ach! So! But as the trade in sugar in the north dropped off and that of gold and coffee in the south grew, the political focus shifted and Rio de Janeiro became the capital in 1763. It held that crown until 1960 when Brasilia superseded it.

“So what do you think people fly to Recife for?”

 “Fly? What is this “Fly”?”

“OK! We’ve learned to travel in the air! It takes three hours to travel from Rio to Recife …. a little bit quicker than your journey by sailing ship …. but if you can imagine looking down on Recife in 2015, the first thing you would see is the unconstrained building of high-rise apartment blocks as far south down the coast as the eye can see; like pins sticking up from a pincushion. Your prophecy that Recife is ‘the true city of the future of Brazil’ has sadly not been fulfilled. It now only attracts holiday makers to its beaches further south, particularly Porto de Galinhas.”

“So why did you come?”

“Eight years before you were here, my great grandfather Richard Sidney Corbett was born on a ship in the harbour. In those days I guess this now empty harbour was full of sailing ships. Along the old waterfront is a half a kilometre long line of abandoned sugar warehouses. I wanted to see this place, smell it, imagine the hustle and bustle of old. I also wanted to see the Cemitério dos Ingleses where a relative or two might have been buried.”

“But Olinda is beautiful, nicht wahr?”

“Robert, you probably saw it at its best! Today the small cobbled streets of this town that the Portuguese established in 1535 are crowded with cars and, whilst the little brightly-coloured houses are extremely picturesque and the churches numerous and ornate, it has a sad, rundown feel about it.”

“Bitte? What is a car?”

“We can not only fly, Robert, but burn minerals to drive carriages; no horses!”

Wunderbar! So did you like modern day Recife?”

“Well, some parts! Those buildings you talked about are still there; the pink Teatro de Santa Isabel and the Palacio do Campas das Princesas are gorgeous and they have restored some houses on the oldest island Bairro do Recife, although others are gaunt shells. The prison you saw, that one built in 1850 mimicking US gaols, is now the Casa da Cultura, with each cell occupied by a shop selling leather, lace or ceramic crafts. We enjoyed the Mercado de Sāo José, a covered market selling everything from crafts, to clothing, to fish ….. and some mounds of meat which defy description (!) but this was only built in 1875 so you would not have seen it. And then there are the two enormous forts, a mixture of Portuguese and Dutch architecture, which guarded the entrance to the harbour.”

Ah! Yes! I remember them. Magnificent! Maybe it’s best if I keep my lovely memories as they are and not allow them to be influenced with your modern view. Now, tell me more about flying and cars …… bitte?”

Richard Yates – richardyates24@gmail.com

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