With above-average effort I found a sidewalk luncheonette in downtown Campo Grande that served those 600-ml bottles of Antarctica, and with above-average speed I finished one, because the place was closing. At 7? 7 P.M.? On the way there I'd bought, at below-average availability, postcards, which I did not even lay out on my little square metal table as I sipped; but I was aware that I didn't, and all this made me realize how many Brazilian habits I used to have and, over 25 years, had to lose.

But one habit I'd never lost, and not a bad one it was to begin with, was vacuuming data at great volume the day I arrived in Brazil. 25 years earlier, the very first day I arrived in Brazil, I'd learned the Portuguese words for all visible bicycle parts, and that was pretty good. But I believe I'd got even better with time. On this trip I'd landed in São Paulo, grabbed at once a jet for Brasília, and was bussing in a big counterclockwise crescent back to the big city. Every day was instructive. That morning in 1986, I boggled at the Brazilian who, while selling me the Caloi 10, insisted on copying down numbers from my Texas driver's license. That night in 1989, I hadn't imagined those mesas defending Rondonópolis. These nights in 2011, Brazilian hotel plumbers consistently switch the markings on the "hot" and "cold" spigots. But the first day was just...denser. And...fairer to Brazilians. After the first day, my chief impulse was to photograph bus stations. I resisted this impulse, because it's Brazilians themselves who are this country's only right and decent visual representation.

Coming in: the announcements on the Houston-São Paulo flight were in English and Portuguese, and the travel times always failed to match. Glad the altitudes did!

And onward: the guy next to me on the Brasília flight was reading a book titled A Engenharia do Franchising. It couldn't have made less sense had it been A Paleontologia do Ketchup.

Still onward: In VEJA's São Paulo supplement I read an article about Brazilians - in São Paulo, of course - taking clown lessons. Portuguese, deplorably, already has a word for "clown" but the writer mostly stuck to the English one. Not everybody taking such lessons expected to make an economic go of it. One hobbyist thought he might find a use for his acquired skills in "some social project."

Sure, they painted it white, but... I recognized the Diversions Sector! Contrary to instructions, my cabbie had taken me far from the Brasília bus station, but he had to because in Brasília hotels are in the Hotel Sector...which happens to be cattycorner to the Diversions Sector...which is, still, a big low box. This I saw on a wet blustery walk, before taking the highly exceptional measure of buying canned beer at a gas station, with a view to bringing it to my hotel room and drinking in. Brasília remains spaciously repellent. After 60 years, isn't that strange? This gigantic weedy lot is hardly hallowed. Even Brasília's own designer refused to visit the place. I think he believed his job was to vaguely imagine people just materializing: there is no Transport Sector, and the bus station was obviously an afterthought, the way architects treat stairwells.

Ag News I: you know those Amazonian Indians who deform their lower lips with big wooden discs? Yes, when they talk, it waggles a whole lot. This interview was muted, with an unconnected voiceover, so it was not to impart data but celebrate a feeling.

Ag News II: the feeling is deforestation. Remember that? No. But computers can be programmed to. Northeastern Mato Grosso is not far, and flat enough to fly over - and we did get some real, actual film of the Snoring Mountains, which have been known since at least the 1930's to be nonexistent or all suspiciously tree-shaped - but it was mostly with manufactured images that I was notified the trees were gone and needed to be replaced. With Indians! Just kidding. A little. Seeds were in demand, and Indians could get 'em. Guys in hip colorful briefs did the job. They dropped their harvest into Ziplocs. With an elaborate tackle of cords and pulleys, one ascended a tree. Am I the first to say that when an Indian puts on a helmet, he stops being an Indian?

Ag News III: my reflex, upon seeing the organized seed-gathering, was to snort, "Like no one ever did this before?" But to be fair to 21st-century modish compulsions, probably no one ever did. The seed used to scatter itself naturally; now it was sought after and couldn't be waited for. Still, keepin' things all-natural, the seed was subjected to a processo natural de secagem, which I would translate as "air." A "socio-environmental institute" supervised commercialization. Maybe the "socio-" part is clown-assisted. Latinate descriptors are potent, so much so that non-Latinate cultures cleave to them. (In Slovenia they have fleksibilna diferenciacija, which means Gypsy kids spend some of the school day with all the other kids, and the rest of the school day...elsewhere. You could call it spremenljivo uvršenje but no one ever will.) The human mind conceives disciplines; the human mouth, flown with the unique stateliness of Latinate speech, creates jurisdictions - abstract places that need rules, and rulers.

The Law: across from my hotel, but not exactly in the Diversions Sector, was a mall. I went there because malls in Brazil are genuinely fun and this one had a lively and varied food court. It also had a bookstore. I was looking for postcards but just had to inspect the legal section, knowing it would appall and fascinate - well, OK, just depress - my youngest brother. In view of what I just said about Latinate expression, I'd have to guess English-language legal scholarship sounds exactly like the Portuguese version. I'd also guess each occupies exactly the same volume, actually weighs the same. I did find a downright anorexic booklet by one Lon Fuller, a Harvard prof who'd written a fictitious case study based on two real ones from 19th-century America, both having to do with shipwreck survivors killing and even eating one another. I didn't hang around long enough to learn the Portuguese for No legal remedy! - an introductory law text proved even more interesting. Chapter 1 began with the very reasonable observation that a human always relates to something, even if it's only himself; or as John Donne put it, "Some men are islands." Whoa, huh? Oh. At last I understood the correct uses of algum: before the modified noun it does mean "some," but after the noun it translates best as "no particular." Which was consistent with the Zippy the Pinhead strip I'd seen in 1988, the one where he falls asleep at a Barry Manilow concert and wakes decades later to find aliens have hooked him up to a Ment-O-Meter and are feeding his brain all the turmoil of the 20th century. O Medidor da Mente não mostra efeito algum! It was good to have that cleared up at last. Then the legal scholar demonstrated a fundamental misapprehension of Aristotle's comment on man as political animal. But lots of folks do that.

The Word: after pizza at the food court, by no means because of pizza at the food court, I checked out the New Testament. I opened at random to Matthew 5:3. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth." Maybe the King James version, the Portuguese version of the King James version, is special, but where I expected Abençoados I found Bem-aventurados. I'd have to check my big Aurélio when I got back: the dictionary I'd brought indicated no special Biblical meaning for the latter. On this limited evidence an aventura really was like a wildly successful roll of the dice. Jesus was saying, "The meek risk big but they win big - this whole Earth is at stake but it will end up theirs."

Now, about that bus station: the crummy one I'd last seen in 2000 had been abandoned for an airy and almost beautiful metal-strutted patio, and the cabbie conducted me to it in great state. He'd asked how I was; I said fine and returned the inquiry; he said the day is always good when his first customer is happy. But I am sure his mood is steadily high. He had been a manager for a big domestic corporation, living and working all over southern Brazil, toward career's end being transferred to the last place he ever expected or wanted to go: Brasília. And he found he liked it so much he decided to retire in it. I hope I didn't sound too supercilious when I blurted out, "You liked Brasília?" Outside of some Legião Urbana lyrics, I'd never heard anything good from a Brazilian about the place. He allowed as how it was expensive, but quality of life won him over. Traffic wasn't bad, either, though it was getting that way. He drove a cab for the occupation of it. Brazilians have never struck me as particularly happy, but they can be exceptionally well-adjusted. This sounds a very faint compliment but I don't mean it that way at all. Every morning, every day, these people get up and show up. I was so glad I'd got up and showed up for at least this morning.

And it was, for me intellectually, downhill after that. By the last day of the trip I was hardly speaking. Right next to the big monument in Ibirapuera Park in São Paulo - and how many unsuccessful counterrevolutionaries get 200-foot obelisks? - I saw guys playing American football, and I didn't even interview 'em. Inexcusable. But hunting for an excuse anyway, I might note that their game was 3-on-3, with the "quarterback" hiking the ball to himself, then pitching out to the "tight end" or going deep to the "wide receiver." A lecture on zone defenses, nickel packages, and coverage sacks, though I am sure it would have been eagerly attended, couldn't have helped these guys very much.

© 2011 J.A.Hutter

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