A few years ago I programmed an intranet "decision tool," a utility that pitched questions and presented answers, with each user-provided choice coming back with more questions and possible answers, until a decision could be rendered. This was well-received, but the folks who commissioned it had no idea it had to be maintained; and having no one to maintain it, they dropped it in favor of a simple single page of Frequently Answered Questions (FAQs). I was not offended. FAQs really made sense. And at least they didn't replace my handiwork with a one-page PowerPoint. Middle management is capable of that, you know!

Actually, the "F" was an exaggeration, since I am sure that on the particular subject, hardly anyone "frequently" "asked" anything. But it did get me to thinking about what the opposite of a FAQ might be. The standard puckish answer is, a FUQ. Well, yeah, but there are more alternatives. Such as, and here I present a number on the far more absorbing subject of Brazil, Slowly Reached Questions. Ones you will ask, if you hang around long enough.

On my 16th visit to the country, I wondered about things I had seldom if ever wondered about before. I must admit, though, that not everything I mused on was really fresh. It could as easily have been on my first visit that I would ask, "Mutunópolis. There's a name for a town. Why would anyone call a place Vultureville?" Thank heaven it took this long, though, because only now have I actually looked up mutum and found it is not an urubu at all but a curassow. And it could have been on my first trip, had I then gone past all those reliably prosperous eucalyptus stands off GO-330 near the Minas state line, that I exclaimed, "Eucalipto, a árvore que sabe crescer!" in that TV-shill voice that all Americans can joke in, as can probably many Canadians, but absolutely no one else on Earth. Or so I have long believed, since long before this trip to this country. Too bad there was no Brazilian to hear this. After having given a hitchhiker a ride the previous day, but not had the opportunity to utter this line, I rather wished for an audience on whom to test my ideas new and old.

Shouldn't the language of every soccertonic country have a word, not merely for "tie," but for "0-0 tie"?

Yes, but I have to wonder if they all even have a word for "tie." Because ties at any level don't seem to matter much. The teams showed up and ran around, and there is scant evidence anyone wanted anything more. The actual number of goals scored always seems immaterial. Me, I'd find 0-0 especially derisory, and coin a special word for it. But nobody in Brazil would. At least Brazilians acknowledge ties. There is hope for the place.

You're trying to get online information on highway conditions in Goiás and Tocantins, but the websites are ludicrously obstructive and obviously self-satisfied, preferring to cite in full the laws that give them jurisdiction over...whatever it is they do, and then scarcely doing it. Is there a Brazilian word for "legalese"?

Not that I know of. Seems to me Brazilians would've picked up on this, though. Well, in case they haven't, may I suggest latiníssimo, "even more Latinate than the way we usually talk."

You're driving around Lake Paranoá, which is a pretty nice thing to do, and suddenly, even though you're well outside the Embassies Sector, you see a sign reading "Armenian Embassy." Which is the more appropriate exclamation: "...and the GOOD news is?" or "...and the BAD news is?"?

I tried both, and could not immediately decide. Fact is, not everything in Brasília is a punchline, or a setup for a punchline. Here, though, I'd vote for BAD, since the next sign I saw was for the North Korean Embassy.

After 25 years, what's changed in Tocantins?

It now has electricity.

Using Tocantins as an example, or not, how do you get your own state?

Be in Brazil, I think. Accounts of the state's evolution make sense to Brazilians, but not to me. Northern Goiás chronically suffered from a lack of agricultural technology while southern Goiás didn't? In the 19th century, what technology, what state-government-monopolized technology was that? And northern Goiás was isolated? But northern Goiás was the part with the navigable river that runs all the way up to where the Amazon meets the Atlantic.

I asked my hotelier in Goianésia why Tocantins got hived off, and she mentioned strikes, and also isolation from a government, though I had the impression it was the federal government, not Goiás's. It didn't sound compelling. Nor has anything I have read about the War of the Araguaia, which was tiny. It does sound to me as though Brazil is a place where ANY failure of governmental authority automatically justifies more government, and - and this is critical - more governmentS. Like a perceived shortfall of customer service means there aren't ENOUGH complaints departments. That is very different from saying the complaints departments you already have just need improvement. Or everyone should just stop complaining.

You just can't get into Latin American Studies. You know it exists. You know it's going on around you. But it just sails right by you. Does that mean anything?

No. Latin American Studies Agnosia is Latin American Studiers' problem, not mine. I say that only because I've been at this so long. Well before this time, I was saying things like Uberlândia has a mall called Ubershopping and isn't that a hoot. Even at this time, Latin American Studiers haven't caught up, and I am now quite certain they never will.

Perhaps for the first time in its history, the U.S. is enjoying consecutive decades of Latin American unawareness. Can Latin America itself take some credit for that?

Yes, maybe most of the credit. I am however going to give dishonorable mention to the Soviet Union, which did do two important things: (1) form, and (2) dissolve. Before the U.S.S.R., American interests south of the border were quaint preoccupations, like comic-opera debt-collection by European navies, the potential increase in the number of slave states, and later construction and defense of a canal. These weren't trifles but when such things become painfully dated, you have to wonder just how clearly people were thinking. Communism, as championed by the U.S.S.R., kept the pot boiling, and maybe that made luckily for a period of political maturation in Latin America, though that is a little hard to imagine. Anyway, once the Russkies finally choked, and Americans forgot why anyone ever cared, Latin America was free to...do its thing?

Its thing has historically been bad government: there has long been a Latin receptiveness to dictatorships, and quite independently of Soviet or American machinations, Latin America could be a bunch of dictatorships right now. But it isn't. Except for the ever more absurd outlier that is Cuba, I think Latin Americans have been less people-haters - whom Communists always hope to harness - than chaos-haters - who have come to learn they don't actually require a generalissimo or a strongman-in-chief to master that chaos. Minus obvious, individual, named villains, Latin America stays out of U.S. sight. All those unmanned but not derelict checkpoints I glided through on Brazilian highways told me that Brazilians still expect an apparatus of control to be in place, that "Order and Progress" are on the flag for an enduring reason, but that fear of disorder doesn't automatically demand a cold iron supergovernment. Good for Brazilians, and for Latin America.

History is by definition written. But is it also by definition read? That is, if events are recorded but the record is ignored, does it nevertheless qualify as history?

I don't think so. The assassination of an exiled Syrian president in Ceres, Goiás, in 1964 is a sharp example. Few people know about this - at least I was totally unaware of it until a few weeks ago - but no one needs to know this. In its current literary form, it teaches us nothing. How did a Syrian president get there before 1964 when this week in 2014, I couldn't get there because rain washed out a bridge? When someone writes THAT, I think it'll be something people would enjoy reading, and when they do, then we'll start having some history.

What's the most instructive way to compare Brazil and Mexico?

Look at the stretch from Guadalajara to Mexico City. It's like the stretch of Texas from El Paso to San Antonio, only green. It explains why anyone would have come to that place; and having come to that place, kept an eye on what was north and south of it. Mexico understands water. Brazilians are indifferent to their rivers. After all this time, few are important. It is still hard even to get to a lot of them. The Tocantins went into decline as a commercial route when the asphalt one called BR-153 was built in the 1970's, yet even today the latter remains a slim lumpy thread, so how much traffic or interest was there ever in the waterway? The Tietê, which you can get to because it's in the city of São Paulo, confirmed for me that Brazilians would rather regard rivers as borders than as highways, as no-man's "lands" than as lifegiving vessels.

For a long time I was unsure whether the two countries even bore comparison, but now I think they do. Besides being very very big, both are very very ugly.

You've been coming to Brazil since right after its last military dictatorship, a subject which isn't much talked about but which has not by any means been forgotten. Now you see, on a TV show about it, an org-chart of dissidence. What's that tell you?

My impulse was to laugh, but then, the military dictatorship did go away, and it doesn't take much pressure to change South America's political scene. Maybe organization worked. I was in any case struck by the absence of dotted lines in the chart. Was it really that way? Or is that how people in Latin America insist "organizations" have to be? I don't know!

Decades after a very unpleasant trip through northeast Brazil, you conceive an interest in returning. Then you find out there is a Museum of the Man of the Northeast and its logo is a liquor bottle on its side. How about returning now?

I tried to ignore that booze picture and pay attention to all the others showing guys working hard in fields. I had in my own way labored as hard under the same sun. But the images just didn't connect with me in any way. Loopy as nordestinos had seemed, they were never drunk in my presence; the connection between their region's dreadful sugarcane economy and toxic liquids such as rum and auto fuel was undeniable but hey, they were just making a living; and I wasn't making a living or really anything at all. A more engaging logo would have been of cacau leaf litter, which when I bicycled over it in Bahia had felt delightfully autumnal, but that just emphasizes how my Brazilian northeast is no one else's. I'll return, but it'll have little to do with what Brazilians are up to.

Florianópolis obviously excepted, do you now think all Brazilian 'ópoli should be called Endlessarmpitópolis and be done with it?

That the idea came only now suggests it is a significant and mature one, although it could just mean Anápolis was simply the first such dump I ever had to drive through. But I am going to answer the question No. I still think the suffix is optimistic and I like optimism. And I feel the same way about all the 'lândias in Brazil too.

What have Brazilian motorcyclists taught you about evolution?

Natural selection is overrated. Either these guys don't get killed before they reproduce, or they do but it just doesn't matter. The mutation just keeps coming back.

Has the number of times in your life you have spelled your name in Portuguese now surpassed the number of times in your life you have spelled it in English?

Yes, I think that is at last the case!

© 2014 J.A.Hutter

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