Saturday, December 10, 2011

Belem, Brazil

Mangoes, mangoes everywhere yet I don't want to eat.

The avenues of Belem are lined with mango trees. It's novel and exotic but it leads to some rather interesting problems regarding slippage. This abundance of tropical foodstuffs had initially perked my appetite. However, eating random crap at small stalls because they look fun has got me to renew acquaintance with that old friend of the backpacker; food poisoning. This has 2 main consequences: My tours of Belem have been rather short and my mood towards the place has been less than charitable. There is a definite before and after. On arrival I would view typical Brazilian displays of enthusiasm as passionate and a sign of a people who wear their heart on their sleeve. Warm people who know how to have fun and mingle etc. Now I tend towards judging them for being indolent, superficial and, in some cases, quite callous. Hopefully I'll be more reasonable once I am off my self prescribed diet of lime juice, peanuts and crackers.

To add to my general toilet related bitchiness is that Belem has introduced me to a famous aspect of developing societies. The very poor amongst the obviously loaded. In the neighbourhood I am staying it's not to obvious as the place is a bit of a shithole but in the nice areas it's very striking to to point of being a bit of a cliché. Scrawny street kids trying to sell crap to bejeweled ladies. Private guards shooing away druggies from the entrance of a shiny apartment building. Macapa and Opaioque had few or no signs of wealth to provide the contrasts and poor people tend to be in small villages on the Amazon. Here, things mix. It's something I will want to look into a bit more but when I feel better and less negative.

It's not all bad in Belem though. It's a strange place as it feels like a boomtown that has slumped but is now booming again. Which is exactly what it is. The old city has loads of derelict buildings whose glory is long gone. There are rails for where the tram used to be. The port that once shipped the rubber (source of Belem's old boom) out is now too small for commercial use and clogged with rubbish. The whole place could do with a scrub up but a look skywards can explain why it won't. That's when you see the tall buildings where the new boom's winners live and work. In effect, the new Belem. The one you see when you get in by boat.

I'm also starting to realise something about colonial architecture in South America. They tend to be pale copies of what there is in Europe. The main difference being a tendency to include native stuff in the artwork. I'm sure I will find this icute but in my grumpy mood it just looks like a rather pathetic attempt to whitewash a very, very inglorious moment in the history of the Church. There is a fresco on the large basilisque here showing JC being holy to a group of Natives on one side and a bunch of whities on the other. Not shown: Whities using JC as a pretext to murder, enslave and dispossess the Natives.

As usual people and their activities come up high on good things to see. My favorite place here must be the Ver-o-peso market. There is a tourist trap section but most of it is a working market. That is unless tourists buy live rabbits, shaved coconut in 20 kilo bags or huge riverfishes. The best part of the market is the homemade remedy section. They have herbal potions for most illnesses and stuff that start to exit homeopathy and enter witchcraft territory. There are a lot of potions to get a person to like you, sleep with you or came back to you once they have dumped you. Most of them instruct you to use them on your target "em segredo". The Amazon kindly presents solutions for the eco-conscious date-rapist.

Beyond natural GHB, the one thing that I found rather intriguing is a bit of a political campaigning going on. It seems there is a vote tommorow on the status of this region. I am mainly guessing but it looks like someone wants to split the State of Para into 2 entities. In Belem at least, they are against. There are flags, adverts, stickers, t-shirts, cars with gigantic banners of the Para state flag and once what seems to be a giant papier mache kangaroo with the colors of the state and the opposiotion slogan of "Nao e nao". To add to the drama the TVs in the cafes often show a song cooked up by local artisst to oppose the move. The video looks like a straight rip-off of Live Aid. Famous folk arriving to the studio, singing while holding their headsets, the big chorus etc.

Anyhoo, I will leave Belem with mixed feelings, a stomach-full of loperamide and a few good photos. I feel a bit miffed that I didn't enjoy the place but that's life. To be fair, this place was just a destination for my boat trip.

Soon I will be on my way to the most famous place in Brazil. The home of Carnaval, samba, tiny beachwear and huge concrete Nazarenes.

Off to Rio,

Take care,



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