Brazil ’78

Manchete Magazine cover Feb 18 1978

I first fell in love with all things Brazilian in 1978. My sister Kim worked for External Affairs and was sent on a posting to Brasilia the capital. I was living in Vancouver at the time and decided to go down for a visit. Our mother joined us from Ottawa. I flew via Los Angeles, Lima and San Paulo. It was a long flight – Braniff Airlines from LA – if anyone remembers them.

I was immediately impressed with Brasilia. It’s centre is shaped like a giant airplane pointed towards the Amazon region signifying development of the country. Completed in 1960, it is a masterpiece of modern urbanism and architecture thanks to the work of architects Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer. In 1978 there were no traffic lights in the city (well maybe 1 or 2) since roundabouts were used extensively. I found this amazing.

Brazil’s National Congress – photo Ben Tavener
Brasilia superblocks and W-3 Avenue 1978 postcard

Kim lived in a 2 bedroom apartment complete with paid maid and drinking water service. A 19 litre jug of purified drinking water was always on tap on a dispenser stand. I had never seen this before. We toured around town and visited the Canadian Embassy. I loved the musical sound of a Brazilian’s speech. Everything has an “ee” on the end of it e.g. “Kingy Kongy plays pingy pongy in Hongy Kongy”. Sandwich is pronounced “sandweeshay”.

Kim and Mom at the gate to the Canadian Embassy
Entrance to Oscar Niemeyer ‘s hyperboloid shaped Catedral Nacional
Inside (Brazil is the largest Catholic nation in the world)

I then flew to Salvador, Bahia for a sightsee of 2 days. It is on the coast north east of Rio. It has a fascinating culture known for its food and music. The island of Itaparica is a short ferry ride away and offers a superb beach. It was so hot there! The lady in the photo below accosted me right after I took this picture. I had to pay for the photo or buy some of the stuff she was selling – no problem.

Alto – Upper City view

Language was a problem. I did not speak Portuguese nor were there any English speaking people around. Pointing and use of facial expressions works but it was confusing at times for sure. I bought some nice painted wood carvings at the artisan market. I sampled the spicy food from the local vendors.

Wood cravings by Aquera

Next it was a short flight to Rio de Janiero to meet up with Kim and her boyfriend Andrew who worked in the British consulate there. Andy was really a nice guy and made me feel at home. He had a lovely large apartment overlooking Pria do Flamengo (Flamengo beach). He showed us around and was fluent in Portuguese.

Andrew and Kim
Pria do Flamengo from Andy’s apartment window

We toured Copacabana and Ipanema beaches, Sugar Loaf Mountain, Corcovado, a slew of bars and restaurants. What an incredible place.

Barril 1800 Pub on Ipanema Strip

But the best was attending the 1978 Rio Carnaval – one of the biggest cultural expressions on earth. Andy was able to get us good tickets in the Sambadrome – a permanent set of bleechers where the parade takes place every year. There are 10 or more Samba Schools who compete with costume, floats, music and dancing all night long to gain top honour for their community. It was an absolutely incredible show filled with colour, smiles, beautiful people and great music. It started at about 8 PM and ended around 6 AM!! There were thousands and thousands of dancers and singers. I think we saw Oscar Peterson sitting a few rows in front of us.

Rod Stewart was there too

Exhausted we went home in the morning to recuperate. I bought a cassette tape of the music that year and still listen to it from time to time. This started my love of Brazilian music. The video below is of the 1978 Beija Flor samba school who won the contest for the second year in a row. There were alligations the results were fixed but it was truly a great show!

On the radio was this wonderful voice of Roberto Carlos, the King of Latin music. With over 120 million records sold globally, I doubt you have ever heard of him right? His album Amigo was all over the air waves in 1978. Here is a live version of the title track.

We also listened to Radio Nacional FM (Efee Emee) from Brasilia. In those days there were no commercials and a deep Brazilian voice would announce the time every so often. They played Brazilian pop music (Musica Populeira do Brazil), samba, boss nova, jazz and other regional genres. Of course it is still on the air, try it here.

OK this is getting to be a long post. It was time to head home. I stopped in Guetamala City and Mexico City on the way home. Guetemala City was eerie as many buildings were still visibly cracked from a major earthquake in 1976. In Mexico City I could hardly breath as the air was so polluted with car exhaust fumes.

Guetemala City Catedral under repair
Paseo de La Reforma Mexico City 1978

That’s all for now folks. Thanks for travelling with me! Dave

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