Oi oi Michael Palin! This is the real Brazil!

I am writing this blog to help rectify a wrong Michael Palin did to my wonderful wife Maria. Michael Palin, famous for being in Monty Python, and in recent years for his travelogues, decided to visit Brazil for the first time in his life and make a four-part BBC series about it. All fine and good, and my parents recorded the series for Maria and I to watch with them when we went back for Christmas.

(This point is more a parenthesis point. Take a look at the official BBC publicity photo of Palin in front of the Brazilian flag below. The flag says “Ordem e Progresso/ Order and progress” but the flag chosen by the BBC has the “e” “p” and most of the “r” missing. My Brazilian friends have asked me why? Is this some subtle attack on Brazil by the BBC and it’s still colonial need to put down developing countries? I have no idea, but it is an abysmal photo taken by a corporation who I lost respect for many years ago.)

Michael Palin

Nowadays we have the likes of the very amazing Bruce Parry doing the most brilliant documentaries about indigenous tribes, the Amazon and other far flung locations, really keeping it real. So when Michael Palin visited a tribe who seemed to be set up to receive tourists, it was all rather cringeworthy.

Then it got worse.

In episode 2 Palin visited Rio de Janeiro and where was his first destination? A motel, or a “sex hotel” as he continually referred to them. Motels in Brazil are places where Brazilians go to have sex, be it because they still live with their parents, are playing away from home and need privacy (a huge number live in blocs of flats with security guards who know everyone) or some other sordid reason. Things then got worse when Palin investigated the gay carnival scene, lazily and sensationally overblowing every Brazilian stereotype going. Just sex sex and more sex.

Needless to say Maria was phenomenally embarrassed by this. The show felt seedy, and Maria should not have been made to feel so embarrassed in front of my parents (although I have to say my parents are of sound constitution, broad minded and well able to see how poor a series this was).

cantinho da raposa 1

Photo: Simon Robinson

So to rectify Palin (and the lazy and uneducated “researchers” who would have “researched” and booked the interviewees, locations and people visited, I thought I would mention a type of hotel we do not have in the UK, and that is the Brazilian pousada. Although a good translation may be Bed and Breakfast, they seem to lie somewhere in between a B&B and a hotel, and often have small chalets rather than being a single house like a B&B or a much larger building such as are most hotels.

Cantinho da Raposa 2

Photo: Simon Robinson

I have already written about our trip to Monte Verde this week and Maria and I stayed at Pousada Cantinho da Raposa which is a bit tricky to translate. The name means The Fox (Raposa) and cantinho is way to say that here is a little corner of the town where the pousada is.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

The pousada is located in a very quiet part of the town, a 20 minute walk from the high street and has its own large garden and grounds. There are sixteen rooms, consisting of two terraces of chalets and three or four detached larger chalets. I mentioned in the last article the quality of air up in Monte Verde, and it was extremely tranquil resting in the pagoda by the small lake.

Cantinho da Raposa 3

Photo: Simon Robinson

People from the state of Minas Gerais are famous for their hospitality and generosity, and I have to say the level of service we had was outstanding, with a very friendly and warm welcome, and the biggest breakfast consisting of many different dishes of delicious fruits, breads, cheeses, savouries, sweets and juices I have ever witnessed. Nothing went to waste since Maria and I made packed lunches with what we could not eat each morning.

Photo: Simon Robinson

Photo: Simon Robinson

There are many pousadas in Brazil and they are wonderful places to stay when out exploring the countryside and lesser known parts of this vast country.

It’s interesting for me as this week I have read articles about what foreigners think about Brazil and also what Brazilians think foreigners think about Brazil. Brazil is already playing up its carnival image as it gets ready to host both the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, but there is so much more to this complex, perplexing, contradictory and enigmatic continent of a country, as I am constantly learning.

Maria is keen to take me to many more parts of Brazil, so vast both in size and also in terms of richness of nature and sheer diversity of terrain and vegetation, culture and people. Obviously I know that my own audience here on my blog is infinitely smaller than that of Michael Palin, but if more and more of us write more accurate and more varied articles about life in Brazil, a richer picture of this country will help reshape people’s perceptions and conceptions.

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A few days in Monte Verde, Brazil’s “green mountain”

5 responses to “Oi oi Michael Palin! This is the real Brazil!

  1. Simon, obrigada por difundir um outro e mais verdadeiro Brasil, muito diferente do que é insistentemente divulgado lá fora. Por que será???

  2. I wasn’t able to watch the Palin series on Brazil but I know a few people back in the UK who enjoyed watching it – which is somewhat worrying, given the criticism I have read from Brazilians and those who have lived here. I think Brazil’s reputation abroad is still very narrow-minded at best (football, carnaval, beautiful women, beaches). I really do hope that some of the foreign World Cup and Olympics coverage will convey more than that.

    • Brazil’s image abroad is narrow minded. I think that this is partly the fault of other countries, and also partly the fault of Brazil. If you look at the UK and also Scotland, the tourist boards there (Government run agencies responsible for the development of tourism) create television adverts based around changing perceptions. For example, the Scottish adverts link the ruggedness of the highlands and the nature of Scotland with the film Skyfall. Brazil really needs to develop and then execute a strategy for this. I do ask myself what will happen during the world cup. Although the focus is on the stadiums, I do wonder what will happen with the other logistics, such as helping supporters travel around a country which is pretty much the size of Europe. As the Olympic Games is in Rio, the danger is that they do continue to focus on carnival as an image, but there is a huge opportunity though to be taken advantage of.

  3. Pingback: A British Look at the Brazilian Absurdist Comedy of Porta dos Fundos | Transition Consciousness·

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