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Brazil

Day 25: São Luís

Michael Palin - BrazilThis is our last day in São Luís and it's also the last big day of Festas Juninas and the climax of the Bumba Meu Boi festivities. Which is why we find ourselves, just after sunset, back in the streets of Floresta, waiting to travel with Nadir and her performers to one of the specially built stages in the Old Town where every group from all over the city is given its forty minutes in the spotlight.

The Florestans have been rehearsing for almost two months, but Nadir is still not sure how many of them will turn out on the night. They arrive slowly, slipping out of the dimly lit streets and down the passageway into Apolônio's house, which once again acts as rehearsal room, costume store, make-up and music room.

Nadir, slight and fragile in jeans and a T-shirt, runs the whole show, organizing, directing, cajoling as young and old arrive to take part. The magnificent head-dresses of emu feathers and palm leaves are loaded onto two pick-up trucks together with a selection of hand-made masks. Old men, children, mothers (one wearing an 'I Love Shopping' T-shirt under her sequinned red waistcoat) put finishing touches to their make-up. Under the glare of the lamp outside number 101, Rua Tomé de Souza, a man in green trousers and a pink shirt runs through some dance steps. Apolônio isn't coming into the town. It's too much for him now, but I see him through the iron-grilled window, holding court in a room with a red sofa and a television. With a grinding of gears and a rasping roar of old engines, two chunky school buses lumber up the hill and heave to a halt in the narrow street beside the church.

One by one people climb aboard, most of them carrying the costumes they'll change into when they reach the centre of town. Such has been the turnout that it's clear that not everyone will be able to get aboard. But somehow they do, almost 160 of them. It's an impressive endorsement of Bumba Meu Boi, especially for somewhere so bereft of resources. Wedged ever closer to each other, we wait for the buses to fill up to bursting point, but no one complains and there's always room found somewhere.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 25: São Luís
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: São Luís
  • Book page no: 110

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