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Brazil

Day 61: São José dos Campos

Michael Palin - BrazilApart from the puzzling motif beside the main gate, of a small plane which has apparently crash-landed on top of a hedge, the approach to Embraer's huge plant feels remarkably cool and composed. More like a liberal arts college than a hive of industry. The gardens around the car park are lush and well tended and the polite security checks seem mainly concerned to warn against smoking and short trousers, both of which are banned anywhere on the site. We have been asked to arrive early as there is to be an official handing-over ceremony of a completed plane to KLM, the Dutch airline. The delivery building is modern, airy, elegant and blindingly white. The Dutch team, two pilots, two ground staff and a team sales leader, wear sweatshirts marked 'KLM City-Hopper Acceptance Team'. They've been here almost two weeks making pre-delivery checks. It's quite a tense time for both sides, as the aircraft, priced at some forty-five million dollars, has not yet been paid for. The Delivery Co-ordinator for Embraer is a tall, affable young woman called Thais and even at this late stage she and others are in hushed consultations at tables stacked high with specification files.

'The carpet issues are resolved,' says someone, and there is much satisfied nodding, 'and the seat plan has been discussed.' More nodding. Then something rather wonderful happens. The Dutch sales manager and his deputy disappear into an office and a few minutes later reappear wearing clogs, long striped aprons and bonnets. We follow them down to the hangar and pick our way between various other aircraft awaiting delivery until we find ourselves standing in front of an aircraft parts trolley that has been converted into a Dutch fish-cart. A striped awning has been attached, some pictures of Holland pasted on the front and plates of snacks have been laid out. The KLM team call me forward, present me with a pair of clogs and explain that this is Dutch Culture Lesson Number 20 (this being the twentieth aircraft they have ordered from Embraer) and that we are to be treated to a Dutch delicacy. It's oak-smoked eel, a speciality of Ijsselmeer in the north of the country. It's served on toast and its name is paling. Much laughter and I find myself in the bewildering position of being photographed with senior Dutch sales executives dressed as fish ladies and the Brazilian delivery team kicking their legs out whilst behind us forty-five million dollars' worth of aircraft awaits its most important test flight.

I ask Thais if this is normal behaviour at the handover of a new aircraft and, crunching on a bit of paling on toast, she confirms that the Dutch are particularly good at laying on something special, and the Brazilians, always keen on a party, encourage this side of the relationship.

'We become families, we become friends,' she says. And I think she really means it as she looks out to where the sleek, fresh-painted 195 waits to be taken to its new home. 'We represent Embraer, we represent Brazil...we're proud to do something that beautiful.'
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 61: São José dos Campos
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: São José dos Campos
  • Book page no: 254

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