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Brazil

Day 11: Belém

 
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Bringing music to the backwoods.
Michael Palin - BrazilWe've crossed the wide river and entered a narrow channel which leads into the heart of the island. After so many days on the wide open spaces of the Amazon system this is a revelation. The narrow waters wind, most picturesquely, past small clapboard houses on stilts from which the local fishermen and their families come out to watch us pass. Children are diving off wooden piers, nets are drying, clothes are being hung out on a washing line strung between two palm trees. Some of the braver children race alongside us through the trees. Then, as we round a bend, Áureo raises his bow, nods his head, and the music begins, augmented by a pumping playback track. The boat slows, the sound of massed cellos sends birds flying out of the trees. Ahead of us is a small settlement of palm-thatched huts beside a green-and-white-painted Pentecostal church. A group of villagers gather curiously as, suddenly and explosively, Led Zeppelin crashes out over the forest. Áureo leads from the front, urging, cajoling and flinging himself into the music.

Mouths and eyes are open wide as we chug slowly towards the village, but it's hard to tell if it's inspiring them or scaring the life out of them. To me it's a little too close to Apocalypse Now for comfort, and I think everyone's a lot happier when they go into their Beatles medley.

Áureo is unashamedly Messianic about what he's doing. 'The cello has become the most popular instrument in Belém,' he raves. 'The other night in the Praça da República 10,000 people cheered for us. It was wonderful.'

He echoes what Priscila was saying about Belém's feeling of isolation from the rest of Brazil. Indicating the orchestra behind him, he asks, 'Our window opens to Europe and to the US. Why is it that only last year we go to São Paulo?' He grins at the memory. To save money they'd gone by bus. It had taken them two and a half days. Though we've only come as far Belém's offshore islands, this glimpse of rural riverbank life is tantalizing. Once the cellos are stilled there is a peace and serenity and intimacy about these settlements that I haven't sensed anywhere else on the magnificent but overwhelmingly huge rivers of the Amazon.

It's all over too soon. The skies are darkening ahead of another deluge, and
we're turning and heading as fast as we can back up the channel and onto the wide grey waters of the Guamá. The huts on stilts lie behind us. Ahead is the high-rise skyline of the city and a plane rising slowly from the airport.
 
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But many do.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 11: Belém
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Belém
  • Book page no: 59

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