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Brazil

Day 15: Brasília

Michael Palin - BrazilI can see what Dinho means. Niemeyer's wonderfully fluent designs may lie on the Eixo Monumental, but there's nothing monumental about them. There's a filigree gracefulness which will take some looking after. Someone will have to keep the shining white domes shining white.

As Dinho says of the original layout, 'There was always a feeling that this would be enough. Brasília would be this size for ever.' It was a forlorn hope. Costa and Niemeyer built a city for half a million people, and from the start it was never enough. The 30,000 workers who built Brasília showed no inclination to go back to their homes when they'd finished and pretty soon they were joined by others from the North who saw that there would always be more work to do. In 2010, when it celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, Brasília, now settled and successful and with a hinterland of rich farming country, was heading towards a population of four million.

Most of the new Brasilienses live in satellite towns spread far and wide over the surrounding plateau, and though there are very strict controls on new building within the original axis, they can build what they want beyond that. The result is that Brasília has lost some of its visual magic, and looks a lot more like anywhere else these days.

If the capital has changed, so has the country. Dinho reminds me that only twenty-five years ago Brazil was facing economic meltdown with three-digit annual inflation and spiralling violence in the cities. Now things have changed. 'We're a long way from social justice – from distributing the wealth – but at least it's top of the agenda now.'

His remains an alternative voice, but he admits his songs are less angry now. We both agree that Brazil doesn't seem to be an angry place. Brazilians tend not to be prohibitive and proscriptive, their inclination is to accommodate each other. I suggest to Dinho that part of the reason might be that, unlike most countries, they don't seem to have a natural enemy to rally against. Since the end of the devastating Paraguayan War of the 1860s, Brazil has avoided any major conflicts.

Dinho thinks there's something in this. 'It may be why we don't go in for American-style patriotism. You won't see national flags hanging out of the windows – except when the World Cup's on.'

Their standing army is small. They have a few fighters, a destroyer or two. He laughs ruefully,'If Uruguay decided to invade there wouldn't be much we could do.'

It's late afternoon now and we've done more talking than looking. We take a last sweep around the iconic Congresso Nacional with its unfenced white concrete walkways and reflecting pools, and Dinho heads back to Săo Paulo and I head back to the shores of Lake Paranoá.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 15: Brasília
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Brasília
  • Book page no: 75

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