Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Back from Brazil

As my flurry of posts last weekend probably indicated, I'm back from Brazil. Although I'd only been gone for 15 months, I was really surprised at the changes that had happened, in Brazil and abroad.

The change was evident immediately upon arriving at the airport. Thanks to the H1N1 scare ("influenza suina"), all the travelers on the plane (Brazilian and foreign) had to fill out a sheet saying whether they had had a cough and/or fever in the last 10 days in addition to the regular Customs paperwork. And just to be safe, the officials at the gate and at customs who gave us the papers and took them back all wore masks. I suppose precautions are OK, but it still seems a bit extreme of a response to a disease that a couple thousand people have gotten out of more than 6 billion in the world.

Also at the airport, it was very obvious that Rio is pushing very hard to get the 2016 Olympics. Rio's airport has two terminals; one is new, but one was built in the 1970s, and it shows, not so much in deterioration as in design and lighting. However, the (in my opinion, relatively ugly) walls were all covered with materials indicating that the aiprort is undergoing a major overhaul in its appearance, and there were signs all over showing how the aiport will look with the new walls and better lighting. If it looks half as good as the design looked, it will be a marked improvement. And just in case you weren't sure it was for the Olympics, there were signs all over with comments on getting ready for 2016, boasting of Brazil's ability to host, the changes their making to infrastructure, etc.

While we're on the subject of airports, Sao Paulo has demonstrated it may quite possibly have the stupidest airport security policy outside of the U.S. I have now flown into both airports in Sao Paulo from both airports in Rio, and every time you make a connecting flight, you get off the plane and immediately stand in line. For what. To go through security. Again. You of course go through when you're in Rio, and yet when you get in Sao Paulo, you have to do it all over again. I just don't understand this - it's not like Rio says, "meh, security, smecurity" - it's the same metal detector, the same "remove your laptop," the same time waiting in lines. And I just can't figure out the logic for this - it's not like Brazil has had to deal with a rich legacy of (often-deserved) mistrust from the rest of the world, and there isn't exactly a history of terrorist attacks on Brazil via airports. Even in the U.S., which is way too paranoid in terms of security, you don't have to go through security to make a connection. Maybe there's some logic in Sao Paulo, but I'll be damned if I can figure out what it is.

I will want to deal with the visible effects of Rio's new mayoral administration in another post, but in political news, the PSDB is already gearing up against the PT for the 2010 elections. The commercials I saw weren't actually going after Dilma Rousseff herself, nor after Lula; rather, they were simply critical of the PT in the vaguest of terms, basically trying to frame next year's elections as "PT vs. PSDB." I don't know yet if this is smart or foolish politics; on the one hand, getting people to think just in terms of parties could help the PSDB, but on the other, relying on vague condemnations and showing a lack of any good candidate or policy alternative could backfire. Suffice to say, the content of the commercials themselves was appalling, relying on innuendos, non-controversies, and other baseless vague accusations against the PT. While one can level charges of corruption against all parties in Brazil right now (and for generations back), including the PSDB, the PT is not exactly mired in any scandal - the biggest challenge is facing the centrist-PMDB, whose Jose Sarney (president of Brazil from 1985-1990 and current president of the Senate) is embroiled in an expenses scandal. The PSDB commercial tried to say that the PT was directly involved in that, but most Brazilians (at least, those outside of the middle-class Zona Sul in Rio) are smart enough to understand that Brazil is a parliamentary presidential system, and just because Lula and the PT have to collaborate with the PMDB (and many other parties) in the legislative branch, does not mean that Lula or the PT are giving orders to Sarney.

Finally, in cultural news, O Globo has come out with what is quite possibly the Worst Novela Ever. Called "Caminho das Indias" (Road from Indias - yes, it's pluralized, and no, I don't know why), it has some of the most ridiculous exoticism and historical/cultural innacuracies I've ever seen in any country. The basic plot immediately reveals the ridiculousness - an Indian woman who loved a member of the "untouchable" caste in India is now married to a wealthy businessman, and the "untouchable" has also become a successful businessman, and (of course) the two are competitors not just in the business world, but for the woman's attention as well. There are numerous other ridiculous aspects to the plot that are too convoluted to go into here. However, it should be fairly obvious the ridiculous premise that "love can conquer all," including the caste system. Equally risible is the notion of an "untouchable" becoming a major business leader. While I understand that the caste system is nowhere near as rigid as it once was, it certainly is nowhere near as lax as the Novela makes it out to be. And the good times keep coming. While the main female protagonist passes for an Indian, her character's name is absurd: Maya. Yes, a Brazilian actress playing an Indian named after a Mexican indigenous group. But at least she kind of looks the part, which is more than I can say for either of the two main male characters (the latter of whom played an Italian, with much more success, in his previous novela). And the theme song is the worst mish-mash of an "interpretation" of Indian music and culture ever (keep your eyes open for the Russian-like dancer at about 33 seconds in). I was horrified, but having never been to India, thought I was perhaps overreacting. However, last night I showed the clip to an Indian colleague of mine at work, and she was even more horrified and offended than I was. Well done, O Globo - well done indeed.