50 Years of the Fusca (VW Bug)

Here’s a documentary (in PT) about how the fusca (VW Bug) came to Brazil and became popular.

Part 2, Part 3 & Part 4.

Sampaio Moreira – São Paulo’s First Skyscraper

“Built in 1920, Edificio Sampaio Moreira was the first skyscraper in São Paulo and stands in the Anhangabau Valley, in the heart of the city. The area has already been through a golden age and a spell of decline, and is currently going through a period of revitalization.” – Red Bull House of Art (see how it’s currently being used)

“Considered a colossus, at the time, it even scared people.” – Cristiano das Neves, the architect.

With 13 stories and 50 meters in height, the Sampaio Moreira building ranked as the tallest building in São Paulo between 1924, the year of its inauguration, and 1929, when it was beat out by the Edifício Martinelli (with 30 stories). It is considered the first large multistoried building in the city, as well as one of the first in the country to present such typology. Considered the “prototype” of São Paulo’s never-ending skyscrapers – built in a time when other buildings maxed out at 4 stories -, the Sampaio Moreira building is registered as a historic site by the city due to its historical and architectural importance.

(Martinelli on the left and Sampaio Moreira on the right)

More Info

Prédio Sampaio Moreira (in PT, with old photos)
The Verticalization of São Paulo (in PT)

The Life and Times of Baby

Below, a Time magazine article from 1950

“Of all the roughriding industrialists whose energy and daring have made Sāo Paulo one of the world’s fastest-growing cities, by far the most untrammeled is Francisco (“Baby”) Pignatari. At 33, Baby has already built an industrial empire worth some $25 million. In his spare time he has enjoyed life with a free-spending gusto that has won him the undisputed title of Brazil’s champion playboy.

Almost nightly, when Baby is in Sāo Paulo, his Cadillac pulls up outside a plush nightclub known as the Oasis. The Oasis’ bartender keeps a special highball glass ready with “Baby” etched on the side. There, not long ago, Baby used a whisky bottle to etch some less formal inscriptions on an uncooperative trombonist’s brow.

Whistle at the Door. After one Oasis evening, Baby and a brunette playgirl, roaring down a Sāo Paulo road at 70 miles an hour, veered away from an-unmarked excavation, slowed down with brakes screeching, then smacked into a telephone pole. Peering past the sedan’s crumpled nose, the girl complained: “The telephone pole is still standing.” Without a word Baby backed up, stepped on the gas and demolished both pole and Cadillac.

One night last week, while socialites gathered around the illicit green gaming tables of the recently reopened Quitan-dinha Hotel at Petropolis, Baby stepped to the door, blew a shrill blast on a police whistle. As the guests scampered out, Baby tipped his straw hat to them. Another time, when he visited New York, he booked a suite of eight rooms in a Park Avenue hotel, rang up various girl friends and gave a continuous house party.

But neither his pals, parties nor weekends—which have sometimes been spent overturning speedboats at Santos or buzzing a Beechcraft over apartment houses—seem to interfere with Baby’s business affairs.

His Italian-born father started him at 19 in the family metals plant in Sāo Paulo. Not long afterwards, the father died. Taking over the business, Baby resolved to build an industrial empire. He drove himself hard from 7:30 a.m. till the Oasis opened at night. He showed an extraordinary mechanical bent. He wore old clothes, worked in the shops, ate with the men. His war-booming Laminaçāo.ao Nacional de Matais grew into the largest non-ferrous rolling mill in South America, employing 20 times as many men and doing 40 times as much business as in his father’s day. Soon Baby was making the army’s machine guns, buying copper and bauxite mines, opening retail stores to sell the pots & pans his factories made. When friends brought him their planes to repair, he began building light aircraft.

Experts in the Shop. By 1948, Baby was badly overexpanded. He hired U.S. experts from Westinghouse International to modernize his setup. They found that Baby had never had his books audited; he had simply poured his surplus into likely new enterprises, taking out his expenses as needed. The experts worked hard (and ran up some sizable expense accounts themselves) trying to reform the Pignatari operations. After a year, Baby kicked them out and took over again himself.

Last week, with a few new grey flecks in his crewcut hair, Baby was in Rio for a relaxing round of cabaret crawls and pre-carnival binges. Lounging in his suite at the Copacabana Palace, he boasted that business was better than ever now that the experts were gone. Actually, by slicing off a couple of his unprofitable enterprises, the U.S. advisers had done him a real service. His assets, he figured, were now higher than they had ever been. Said Baby: “1949 was a good year for me. Gross sales won’t be far from $25 million when the figures are added up.” Before he left Rio Baby hoped that $1,000,000 worth of new U.S. equipment would reach his Sāo Paulo brassworks, and that $2,000,000 would come through from Aluminium Ltd., of Canada. With the money he plans to open an aluminum smelter in Minas Gerais. – Time

Jornal do Brasil – News Without The Paper

“Starting today, one of Brazil’s oldest newspapers will be available online-only. Due to mounting debts and low circulation, the Jornal do Brasil has stopped publishing a print version, the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas reported.

“Quality. Interactivity. Respect for Ecology. Alignment with the future. Innovation,” the publication stated in defense of its switch to online-only. The decision was the result of lengthy analysis and a reader survey. “In these last weeks, some readers of JB – and especially many non-readers – have expressed legitimate and democratically in favour of maintaining the paper version of the newspaper … In their arguments, there have been references to the story of JB, its great characters, the glorious career as a space for freedoms. The fact is that these assets are not lost, but expanded again in the electronic medium,” the article states. “They can not choose to close their eyes – not to the future – but to the present media around the world: the way, relentless and increasing the digital age … The JB will still exist – agile, modern and influential.” – Source

Juca Pato – The Politics of Humor

(His slogan: “Podia ser pior” – “It could be worse”)

Juca Pato was a creation of the cartoonist, illustrator, painter, historian and journalist Benedito Carneiro Bastos Barreto, known by his pseudonym Belmonte. From the 1920’s to the 1940’s, he had his satirical illustrations shown in the newspaper Folha da Noite (later called Folha da Manhã and now known as Folha de São Paulo). From the start of the 30’s and the coup d’etat led by Getúlio Vargas, the DIP (Dept. of Propaganda) prohibited Belmonte from critisizing the Brazilian government through the use of humor, something he had been doing quite successfully throughout the 1920’s (and which was ironically also temporarily prohibited in the current 2010 Presidential race in Brazil).


Belmonte’s signature caricature was Juca Pato and the only role that characterized protest for more than 20 years. Juca Pato was the voice of the non-conformists, of the ‘Zé Povinho que sempre paga o pato” (Joe Blow that always gets blamed for everything), he was the common citizen, the worker, the honest one, the tax payer. Juca was often perplexed and irritated at the cost of life, at bureaucracy, political corruption and the exploitation of the people.

The well-humored figure known as Juca Pato spoke the language of the people – he became the name of a race horse, brand of notebook, cigar, bleach, coffee and the unforgetable Juca Pato Bar, in downtown São Paulo, the meeting point for the bohemians of the city, mainly theater actors, radio personalities and soccer players. Back in the late twenties up until the 1940’s, one could ask popular opinion on the streets of São Paulo who best represented them and the answer was likely to be ‘Juca Pato’. I think it’s time Juca gets brought into the 21st century.

Short Documentary (in PT)
Article on Belmonte & Juca (in PT)
Archive of Belmonte texts (in PT)
Banning Political Humor in Brazil – Time

The Role of the Tropeiro in Colonial Brazil

I recently read a booklet called Comunicação e Cultura Brasileira (Communication and Brazilian Culture) by Virgílio Noya Pinto which looks at Brazilian history through the lens of communication. A short section on the job description of the tropeiro caught my eye, so I’ll translate it here. Pardon any run-on sentences as such a thing is not considered incorrect in the Portuguese language.

Cities, Towns, Settlements

It’s important to observe that the predominance of gold in the Brazilian economy determined profound social alterations. To start, the influx of Portuguese provoked an enormous demographic growth, which also was contributed to by the importation of African slaves, each time more necessary as labor in the extraction of gold and, previously, of diamonds. Another consequence was the development of urban life. While the sugar economy characterized itself by rural isolation, the gold economy developed urban life and with it emerged intermediary social classes which created an increasingly complex primitive duality between the owner-slave.

Highlighted among the new social types, under the point of view of communication, was the tropeiro. He was the transportation merchant, the possessor of a troop of muares (the species from which mules come), “that would go through the interior, renting their services, selling cargo space on its animals […] or acquiring items that he himself loads on the animals for future sale.” On his constant travels, he would draft webs of communication between the cities, the towns and the settlements and, at the same time, he was the official envoy, the mailman, and the bringer of news. He was the business broker, the bank agent, the note carrier and the ‘airman’ of ordered items and receipts. The troops were formed by allotments of mules guided by an experienced animal which received the name of madrinha (lit. godmother, sponsor). It was upon the madrinha that one demonstrated social hierarchy among the tropeiros: the richer or more powerful the tropeiro, the more decorated the animal, flaunting feathers, mirrors, tied ribbons, jingle bells and adornments of silver. In this sense, there can be an analogy made with the truckers and the eighteen-wheeler trucks these days.

The tropeiros of animals, aside from the economic role that they played, were also of grand importance as a means of communication in the 18th and 19th centuries in Brazil. They only began to disappear in the face of competition brought about by the ‘iron highways’.


Initially called homens do caminho, tratantes or viadantes, the tropeiros became fundamental to the trading of slaves, food and mining tools. Far from being specialized merchants, the tropeiros bought and sold a little of everything. The existence of tropeirismo was intimately related to the constant coming and going taking place on the roads and ‘highways’, with special mention to the Estrada real (Royal Highway) — the main path on which the mined gold arrived at the port in Rio de Janeiro.

Along the routes through which they traveled, they helped to sprout many of the present-day cities of Brazil. Settlements like Taubaté, Sorocaba, Viamão, Santana de Parnaíba, Cruz Alta and São Vicente are some of the pioneering cities that can be highlighted for the activities of their tropeiros.

One of the first markers of tropeirismo was when the Portuguese Court installed the Founding House of Taubaté, also known as the Royal Office of Quintos, in Taubaté Village (SP) in 1695. Starting from this point, all the gold extracted from Minas Gerais had to be taken through Taubaté and from there it went to the port of Parati, where it was taken to Portugal, via Rio de Janeiro. With all that gold leaving from Rio, it became an obvious choice as the capital of Brazil during this time, a title it kept for almost two centuries.

When Chaucer’s fiction becomes reality

St. Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day (February 14th) in the U.S. is tomorrow, but aside from it being pointless (as if someone can’t treat their partner well for the rest of the year), it is celebrating a saint that no one knows anything about. On top of that, there are false expectations of chocolate, dinner and roses that every man feels they have to cave in to, all of which have been completely invented by the bosses of certain businesses in our consumerist society.

Let’s first look at the so-called Saint Valentine. If we go back to the first mention of him (or rather, them since there were many St. Valentines) in the year 496, we see that pretty much nothing was known about this person, aside from the belief that he was martyred. At this point, he apparently went from being known as Priest Valentio to St. Valentine. If we skip ahead all the way to the fourteenth century, we see that the romantic notions associated with St. Valentine were merely invented by the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer (in the “Parialment of Foules”) and his friends. In the year 1493, it is here we see the very first physical representation of him in the form of a woodcut portrait, alongside a text stating he was a priest imprisoned for illegally marrying off Christian couples.


As for the significance of the date, there has long been something called the Feast of St. Valentine which is based on a Pagan ritual called Lupercalia, celebrating fertility and named after the wolf, or lupus. Plutarch, a Greek historian of the time, described Lupercalia as such,

“Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs (a piece of leather used as a whip). And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.”

The day for celebration according to the Pagan ritual was February 15th and the change to February 14th (as well as changing the one being worshipped from the wolf to St. Valentine), was mandated by the then-Pope and is believed to be the Christian Church’s effort to Christianize the celebration. All anyone knows of Saint Valentine though is basically that he was apparently a saint…oh, and he was supposedly buried on February 14th. Nothing like romance and being buried, eh?

Dia dos Namorados

Moving on to the Brazilian tradition called Dia dos Namorados (Day of the Couples/Lovers, loosely translated), which is celebrated on June 12th, the eve of Saint Antonio’s Day. Saint Antonio was a Portuguese saint who was believed to have married couples although originally, he was the patron saint of pregnant women and seekers of lost articles.

In any event, the Brazilian tradition is just as false as the American one and most likely, actually inspired by the commercial success of it. In 1949, the publicist João Dória arrived in Brazil from being abroad and met with influential businessmen in São Paulo to discuss bringing the idea to the Brazilian market. Since June was a low-selling month, they all decided that the eve of Saint Antonio’s Day would fit quite well.

On a side note, on many cards and advertisments for the Dia dos Namorados, a phrase from a famous sonnet by Vinicius De Morães has been falsely used. The sonnet is called the Soneto da Felicidade (Sonnet of Happiness) and the phrase pertains to the very last line which says “que seja infinito enquanto dure” (may it be infinite while it lasts). The phrase used in the advertisments and the one most people will quote uses the word ‘eternal’ instead of ‘infinite’. Some say they’re basically the same thing but to me, infinite conjures up ideas of space, size and extent while eternal infers extent only.

Perhaps though, I shouldn’t be complaining. It’s about time someone (me) invents a new commercial holiday based on….what do you say? A children’s nursery rhyme? A comic-strip? A silly superstition? I’m currently accepting suggestions and we can even go 50/50 on it.

Secrets, Guarded and Shared

Recently, I read on a tech site that a Facebook group called Secret London got so big, it had to start thinking bigger, meaning it had to become its own site. Secret London is a group of Londoners who share secret spots with each other in an effort to get to know the London that can’t be found through official channels. This London is about who you know because it’s the ‘whos’ that are the ones that know the ‘whats’ and the ‘wheres’. Anyways, a bit of a discussion is going on as to whether taste is best shared or guarded (best to read ‘guarded’ first).

In the same vein as Secret London, you can bet there exists a Secret Brazil, just not in any official capacity. Practically everyone in Rio, for example, has a secret spot or a favorite place to go to think, to see the sunset, to visit on certain days because they know there’s free admission that day, etc.

The interesting thing about taste is that it’s pretty personal. Socially-speaking, it could be said that taste is non-existent as long as others don’t share the same taste. Saying someone has good taste is also saying that you have enough taste to know such a thing. In terms of the masses and in the same sense as the concept of cool, the labeling of something as tasteful also slowly kills it off. In other words, it gets played-out, over-consumed or in the case of a place, over-crowded, etc. Perhaps it can even lead to a broken window.

So here I am, thinking that I’m giving away all my secrets about Brazil by having this blog/site where I am selective about its content. Upon second thought, I then realize that my purpose here is to show the world that Brazil isn’t just made up of the 4 things I virtually never mention here (Carnival, ‘naked women’, soccer and violence). There’s a Brazil that is little talked about and I’ve made it my job to ‘spill the beans’ (or rather the oranges) about the things and places that should be shared.

Where does Laranjeiras, a neighborhood of Rio, fit in? To make a short story long, I have several friends who call the neighborhood ‘home’ and they all say nothing but great things about it. Those who don’t live there but are from the city of Rio, haven’t ever mentioned the neighborhood to me, as if they never gave it any thought. I’ve only been there once so I don’t have much first-hand experience…but when speaking to my friends, I get the feeling Laranjeiras is a bit of a hidden gem, laid-back, upkept, not too crowded…just right.

Here’s a little background.

“Laranjeiras (Portuguese for orange trees) is an upper-middle-class neighborhood located in the Zona Sul area of Rio de Janeiro. Primarily residential, It is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, having been founded in the 17th century, with the construction of country houses in the valley located around the Carioca River, which bordered Corcovado Mountain. Because of this, the neighborhood was previously called “Vale do Carioca”, or Carioca Valley.

While primarily residential, several important governmental, cultural, and sports institutions and schools make this a bustling neighborhood. Well known landmarks in Laranjeiras include the Palácio Guanabara (seat of the state government of Rio de Janeiro), the Palácio Laranjeiras (official residence of the state’s governor), and the Parque Guinle (Guinle Park), as well as the headquarters and Laranjeiras Stadium of Fluminense Football Club, and Rio’s branch of the Hebraica Social and Sports Club, and several others.

Well-known people that live, or have lived in Laranjeiras include:

  • Cartola, singer, composer and poet
  • Cássia Eller, singer
  • Cândido Portinari, pintor
  • Oscar Niemeyer, arquiteto
  • Machado de Assis, writer.”

– Wikipedia

A lot of history happened in and nearby the ‘Vale do Carioca’, as the region encompassing modern-day Glória, Catete and Laranjeiras once was called. The Vale’s claim to fame comes from the fact that the land used to build the first Portuguese house on Brazilian soil (the ‘house of whites’ where the term ‘carioca’ comes from) was built there where a little later, the failed French colony called the ‘French Antartica’ (lasting from 1555 to 1567) was founded. If the French and their indian counterparts (the Tamoios, with whom they traded and joined in an effort to fight off the Portuguese) had secured Guanabara Bay, today Rio, and all of Brazil for that matter, might be full of French descendents. Think that is far-fetched? A half of a century later, the French had control over the northern state of Maranhão, where its capital São Luis is named after King Louis IX. During the time of the two South American French colonies, France was after its fair share of the Americas (especially after taking Quebec in Canada), an effort they aptly called ‘Nouvelle France’.

As for the name Laranjeiras, it was said to have been bestowed upon the neighborhood by the visiting English author Maria Graham in 1821. She stated there were many orange trees in the area although today there is more evidence to the contrary, that there were many more coffee plants than orange trees back then. Besides, Laranjeiras was the name of a beach, albeit absent of orange trees, near Parati. The theory is that somewhere in the neighborhood of Laranjeiras in Lisbon (which had a garden orchard) lies the origins of its carioca cousin.

I’ll leave you with some photos.