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Day 68: Curitiba

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The Eye at the Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba.
Michael Palin - BrazilFrom São Paulo and Santos, Brazil extends almost a thousand miles further south, increasingly squeezed between Paraguay and Argentina on one side and the Atlantic on the other. This southern 'tail' of Brazil contains some of the richest land in the country and some of its most prosperous cities. If the North-East can be called African Brazil, then the South is predominantly European Brazil. Both were settled by immigrants. Forcibly in the North-East, voluntarily in the South. Curitiba, capital of Paraná State, and with a population of 1.75 million people, has its roots in Poland, Germany and Italy. And on this cool and overcast day you can feel the difference. Everyone seems to be going somewhere in Curitiba, many of them on the highly efficient bus network with its idiosyncratic shelters that look like bottles on their sides. There is little of the rambling street life of Bahia or the preening of Rio. Curitiba is a purposeful place, built on hard graft and earnestness. The roads are long and straight and sensible. A sign on the way into town proclaims 'A Proud World Cup City 2014', and in a street near our hotel is a supermarket simply called Big.

There are poor people here, people who haven't yet made it and probably never will. I see them pushing handcarts with caged sides in which they collect paper, packaging and other recyclables from the street, presumably to sell. And there are favelas in this tidy, rational place, but they're quietly, discreetly tucked away on the edge of town.

There's a feeling the city is trying hard to be cool, though the name of our hotel, the Slaviero Rockefeller Conceptual, suggests they're trying a bit too hard.

There is a museum and gallery in the centre of Curitiba which doesn't have to try to be cool. It just is. It was conceived by Oscar Niemeyer, Brazil's world-class architect, who has made his mark on so many of the cities we've travelled through. The Niemeyer Museum in Curitiba has all his trademarks: wide floors, breathtakingly long, low suspended concrete ceilings, sweeping access ramps, light-reflecting water tanks. At its heart is a most striking feature known as the Eye, a long elliptical pod of reflecting blackened glass, balanced several metres in the air on a yellow-tiled concrete plinth. Broad underground walkways connect the Eye with the rest of the museum. It feels young, light, bright and experimental. All the more impressive, then, that Niemeyer was ninety-five years old when he put the finishing touches to his designs.

The multifarious exhibitions of art, furniture and architecture have a cosmopolitan feel that seems to echo Curitiba's European heritage. There are some strikingly beautiful black and white photographs by Antanas Sutkus, a Lithuanian whom I'd never heard of before, and some of Goya's darkest and most fantastical drawings. Around the museum is a park, one of many carefully laid out green spaces that dot the city and earned Curitiba the title of World's Greenest City in 2007.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 68: Curitiba
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Curitiba
  • Book page no: 286

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