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Day 27: Recife

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Looking out over the 'Venice of Brazil' from the apartment blocks they call the Hollywood of Recife. The Capibaribe River sweeps out to sea passing some of Recife's finest old buildings, including the white-domed Palace of Justice.
Michael Palin - BrazilHis apartment may have a fantastic view over the old city and out to the long reef which gives the city its name, but inside it's defiantly geeky. Apart from a punchbag which hangs in front of the window, a poster or two and a stack of vinyl albums by the likes of Tom Waits and Bob Marley, the only furnishings are strictly functional. Cables, batteries, disk drives and other bits of wiring lie around. He sits beside me and feeds in and mixes various samples. What is interesting is how much of this hi-tech approach depends on traditional sources. He points out the Arabic and Turkish sounds in there. dolores calls it a Balkan harmony.

'We love Balkan music, sometimes the rhythms are very similar to Brazilian rhythms.'

These, he says, are part of the Portuguese heritage. Portugal, like Spain, was part of the Moorish empire for several centuries, and absorbed North African and Mediterranean influences to which was then added the music from sub-Saharan Africa that the slaves brought over with them. Yet another element comes from baião and forró – the country music of the North-East, as popularized by Luiz Gonzaga, a Brazilian national hero who died in 1989. The international influence stretches even farther here as Gonzaga was brought up on polka from Russia.

We leave dj dolores to pack for Brasília and walk outside. Across the busy road, along the embankment and opposite a filling station is an eye-catching statue of a naked coiled figure bound up in a ball and hanging from a single steel post below a wall of metal sheeting. It commemorates the victims of the dictatorship and military government which ran Brazil for more than twenty years, from 1964 until 1985.

Paulo looks up at it. His own uncle was one of those arrested and imprisoned.

'That's the position they used to torture people.' It was called the pau de arara. The parrot's perch.

Though the repression was nowhere near as brutal as it was in Argentina and Chile, those who opposed the government, especially Communists or other left-wingers, were tortured and some exiled. As part of this Torture Memorial are sixty stones in the ground, each of which represents someone who was tortured for their beliefs. I notice a few of the brass plaques are missing. Paulo, with some embarrassment, explains that they have been stolen. Stolen for the metal on which the names were inscribed.

He shakes his head and says candidly: 'We are a poor country. People take whatever they can.'
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 27: Recife
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Recife
  • Book page no: 117

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  • Music and Film
  • Day 8 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 22 
  • Full Circle
  • Day 88 
  • Pole to Pole