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Day 43: Belo Horizonte to Ouro Preto

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The three-term Mayor explains the rich cultural history.
Michael Palin - BrazilThis is a theme reiterated by the Mayor of Ouro Preto, Angelo Oswaldo de Araújo Santos, as he shows me the town. The students keep it lively, and noisy, he adds, with a slightly apologetic smile, but there are also many conferences held in the city.

'Conservation policy here is a model for the rest of Brazil,' he declares proudly. Unlike most people I've met in Brazil the Mayor is passionate about what history, as represented by his city, means to the rest of the country. 'It is our patrimony, our personality, our roots, our spirit, our soul. Nothing less.'

Angelo is neat, dressed in jacket and tie, and has a law degree but works as a journalist. He's been elected and re-elected Mayor three times, has held various high offices in the cultural world and is a friend of another mineiro, the current Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, who used to help him with his maths when they were at school together. He's good on the history, as you'd expect, but also has a journalist's ear for little things you might not know. For instance, that the word caipirinha, one of Brazil's great gifts to the throats of the world, actually means 'a country girl'. So this is what I've been ordering every night in the bar.

We look out over the town as the sun sets. Handsome colonial churches, built in grateful thanks for the gift of gold, dominate its skyline. There are thirteen of them in a town of 45,000 people. Angelo points out the rich and convoluted shapes of the summits and valleys that rise behind them and then indicates the outline of the facades.

'To understand the churches you have to understand the landscape. The mountains are baroque, don't you think?'

I'd never thought of it like that.

Almost everywhere you want to go in Ouro Preto involves a steep climb and that includes the restaurant in which we eat tonight. Halfway through the meal a girl comes round selling jewellery that she's made herself. Everyone a bit sniffy until we start to look and such is the quality of the work that she's virtually bought out by our table alone. She's from Peru and works in silver. Which is the one thing Brazil has always lacked.
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The old City Chamber and Jail House, now a museum of the Inconfidéncia rebellion.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 43: Belo Horizonte to Ouro Preto
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: Ouro Preto
  • Book page no: 181

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