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Day 62: São José dos Campos to São Paulo

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Tailplane being prepared for painting.
Michael Palin - BrazilWe lunch together in the canteen. Basic good buffet food for two or three reais, about a pound. It was here that Felipe first worked for Embraer, making coffee and distributing it round the factory. One of the departments he supplied was the paint shop and he knew as soon as he saw it that that was what he wanted to do. He took a three-month course in another town, then applied to Embraer and left his own engagement party when the phone call came to invite him for interview. He earns 3,500 reais (£1,250) a month, which he says is enough for a good life. He's bought a house and a car and with his wife Fabiana also working at Embraer they are comparatively well-off and thinking of starting a family soon. Felipe finishes his coffee and nods vigorously as he gets up.

'I believe in the future of Brazil. Sure.'

A curious sequence of events in the afternoon brings home to me just how well Felipe has done. We're invited to film a brand-new robot painting device in which the company has invested a fair bit of money. In a long shed behind a glass screen are two articulated arms, both wrapped in protective white sheeting, which move alongside a tailplane just like the one we worked on. Looking like two bandaged elephant trunks, they begin to apply the paint with tall arching movements, and in a fraction of the time it took us this morning. It's an American machine and there are two or three engineers from Detroit in attendance. But the man who is doing all the work, mixing the paint, filling the tanks, checking the robot head and to whom everyone looks before giving the go-ahead, is none other than Felipe.

'I like to be a painter. That is enough for me,' was how Felipe had brushed off my question about his future when we ate lunch together. What he hadn't told me was that he was recently chosen from ninety other applicants to go to the States and learn how to operate the new robot painting equipment. That's why his English sounds like he'd learnt it from Hollywood movies. That's why he believes in the future of Brazil. Because quick, sharp, bright Felipe knows where that future lies.

We leave Embraer and head west to São Paulo along a toll road named after the great Brazilian sporting legend, Ayrton Senna. Only the Brazilians, one feels, would name one of their busiest highways after a racing driver. Like any major conurbation, the city limits of São Paulo seem ill-defined. The long, low slabs of logistic centres give way to long, low slabs of shopping malls and suddenly you're there, locked in some of the worst traffic in the world. The spirits sink to a new low as the rain comes down and the brake lights stab out across a half-dozen lanes of traffic ahead of us. Then our driver Caetano pulls us off up a slip road, through a favela and eventually onto another wide highway along which the traffic is still moving. Beside us a shallow, foul-smelling river runs in an open concrete conduit between a thick forest of tower blocks, stretching as far as the eye can see.
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Felipe supervises new recruit.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 62: São José dos Campos to São Paulo
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: São José dos Campos
  • Book page no: 258

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