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Day 63: São Paulo

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Criolo's Dad.
Michael Palin - BrazilCarolina translates for me.

'She has had a life that most poor Brazilians have had. But she learnt from the beginning how to dry her eyes and find a way out of whatever life had thrown at her.'

Criolo is less easy to talk to. He responds to questions with long silences. His big eyes and expressive face turn down into what looks almost like a pout. He moves his head away to one side.

I realize after an initial concern that it's not that he doesn't want to answer, it's just that he wants his answer to be thoughtful. I ask about his world and the poor neighbourhood in which he was brought up, and how he thinks it might change. The gist of his reply is that it's hard for people round here to stand back, look at their lives, and start to change them.

'You don't realize what's happening in the pen if you're stuck inside it.'

He uses a flock of birds wheeling restlessly above us as an image of Grajaú.

'They're flying all around but they don't know where to go. Everywhere is brick and concrete. They've lost their north.'

The pressure, he says, is so hard on families here. People have a two-hour bus
ride into the city, an eight- to ten-hour job when they get there, and two hours' bus ride back. Parents and children become easily estranged. And the politicians are not interested. In fact they don't even notice. Criolo lets out a cry of frustration.

'How many poor people do we need to make one rich one?'

He is now an influential voice. People listen to him and he's becoming known outside São Paulo. But Criolo is no pedagogue, nor ever will be. His approach to social problems is not to dictate but to understand. He believes his songs and his poems connect with people because he's speaking at a primal level, identifying feelings of loss and loneliness. At this level there can be no leader. Like the philosophy café, his work sets out that real change cannot be achieved by a system or a great leader but by an individual's awareness of their own potential. Of which Criolo and his mother are prime examples.

I feel as if he and I are edging slowly towards each other, but the world still seems a dark place when suddenly the talk turns to music and, metaphorically anyway, the sun comes out. This is something that Grajaú does not have to be defensive about.

As Carolina puts it, 'Three things define a culture. The language, the food and the music.' She stands, gestures at the houses stretching off into the distance and speaks with real feeling, as though something is alive here that is missing in the polite middle-class world she moves in.

'And they have the most amazing music here. And they play it loud and it makes them happy. They're not ashamed to let go.'
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Criolo's Mum.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 63: São Paulo
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: São Paulo
  • Book page no: 265

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


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