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Day 64: São Paulo

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The Princess Cult packs a hall in São Paulo.
Michael Palin - BrazilWe have been given privileged access. Privileged because we're men and tonight's service is strictly women only. There must be close on a thousand of them squeezed inside, but no one seems to notice as we file in. Their attention is entirely focused on the figure occupying the stage. She's a slim woman of medium height, probably in her late forties and dressed like a 1950s hat-check girl, in a bouncy black frock with a wide skirt and a white chiffon hem. There's a matching chiffon rose in her buttonhole and a black bow in her hair. She is playing the audience well, her manner by turns coquettish and cautionary. Her name is Sara Shreever, and she is the high priestess of the Princess Cult.

Her message, roughly translated, and adoringly received by her audience, is that there are two different kinds of women in the world. There are the Princesses, who have values and know how to behave and how to present themselves, and there are the Bitches, who behave badly and are submissive to their men. She calls on the authority of the Bible to back this up with an Old Testament passage in which women are described as either doors or walls. The women who are doors are wide open, the women who are walls are resilient and strong and will have silver towers built upon them. Sara is on record declaring that she has been ten years without sex.

'And nine without giving a kiss on the mouth. I'm radical. I was a nymphomaniac who could not live without a man. My soul was healed by Jesus.'

With a jarring kick of feedback, the first chords from an over-amplified keyboard scream round the room.

A guitar joins in and Sara segues smoothly into song. She may not have much to do with men, but she certainly understands the power of seduction. As you might expect from a former backing singer, she has a strong voice and the music is loud and insistent. Chord changes follow one another like waves on a beach and the response from the audience is fervent. Emotion wells up. There is pain and there is joy. Tearful faces are upraised, arms stretched out, palms of hands open to the stage. The message is that only through faith in God will they find that strength and belief to control their carnal desires until they meet the ideal man that waits out there for them. The Prince to their Princess.

The music crescendoes and dies. Arms are raised, there are shouts of hallelujah. Cheeks are wet and shining. It's what you might see at a Gospel concert, yet the women here are largely white Brazilians. Some quite elderly, the majority ordinary working women. They're not dowdy or severe, but they all seem fiercely attracted to this notion that men, and by extension sex, can somehow be limited, controlled and indeed sanctified by the infinitely greater power of God.

After arousing them with the music, Sara skilfully calms them down. She smiles and cajoles and soothes and then when she thinks the time is right she touches a nerve again. It's an extraordinary performance, and despite the heat of the night and the jam-packed hall she barely breaks sweat.

Later I speak to her about the cult and what it means to her, whilst her daughter, who is now her backing singer, sits beside her, looking nervous. It's not a surprise to me that Sara reveals a past of broken and betrayed relationships. But for now her eyes shine with conviction, with the inner light of implacable certainty. No wonder her daughter looks nervous. This is a woman of sublime self-belief using her considerable stage skills to manipulate the emotions.

It's a sign of the times that so many want to be manipulated.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 64: São Paulo
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: São Paulo
  • Book page no: 273

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  • Miscellaneous
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