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Day 65: São Paulo

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FHC signs my copy of his memoir The Accidental President.
Michael Palin - BrazilBrazil's relaxed, less uptight attitude to life is something he thinks that Britain could benefit from. On the other hand, he adds, there is one significant thing that Brazil could learn from Britain and that is respect for the law. He frowns and gives a little shake of the head.

'We don't respect the law. The lack of respect for law is terrible.'

There is a Portuguese word for this – jeito or jeitinho, which he describes in his book as defining the way the Brazilians have of getting round the system. 'A particularly Brazilian way of breaking the rules in which, as long as you insist that you are obeying the law, you can get away with pretty much everything.'

It's almost shocking to hear an ex-President being so forthright about his country, but that is indicative of what he sees as one of the strengths of Brazil.

'We have a very strong civil society,' he says. 'An open press, independent universities, strong unions.'

Apart from the brief dictatorship of the generals in the 1960s and 1970s, he sees this openness as going back to the formative years of the country. He contrasts the integration of races and colours in Brazil with the USA, where black and white people lived together but didn't integrate, or the Spanish empire in America, which was much more hierarchical and arrogant.

'In terms of how we live with each other, it's more relaxing here. In Brazil it's much easier to be part of...' – he searches for the words – 'a similar confusion of things.'

Brazil's growing economic strength (growing more slowly, he warns, than is popularly thought) cannot obscure certain fundamental problems. Education and transport infrastructure, especially the big international airports, are poor; there is a real need for a rethink on energy policy: 'how we can use the junk from current forms of energy to fuel new ones'.

Then he smiles.

'We are like an adolescent. We are growing too fast and our clothes are a little tight.'

We make our way out into the square. As FHC told us, the only real problem of being so close to City Hall is the 'manifestations' – he uses the French word for large public gatherings. But they're never violent, he adds. Brazil doesn't have a history of social or political violence. A nearby strip of greenery is filled with histrionic classical statues, and old trolley-buses swing around the corner by the Teatro Municipal, its ornate, buttery cream facade completed in 1911. For a moment, standing here, I have a brief flash of what São Paulo must once have looked like.
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  • Series: Brazil
  • Chapter: Day 65: São Paulo
  • Country/sea: Brazil
  • Place: São Paulo
  • Book page no: 279

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  • Miscellaneous
  • Day 3 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 34 
  • Full Circle
  • Day 22 
  • Pole to Pole