23 January 2011

Water, Isolation and Symphonies

Early morning fish market in Manaus, Brazil.  I have never seen so many different kinds of fish!

Brazil is FANTASTIC!!!

We docked in Manaus, Brazil early this morning.  I rushed to the gangway, in order to catch my trip at 0900 from the pier.  Prof. Karen Van Lengen led a group of students and interested staff on an architectural tour of Manaus.  Our tour guide, a local Brazilian who also happened to be an architect and engineer, was wonderful.  He was able to answer all of the weird and quirky questions posed by the students, as well as the more architecturally specific questions of Prof. Van Lengen.  We discussed the various “New Urbanism” projects that the city government is currently involved with, including a large plan to relocate many of the people who inhabit the areas known as “Flavalas”, small squatter communities built on stilts directly in the creek beds that criss-cross the city.  Manaus is a city of water, 85 creeks, all tributaries of the Amazon River, including the Rio Negro, cross the city. 
One of the many ad-hoc neighborhoods founds along the many creeks in Manaus
Manaus, much like it was a hundred years ago, is still isolated from the rest of Brazil.  There are no roads that connect Manaus to any other major Brazilian city.  Manaus is completely surrounded by the Amazon Jungle, a quick jaunt out of the city end rather abruptly at heavy forest.  Even the capital, Brazilia, is only reachable by airplane.  The only highway that leaves Manaus actually takes you to Venezuela.  Most of the local communities are reachable by River Boats or Ferries.  Some of the most remote cities and villages can be more that 6 or 7 days away by boat.  Even our large ship, traveling steadily up-river, took 2.5 days to get from the mouth of the Amazon River to Manaus.     
Various Street Shots in Manaus.
Our tour also included the central historic district, where the Amazonas Opera House is located.  This Opera House was totally built with imported materials from Europe, including Italian Marble and French panes of glass.  The Rubber Barons, who controlled much of the region during the Amazon Rubber Boom during the late 19th century, were all of European origin, and the Opera House stood as a testament to the links with European Culture and Fashion that the Barons wished to maintain.  The Opera House has been beautifully maintained and the original fixtures and interior decorations are all still marvelous.  Most interesting is the decoration of the ceiling.  A French artist was hired to decorate the interior of the Opera House with images of local flora and fauna.  Instead, the newly arrived artist, who was still so impressed with the recent World’s Fair in Paris, painted a scene as if the audience was looking up under the Eiffel Tower.  The Illusion is lovely, and further ties the structure to the European culture it was meant to echo in this far away place.  During our visit, the local symphony was conducting a rehearsal for a later performance.  We were able to stay and listen to several movements of a very powerful classical piece with soaring stings and beautiful brass notes.  It still amazes me how much music can effect me.  It may be overly poetic, but the music today seemed to seep all the way to my bones.
Amazonas Opera House
The musical day continued.  After returning to the ship for lunch and a rather needed nap, I met up with about 200 of the students and staff to head to a local Samba School for a demonstration of one of the local drum and samba corps.  Manuel (The Forestry Prof. from last time) was great in introducing us to this local community, and everyone was very excited to learn a little Samba and Dance off some of the excitement of being in a new port and a new country.  By the time we arrived, the demonstration had turned into a full blown block party, and everyone in the samba school and the local community were on hand to welcome us in spectacular fashion.  The drum corps performed masterfully, and the sound was overwhelming.  The students were full of energy and kept the drummers and samba dancers going with their enthusiasm.  The interaction between the Semester at Sea community and the local population was great to see.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the exchange of music and dance and really just a lust for life, which seems to typify my Brazilian experience so far.  All of the people we have encountered just beam with energy and life.  Even the buildings here, which many could describe as dilapidated or at least weather beaten, laugh at the world through there colorful facades.  Blue, Aqua Marine, Red, Yellow, Purple and Green doorways, walls and patches flash from every direction you look.

Viva Brazil!!!

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