Who knows or has even heard of Lonnie Johnson? “I was old enough to have felt first-hand the old country blues … And I got to see how those blues were modified and modernized by artists like Lonnie Johnson.” Thus BB King.

Alonzo Johnson (1899 – 1970) played guitar and violin, and sang too. He’s known as a blues player, but his experience ranges wider, from touring blues shows with Victoria Spivey and Bessie Smith, through work with jazz greats Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, stride pianist James P Johnson –

Lonnie Johnson (left) Chicago, April 1941, with Andrew Harris bass, Dan Dixon rhythm (FSA photo Russell Lee - http://www.keeponliving.at/artist/lonnie_johnson.html)

Lonnie Johnson (left) Chicago, April 1941, with Andrew Harris bass, Dan Dixon rhythm (FSA photo Russell Lee – http://www.keeponliving.at/artist/lonnie_johnson.html)

– and UK skiffle artist Tony Donegan – who changed his name to Lonnie in 1952.

His influence on others extends to Elvis Presley (on 1954’s “Tomorrow Night” he imitates Lonnie’s 1948 hit vocals) and early Bob Dylan (listen to “Corrina Corrina”). You can hear why “in the 1920s and 1930s, Johnson was best known as a sophisticated and urbane singer rather than an instrumentalist.”

“Of the forty ads for his records that appeared in the ‘Chicago Defender’ between 1926 and 1931, not one even mentioned that he played guitar.” (Elijah Wald,  Escaping the Delta : Robert Johnson and the invention of the blues, 2004) So why a guitar hero? Johnson was responsible for bringing the instrument out of the rhythm section – where it had superseded the banjo in the jazz line-up – to the front as a solo instrument, with single-string picking, bending the notes and ‘voicing’ it like the violin he had played before. You can draw a straight line from there to rock ‘n’ roll and the modern guitar ‘hero’.

Coinciding with electrification of the instrument – around the same time as the violin – was of course influential, as was the style of other players like white guitarist Eddie Lang. But to hear how well he plays, and how fresh he still sounds, try this 1928 recording with Don Redman – Fletcher Henderson’s arranger – the Dorsey brothers and Jack Teagarden.

Paducah (Redman)  New York October 10th 1928. Johnson 1:28 – 2:15

This was the band which became the Chocolate Dandies.

Compare with guitarist Eddie Lang, alias Blind Willie Dunn and the Gin Bottle Four, Hoagy Carmichael scatting. An all-star group that also included King Oliver, the Gin Bottle Four was one of the first interracial jazz bands to record, cutting classic tunes “Blue Guitars,” “A Handful of Riffs,” “Midnight Call Blues,” and “Hot Fingers.” And this one, “Jet Black Blues”, which you may know from the game MAFIA …

Motoring back from the Litoral Norte of the state of São Paulo is an entertaining and scenic drive from Ubatuba along a steep and winding road up the escarpment. It’s difficult to stop, but glimpses of the view down to the coast are especially striking early in the morning.

View of the bay of Ubatuba from the SP125

View of the bay of Ubatuba from the SP125

Be careful to keep your eyes on the road though – it’s so steep and winding that the narrow verges are littered with the hubcaps of cars that must turn in sharply. Driving towards Taubaté, you pass a turn-off for the historic town of São Luiz do Paraitinga. It’s set on a bend in the river for which it’s named.

from the Tupi parahytinga, clear water

from the Tupi parahytinga, clear water

Founded in the eighteenth century, São Luis is a pretty little Baroque town which quickly became one of the largest in Imperial Brazil. Its prosperity was built on farming coffee and wheat.

Facade of the recently restored Igreja São Luiz de Tolosa 

Facade of the recently restored Igreja São Luiz de Tolosa

The imposing façade of the main church evokes the town’s wealth and status, though its recent history reflects a more modest reality – destroyed by floods in 2010, the church was restored and rebuilt using government funds available to sites declared a part of Brazil’s patrimônio cultural nacional. These days, the local economy depends as much on tourism, especially during carnaval, as on agriculture.

Mannerist arcade

Mannerist arcade

During carnaval, the townpeople’s fondness for the music of marchinas, for larger-than-life puppets and for folk dancing comes to the fore. The São Luis celebrations are well-known in Brazil.

View from the nineteenth century ...

View from nineteenth century …

Perhaps less well-known is its religious life. São Luis is home to a congada and moçambique tradition, dance displays with an Afro-Brazilian syncretist religious background. It’s clear from a stroll around the historic centre during the Easter break that religion is a large part of life here. Church architecture is prominent.

 ... Gothic

… neo-Gothic Rosário 

Amid the colourful folkloric displays of painted houses …

 ... on the colourful Largo do Teatro

… on the Largo do Teatro

… and the street theatre of carnavaI – 


Celebrating the town’s theatrical traditions – puppets, music, marching, maypoles

– there’s a more serious note. Displayed in the windows of what I took to be three religious establishments – presumably working convents or monasteries, judging by their well-preserved state –

Ecclesiastical purple for Easter

Ecclesiastical blue and purple for the end of Lent on Easter Sunday

– there were blue and purple banners, some gold-fringed or with appliquéd crosses, to remind us both of the festive and of the solemn Christian religious aspects of Easter.

House of a religious order founded in Calabria

House of a religious order founded in Calabria

More usual on the altar in a church, in São Luis they were displayed even in the windows of modest private houses as well as in religious settings.

Blue burning bright in the sunlight

Burning blue in the sunlight – with Lenten purple at the windows

In São Luis, everyday life seems to become theatrically spectacular.

Listening to early Duke Ellington on a long journey by car, I remind myself of how good his sides for OKeh are. You always hear something new.


This time I hear what sounds mighty like rock ‘n’ roll ‘avant la lettre’. Listen to this Ellington blues composition, Lazy Duke, from 1929, the opening reminiscent of Frankie and Johnnie. At about 1:18, the chorus is taken by Barney Bigard on clarinet – the piano figure underneath is almost where boogie and blues would go thirty years later.

The two wailing reeds take an effective combined solo, and the percussive acoustic bass drives at an insistently steady rhythm.

Here’s the original 78 “Fox Trot”, credited to The Harlem Footwarmers, one of Ellington’s many aliases on OKeh.

Parati is a historic town set on the edge of the Mata Atlantica, the Atlantic rain forest, on the coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro. First settled by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, it became the port for shipping gold and diamonds from the interior to Rio and on to Portugal. Miners, supplies and slaves travelled by mule train into the state of Minas Gerais (MG, `General Mines`) by the same route, the Caminho do Ouro, running along an indigenous path. Parati offered a break in the escarpment of the 1,500 kilometre Serra do Mar, and a natural harbour.

Gracious living in Parati

Gracious living in Parati

The town grew into a substantial settlement, with a good number of churches, and forts to protect it – the gold-laden ships were a target for pirates operating from the many nearby islands and beaches.

British and Portuguese cannon, Forte Defensor

British and Portuguese cannon, Forte Defensor Perpétuo

Parati’s economic fortunes have risen and fallen, its relative isolation preserving the Baroque architecture which underpins its revival as a tourist destination.

Entrance to Casa Turquesa

Entrance to hotel Casa Turquesa

Baroque luxury raises an echo in Parati’s restaurants and antique shops, and modern luxury is also in evidence.

Restaurante Refugio

Restaurante Refugio

Its cobbled streets are hard going on foot, and motor vehicles are allowed only on Wednesdays, for deliveries. Horse-drawn carts carry supplies and tourists over the cobbles.

Cobbled streets at a leisurely pace

Cobbled streets, at a leisurely pace

You could be back in the eighteenth century, though many of the town houses are now shops, restaurants and business premises.

Working tourist town

Working tourist town

Like Ouro Preto, the much larger Baroque town at the other end of the Caminho do Ouro, Parati allows you to see domestic Baroque architecture in operation. White-washed walls are thick – some with sandstone mouldings – decorated with stucco and paint, roofs of clay pantiles, and wooden floors above the ground floor flagstones.

Baroque cooling

Baroque air conditioner

Only the churches are higher than two stories. Rooms are high-ceilinged, window-frames painted in powder blue or grey.

Tidal canal

Tidal canal

Parati is set just below sea level in a river delta, with breaks in the sea wall which allow high tides to flood some streets. Flooding was once the only form of sanitation, and given the horses, it’s still a good thing, though it doesn’t smell entirely clean.

Rio Perequê-Açu canalised

Rio Perequê-Açu canalised

The river to the north of the historic town centre provides a cool corridor against the January heat.

Capela de Santa Rita

Capela de Santa Rita, completed 1722

Parati is undergoing renovation – two of its four historic churches are closed, and the SESC cultural centre is being refurbished. The elaborate Santa Rita church was built for the Portuguese and for freed slaves.

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito

Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Rosário e São Benedito, 1725

The Rosário, built for the slave population, has a much simpler facade, and its corner mouldings are of painted stucco, not sandstone.

Capela de Nossa Senhora das Dores

Capela de Nossa Senhora das Dores, 1800

Nossa Senhora das Dores – Our Lady of Sorrows – is an elegant little building on the Rua Fresca sea front. It was used by society ladies, and renovated in 1900. Behind the church is a walled church yard. The church was closed when we were there, with no sign of when it opens.

Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora do Remédios

Igreja Matriz Nossa Senhora dos Remédios, completed 1873

Nossa Senhora dos Remédios is large and central, with a tree-lined square in front, and a campanile for its clock. It’s structurally simple, a series of lean-tos, and the interior is modest by Brazilian standards. 

Largest church in Parati

Largest church in Parati

Painted marble-effect mouldings and painted walls – which look like wallpaper – saints in glassed-in niches, and sober monochrome floor tiles all make for a subdued interior.

Painted chancel walls

Painted chancel walls

This looks a middle-class church, presumably built on the coffee trade which replaced the gold shipments.

St Michael, a Brazilian favourite

St Michael, a Brazilian favourite

Another active trade in Parati was the cachaça industry. A few small producers are still distilling this spirit from sugar cane – Parati was well-known for it. These days the best cachaça is said to come from the state of Minas Gerais, though it is still actively retailed to tourists in Parati. Proving the point, we found a large retailer whose display included a collection of old bottles from Parati …

Cachaça museum

Cachaça museum

… and a collection of miniatures – a smart way to sell to the souvenir market – which were overwhelmingly Mineiro.

Minas Gerias miniatures, with seductive labels

Minas Gerias miniatures, with seductive labels

Parati understandably promotes and preserves its former glory, but there’s a faint echo of other sentiments.

The land on which the historic centre is built was donated by a Senhora Maria Jácome de Melo on condition that a church dedicated to Nossa Senhora dos Remédios was built … and that the local indigenous Guaianá were unharmed.

Santa Rita is said to be haunted by the ghost of a young 19th-century bride found dead on her wedding morning. The groom reportedly went mad, having begged for the coffin to be opened. When years later the coffin was actually opened, the corpse was face down, a punishment meant to prevent the soul leaving the body through the mouth.

A smaller church in Parati, the Capela da Generosa, was funded by a local woman in memory of a Teodoro who is said to have drowned in the Rio Perequê-Açu while impiously fishing on Good Friday.

Looking towards Rua Fresca

Looking towards Rua Fresca

Standing on the Rua Fresca and recalling that it was the rich who enjoyed the sea breeze, that the streets were awash with sewage, that a slave who tried to escape could only could take the heavily-patrolled Caminho do Ouro through the rainforest or the sea road controlled by cannon and pirates, that the indigenous people were subject to the Europeans, that even Christian salvation was markedly stratfied, you sense a less pretty view of the Baroque town, driven by the greed for gold, by violence and military rule, by slavery and oppression.

It seems fitting that a vampire wedding – from the Twilight saga – can be filmed here. And this week in Parati, a shooting amid Carnaval celebrations …  http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/carnival-suspended-paraty-brazil-deadly-shooting-28988156

Cambuci is a neighbourhood south of Sao Paulo’s centro, in the area named for its park, Parque Aclimação. Low-rise housing predominates, though prices mean that the developers are moving in. For the moment it retains some of the older character of Sao Paulo – single-storey houses with small gardens, friendly, less anonymous architecture which only survives in pockets or in back streeets in more developed areas like Itaim and Higienópolis. There, vila houses are at a premium – here they are the norm. The side streets are quiet, the pace relaxed.

The bar on the corner

The bar on the corner

On an airy corner of the Rua Gama Cerqueira a bar stands wide open. Red awnings stretch over the pavement, with high stools and tables for the clientele, French doors flung wide, and hurrah! – plenty of room to park. This is not Vila Madalena.

20150217_225129 Stitch

A welcome sight

The ambience shows the Mediterranean influence of the district’s people, here since the beginning of last century. Welcome to the Bar e Armazém Cambuci.

20150106_225917 Stitch

Armazém, bar, boteco …

A high ceiling and the open doors keep the room cool.

A wide range of bebidas

Bebidas – a  wide range

The shelves behind the bar sport an enormous array of bottles, the walls are covered with mirrors, cartoons, posters, household objects and memorabilia. The clientele is a mix of families and couples, friends, larger parties, locals and music lovers come to hear tonight’s attraction, Trio Cambuci. They play choro here every Tuesday. It’s a natural home for Brazil’s oldest style of popular instrumental music.

Guest vocalist Valeriah Soares

Guest vocalist Valeriah Soares and guest cavaquinho

The choro crowd, musicians and audience, are welcoming. Everyone knows everyone, and if not, they soon do, smiling at each other and nodding in time to the music played by virtuoso Stanley Carvalho on clarinet, Cidão 7 Cordas on the seven-string guitar which takes bass line and rhythm, and Artur Bernardo on Brazil’s answer to the tambourine, the pandeiro. Stanley bears a more-than-passing resemblance to British comedian Ronnie Barker, and is just as affable.

British comedian - looks a lot like him, não é?

British comedian Ronnie Barker – looks like him, não é?

The trio plays tonight with guest John Berman on clarinet too, a beguiling combination which produces exquisite harmonies. Here’s the Trio in action in the bar, captured on YouTube.

And as always, there are singers in the audience …

– Celso Miguel, a star of MPB (Música Popular Brasileira), who made his name in the 1960s, was a regular singer at the long-gone boteco (“boate“) Baiúca on the Praça Roosevelt near Rua Consolação in Sao Paulo’s centro, and still has a voice of velvet …

– Valeriah Soares, a rising Brazilian chanteuse who I’ve seen in other choro bars in Sao Paulo

Stanley encourages, nay demands that the crowd sing along, and calls more guest vocalists to the microphone. One lady, moved to tears by the beauty of a choro by Jacobo do Bandolim, recites the verses of a song while her compagnonne sings the chorus. Here in the warm heart of Brazilian popular culture, there’s room for tears and laughter.


P.S. The sad news is that Bar Cambuci has closed. Irreconcilable differences between the business partners are cited. Looking for the next venue …

Sao Paulo in the holiday season from mid-December until the end of January is like France in July and August – deserted. Restaurants shut, shops close early, staff on holiday in a distant corner of this huge country … They go to the beach to jump seven waves to see in the New Year, or to the mountains to escape the heat and to believe they are in Switzerland, or home to the north-east or to the interior.

On the street, only the security staff – porteiros for the apartment buildings, segurança privada at their posts in green fibreglass cabins for the wealthier suburbs – are in evidence. With mirrored windows, sometimes you can only tell cabins are manned by the whisper of the inevitable television.

Zona oeste, Sao Paulo

Zona oeste, Sao Paulo – the segurança wondered why I took this

The more extravagant Christmas lights have been turned off, houses and apartments locked up, plants watered. Dogs sprawl disconsolately on the driveways, or growl and sniff under the iron gates. A gecko darts across the footpath and up a tree trunk. They come into the buildings to escape the heat.

Street people are in evidence, collecting drink cans for recycling, or settling for the night under black plastic or under their hand-carts. They feel emboldened to shout their thoughts down the echoing streets.

Traffic is unusually light, party-goers in Lurex and perfume. The sky darkens, threatening rain without coolness. And beneath it all, under the brash diminuendo of aeroplanes overhead and the premature rattle and boom of fireworks, an unaccustomed Sao Paulo sound – quiet.

P.S and now the rolling thunder of fireworks, shouting, cheering, whistles, chanting and noise that is the countdown to midnight, predictably early. Feliz Ano Novo from Sao Paulo!

The vintage and antiques market at Praça Benedito Calixto in Sao Paulo on a Saturday is pretty lively. Under the tarpaulins, spread out on trestle tables or displayed in the traders’ booths, there’s a huge variety of goods for sale. It’s been a landmark destination for more than fifteen years. http://www.pracabeneditocalixto.com.br/

Silver and shadows

Silver and shadows

The market is set up in the square among the trees and benches from 9:00 a.m. Praça Benedito Calixto is home to restaurants and shops, cafes and offices. It’s just off the busy Rua Henrique Schaumann, the continuation of Avenida Brasil in the Zona Oeste of Sao Paulo.

Market safeguards

Market safeguards

Parking is an issue, as in all Sao Paulo, though the locals are only too happy to help for a small fee. Around the stalls it’s a crush which doesn’t subside until after 4 p.m.

You can take the kids

You can take the kids

Markets like these are open-air museums of the material culture of Brazil, and a great place for buying gifts. You could say that they are a more successful version of the modern museum or gallery with its coffee and shop – you can handle and buy the exhibits.

Gift shopping

Gift shopping for …

Calixto has more of the vintage than the antique, and some stalls verge on the junk shop end of the market, but there are also high quality items, old and new. I once bought a rococo bronze torchère there which had come from a propserous fazenda in the interior.



It’s a cornucopia of vintage advertising, vintage cameras, ‘Persian’ carpets of all kinds, ceramics, crockery,

 ... sunglasses,

… sunglasses …

crystal chandeliers and their individual ‘drops’, all kinds of clothes for men, women and children, old and new,

 ... sticks,

… sticks …

silver cutlery, vintage film lighting, smaller items of furniture, old and new, old and new glass ware,

 ... stools ...

… stools …

graphic art, hats, vintage household goods of all kinds, incense, jewellery of all kinds, knives,

 ... silver ...

… silver …

leather ware, linen, masks, contemporary paintings and sculpture, picture books, puppets,

 ... CDs and vinyl ...

… CDs and vinyl …

vintage radios and record players, hand-made shoes, spectacle frames, old tools and machinery, vintage toys …

Colourful communication

Colourful communication

A food court in the centre of the Praça sells Brazilian food and drink, and in the middle of it, this expert group of musicians plays chorinho.

Chorinho band, every Saturday until 5 p.m.

Genuine chorinho, every Saturday until after 6 p.m.

The seven-string guitar, cavaquinho and pandeiro are the mainstays, but like the stall holders and their goods, it’s a changing line-up. Yesterday the guests were an accomplished second cava (bottom left) and an energetic young woodwind player (left, on clarinet). 

Espaço Cultural Alberico Rodrigues with literary busts

Espaço Cultural Alberico Rodrigues with literary busts

The Praça is also home to a pocket theatre, upstairs in the café / bookshop / gallery / publishing house run by the writer Alberico Rodrigues.

Literary café

Literary café

It’s a pleasant place to take a break from the crush, at the foot of a wall display of literary giants.


Banca Praça Benedito Calixto

The carefully constructed cultural eco-system in which market traders do business alongside writers, antique and repro rub shoulders cheerfully, excellent carpets hang alongside copies of copies of graphic art, and chorinho can be enjoyed within earshot of jump blues, is a delight.

Decorative market, and customers

Decorative market, and customers

As are the customers themselves – did I mention it’s a great place for people-watching? Not just at Christmas, but all year round.


Jump blues on the street

Visiting the Baroque Brazilian city of Ouro Preto – built on the wealth of the gold found locally with iron oxide (‘black gold’ or ouro preto) – you may be directed to one of the museums, the 1784 Casa dos Contos. It’s a museum of coinage and the gold cycle, serving at various times as private residence and tax office, barracks and prison, Government mint and gold foundry, post office and savings bank, and town hall. The building has played a major role in the history of the city.

Substantial Baroque building - with Niemeyer's Grande Hotel behind

Substantial Baroque building – with Niemeyer’s Grande Hotel behind

Ouro Preto – first named Vila Rica or ‘rich village’ – was in its heyday at the end of the eighteenth century the largest city in Brazil, with 100,000 inhabitants. The Casa dos Contos is an imposing building, with some unusual features. The large set of chimneys visible at the rear was installed to drive the fires required for high-temperature gold smelting. Zoom in on the image and you see between the third and fourth windows from the left two large holes made in the wall for ventilation.

Wide enough for a dozen armed mounted men

Wide enough for a dozen armed mounted men

Security was of course tight. One reason for the gold to be smelted and exported under government control was to discourage theft, but it also meant that the Crown could claim its 20% before the smelted hallmarked bars were escorted under armed guard to the coast.

View from the balcony

View from the balcony

It’s an impressive building inside too – wide stone stairs with beautifully carved jacaranda balustrades, and large airy rooms on the first floor overlooking the street, complete with period furniture, decorated ceilings, and bookcases for the Museum archive.

Gracious living on the piano nobile

Gracious living on the piano nobile

But the most remarkable part of the Museum’s collection is in the cellar. The Casa is built, like other Ouro Preto baroque residences, to withstand sudden heavy rainfall on the cobbled hills. Massive freestone pillars support the level upper stories, and the cellar floor is finished likewise in hard local freestone, roughly set edgeways. It was hard going even with trainers on. It slopes away markedly towards the watercourse alongside.

Displayed in the niches of the freestone walls and between the pillars is a collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century household goods – kitchen implements, building tools, farm and workshop repair and maintenance contraptions. The collection was made by a local man who worked as a shoe repairer, developing over years his interest in Baroque daily life. Displayed casually among the household items are branding irons, manacles, wooden stocks, and a large evil-looking mantrap for runaway slaves. In the quietest, most effective way, these objects make clear how Brazil’s wealth was built on slavery, why in this cellar where they lived and worked in the kitchen they also washed their clothes in a crude stone-built laundry, why the ventilation holes in the first floor foundry are narrower than a man. And why a young Ouro Pretan on the street greets his fellow African Brazilian with the words “O, escravo!”

On holiday in Ouro Preto in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, walking its cobbled streets in the early evening, I heard the ragged syncopation of an amateur band coming from a basement room, and went down the neon-lit stairs to hear more. A large, bare, half empty room greeted me, and at a set of orchestra benches, a score of musicians playing the wind instruments of a brass band – clarinet, flute, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and Sousaphone, plus drums – with earnest and admirable concentration.

Sociedade Musical Senhor Bom Jesus de Matosinhos

Sociedade Musical Senhor Bom Jesus de Matosinhos

Not wanting to intrude on their efforts, I listened while I looked at the posters and photographs displayed on the walls of the band rehearsal room. This musical society’s history goes back many decades, in an honourable tradition of going on excursions and taking part in competitions in the four corners of Brazil.

Celebration concert

Celebration concert

Formed in 1932, the musical society looks back to Portugal – Matsinhos is a city on the edge of Porto in the old country – but it has the glory of its New World in its sights.

In the arms of its patron

In the arms of its patron

Its efforts are declared “all for the greatness and tradition of Ouro Preto”. Its supporters were in evidence, keeping an appreciative eye on the work. A unique and impressive piece of local musical culture in this most musical of countries.

JazzB is an intimate jazz venue in downtown Sao Paulo. The area is better known for its sex industry workers and drug users than for cosy music venues, but it doesn’t feel unsafe. Of course there are exceptions, but the taxi driver says it’s fine, and it doesn’t seem threatening. It’s lively, with lots of folk on the streets, and plenty of neighbourhood bars. JazzB is in the Rua General Jardim, which runs west from the Praça da República in the area known as Vila Buarque. 

View of the street from your table

View of the street from your table

The bar seats around 100, and divides into two areas, to accommodate two types of customers. At the front behind large plate glass windows are tables and chairs at which couples and friends out for the evening sample the bar food and the wide range of bottled beers.

Beer bar

Beer bar

The bands play in the corner of the L-shaped space, facing a set of tiered seats which rise to the ceiling in studio theatre style. Here jazz aficionados can appreciate the music without too much interference from the chat of those who come to talk against a jazz background.

Jazz fans have a good view

Jazz fans have a good view

Not long open, JazzB is already a landmark venue for the adventurous tourist – my fellow guests included a young Japanese man who perused his guidebook as he waited for the band.

Picturesque setting - the Steinway needs tuning

Picturesque setting, though the Steinway needs tuning

On Saturday we were favoured with an evening of improvisation from the Jorginho Neto Quinteto. Jorginho is a virtuoso trombonist, who has played at festivals in Brazil and in New York. An alumnus of the Orquestra Jovem (Youth Orchestra) Tom Jobim, he plays with the highly regarded Banda Mantiqueira jazz ensemble and other Brazilian jazz groups. On Saturday evening, he played with Daniel D’Alcântara (trumpet and fugel horn), José Luiz Martins on piano, Bruno Migotto (bass), and Edu Ribeiro guesting on drums.

Fronted with brass

Musical brasswork

D’Alcântara is another stalwart of the Brazilian jazz scene, playing with the Orquestra Jazz Sinfônica de São Paulo and teaching at Sao Paulo’s premier jazz music school, Souza Lima. The two brass players had great fun passing phrases back and forth as they led, alternately and together.

Jorginho Neto, slide trombone

Jorginho Neto, slide trombone

Daniel D’Alcântara,

Daniel D’Alcântara, trumpet

Both players also stood back to let the trio of younger musicians have their way. Edu is a fine and energetic drummer, taking some inventive solos, occasionally accompanied by percussion on his acoustic bass from Bruno Migotto. (That explains the wear marks!) Migotto handles his instrument with enthusiasm and infectious enjoyment. The raised eyebrows were saved for explosions of invention from Martins at express train speed, which Neto brought back to walking pace with masterful finesse. These players would be at home on any stage, truly world class. Here’s their version of jazz standard The Nearness of You.

See http://jazzb.net/ for JazzB’s current programming.

P.S. If you sit on the stadium seating rather than at tables on ground level, AVOID the top tier, especially near the noisy service lift. You’ll be bumped repeatedly by clumsy serving staff, and distracted by noisy staff and customers at the downstairs bar below.

One of the oldest cemeteries in Latin America, the Cementerio Británico Montevideo was first sited on a piece of land known as the Cementerio de los Ingleses – during the British Invasions of 1807 a battle took place there, and several British soldiers were killed. Their comrades buried their bodies on the land on which they had fallen. In 1828 the British Consul in Montevideo bought the land for the British government, and the British Cemetery became more formally recognised. In 1885 this original central city site was closed, and the cemetery transferred to its current location next to the Buceo Cemetery.

In honour of "Victoria, Queen and Mother of her People"

In honour of “Victoria, Queen and Mother of her People”

The 1902 obelisk at its entrance in honour of Queen Victoria was funded and constructed in 18 months. It’s a reminder of how prosperous and patriotic was the British community in Montevideo.

A strong portrait in fine statuary marble

A strong portrait in fine statuary marble

The portrait bust is impressive, the inscription V . R . I (for Victoria Regina Imperatrix) an echo from the past. The monument dates and celebrates her accession and long reign.

An empire on which  the sun never set

An empire on which the sun never set

The site’s occupants remind us of the character of the British – they are from all parts of the United Kingdom, and they include sailors, soldiers and ordinary people as well as the great and good.

An obelisk for the Consul

An obelisk for the Consul

An elaborate Irish family grave with Masonic hourglass

An elaborate Irish family grave with Masonic hourglass

Some who died here were commemorated by friends and shipmates …

An ordinary merchant seaman from the shires who died young

A merchant seaman from the shires who died young

… others by their émigré families now established in the New World.

Geordie emigrants

Geordie emigrants

Established as a Protestant cemetery to accommodate those who couldn’t be buried elsewhere, the Jesuit symbol on this gravestone makes good the cemetery’s claim to have no restrictions regarding religion …

Emigrant from Eccles near Manchester

Emigrant from Eccles near Manchester, another from the Falklands

… and there are many examples of non-British nationality.

A Germany dynasty

A Germany dynasty

Grave of a young American merchant seaman

Grave of a young American merchant seaman, still remembered

Viennese ("Weener") Jewish family grave

Viennese Jewish family grave

Those commemorated may have died in parts unknown.

French Jewish memorial

French Jewish memorial

Others have left home and family so far behind that little more than their names are known.

Grave of an Irish woman

Grave of an Irish woman

A deceased wife is the subject of a fulsome eulogy from her spouse.

Memorial from a loving husband

Memorial from a loving husband

Some recount the lives of their occupants in old and adopted cultures.

One of the early RAF airmen, later a civilian instructor

One of the early RAF airmen, later a civilian instructor

Bilingual German-Uruguyan family grave

German-Uruguyan family grave, with street market behind

There is a German community here too. The German Patients’ Union (Deutscher Krankenverein) saw to it that those who died in Uruguay received a decent burial. Some of the crew of the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee were buried nearby following the 1939 Battle of the River Plate.

Post-War burials continue

Post-war burials continue

Earlier European history is also visible.

Grave of cavalry officer serving Franz Josef I, Austro-Hungarian Emperor during World War I

Cavalry officer serving Franz Josef I, Austro-Hungarian Emperor during World War I

The old world’s institutions take vigorous root in the New.

The cemetery has long been associated with Masonic families

The cemetery has long been associated with Masonic families

Bilingual grave with tribute by fellow Rotarians

Grave with tribute by fellow Rotarians

With differences – bankers are not held in such regard in the old world.


Employee of the state-owned Banco (BCO) Republica Uruguay

The cemetery is still in use. At first glance it appears like the cemetery of a prosperous British city – perhaps the statuary is a little florid.

Italian surname, Spanish inscription, English-speaking neighbour

Italian surname, Spanish inscription, English-speaking neighbour

But the graves are eloquent testimony to the turbulent history of this part of Latin America, on a large and on a small scale. One of the most striking monuments still cries for justice from beyond the grave. These stones truly do speak.

Among the casualties of war and industry, a personal drama

Among the casualties of war and industry, a personal drama


November 20th, Dia da Consciência Negra or Zumbi dos Palmares Day has been a holiday in the populous states of Rio and Sao Paulo since the 1960s, though not everywhere in Brazil. Public holidays are declared by federal, state and municipal legislatures – the 1932 Paulista Revolution, for example, is a holiday in the state of São Paulo only.

A fine statue of Zumbi dos Palmares in the centre of Salvador da Bahia

Black Consciousness Day marks the death of Zumbi dos Palmares, a 17th century military leader of the African and mixed-race slaves who had escaped to the settlements known as quilombos – or smaller mocamabos (huts or hide-outs), ladeiras (slopes) or magotes (heaps, piles) – in the interior.

In the same way that Jesuit priests had established viable settlements or missões in the interior, the quilombos practised agriculture, while also using less ethical means to survive. And like expeditions against the missões, military expeditions were mounted to punish and destroy the settlements, which included poor white Brazilians. As an incentive, captured quilombolas became the property of their captors.

Bust of Zumbi in the capital Brasilia

In such turbulent times it’s easy to imagine that raid, theft, extortion, enslavement and violence were practiced on all sides. It’s an unclear and loaded history in which the academic authority seems to be Stuart B Schwartz, a Yale historian and Portuguese speaker. He has made new primary sources more accessible through translations into English.

A film about Zumbi’s predecessor, his uncle Ganazumba (‘great lord’ in Angolan Bantu) made in 1963 by Carlos ‘Cacá’ Diegues was not released until 1972, after the military dictatorship in Brazil had ended. He also made “Quilombo” in 1984 – its scenario overlaps with the 1965 theatre piece by Augusto Boal which Boal considered “the biggest artistic and popular success of the Teatro de Arena of São Paulo.”

Zumbi continued to be a favorite in Arena’s repertoire during the 1960s and early 1970s. Produced also in the 1970s in Nancy in France and in New York, last week this piece was revived at the SESC Pompeia theatre in Sao Paulo.  Arena Conta Zumbi is part of an extended programme at SESC Pompeia celebrating the contribution of Boal to Brazilian theatre.

The SESC Pompeia programme about Augusto Boal’s work


Avenida Pompeia is a Sao Paulo thoroughfare which rises steadily north east from the Vila Madalena metro station to the crest of a hill, then descends the slope in one long straight line as far as the Marginal which runs along the Tietê River. Vila Pompeia is a gentrifying suburb with a growing number of restaurants and small businesses, and abundant street art, extending even to the pavements. The Avenida trees in the central reservation lit up for Christmas are a fetching sight.

Avenida Pompeia descending towards Vila Pompeia

Down in Vila Pompeia proper, the buildings are lit for Christmas too. Headlights of ascending and descending cars play on the undersides of the car park carriageways as if in concert with the decorations. A far cry from the landscape of the quilombos

Vila Pompeia by night

P.S. Don’t know why I didn’t publish this when I wrote it in November 2012 …

Richard Penniman has had his ups and downs, in his reputation and in his personal life. Some observers of the music scene find his fall from the charts a sad spectacle – “Richard’s wildness just seemed flaky” says Langdon Winner about his 1970s albums in The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. Others sing his praises as the uncrowned King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, for example blogger Red Kelly:


Little Richard and the Upsetters

Little Richard and the Upsetters

Or (with this snap) blogger Dan Phillips:


But some facts speak for themselves – the Upsetters went on to back James Brown after Richard left the tour for the ministry in 1957. Jimi Hendrix had an ambition – “to do with the guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.” The Beatles spent a lot of time with him on his come-back tour of the UK …

Most of all, the man’s voice speaks for itself. Others pretenders to the throne have their falls from grace and their flaky phases, but no-one sounds like Richard Penniman, even in obscure disguise. While he was contemplating his return to rock ‘n’ roll, he recorded with the Upsetters incognito, to avoid compromising his Christian image, but his stand-out voice is instantly recognisable. Here he is covering Fats Domino’ s 1956 hit I’m in Love Again, and demonstrating again how he transcends the R&B roots of the original to create quintessential rock ‘n’ roll.

From The Upsetters La Cienega LACGA 702.


Went to see Sao Paulo Ska Jazz at popular venue Jazz nos Fundos (Jazz at the Back). It’s behind an unpromising-looking car park near a flyover which is home to a recycling depot used by Sao Paulo catadores, collecting metal, cardboard and wood on man-sized handcarts. The venue reflects its location in the decor – the look is industrial salvage with musical overtones.



Front line brass

Sao Paulo Ska Jazz (SPSJ) revisits pop and Brazilian classics – Oasis, Tom Jobim – with a ska or a reggae rhythm and a hard-driving brass section supported by electric bass, drums, piano and electric lead guitar. The music may recycle other styles, but it’s definitely not rubbish.


Big band

Though the sound can lack balance, the musicians are a tight-knit unit, with the quick understanding and appreciation of each other’s talents which comes from working hard together.


Watchful Musical Director

The eight-piece band is fronted by sax player Marcelo Pereira, who also plays with La Orkestra K. Playing the guitarra (electric lead guitar) at the core of the band is MD Aquiles Faneco, directing with an eagle eye and taking his solo spots with aplomb and sometimes abandon.


Piano solo from Sidney Ferraz

The players listen closely to each other, backing up solos, introducing or returning to the melody, as the focus shifts from one to another.

2014-03-09 01.01.43

Baritone and tenor saxes, trumpet and muted slide trombone

The band has been together for close on five years. How refreshing that they can nevertheless still surprise one another with what they do!


A muted performance!

Look at the expression on the face of trumpet-player Diego Garbin as trombonist Douglas ‘Tigrinho’ takes his solo. The noise this band makes is a joy! From the Jazz nos Fundos archives, here they are in full swing.


Back in Amsterdam in the New Year, after a long time away. It looks much more prosperous, and clean – few graffiti, little sign of poverty on the streets, buildings in good order, and many development projects have come to fruition. I’m slightly uncomfortable about how relentlessly middle-class the centre is – one of the traditional  strengths of the Dutch culture has been the narrow gap between rich and poor. I couldn’t tell, since I saw none but well-to-do folk. It wasn’t always so, both in the Centrum and elsewhere.

I was reminded of how visually acute Dutch culture is – window displays as works of art, well-cared-for architecture, active support for the old and the new in architecture and the arts – so I was prompted to take lots of pictures.

Much of the architectural heritage of Amsterdam’s Centrum dates from the period 1890 to 1910 or so. The Neo-Renaissance style is greatly in evidence, in reddish brick with limestone accent and ornament.

1889 Centraal Station

Whether you come in by car or by other means, you will probably pass through the Centraal Station, or at least the open space in front of it – it’s at the centre of the horse-shoe-shaped series of concentric canals which define the shape of the old city. The entrance to the Metro in the foreground is a more recent addition.

Beurs van Berlage

40-metre clock tower of the Beurs van Berlage 

The 1903 Amsterdam commodity exchange of architect Hendrik Berlage, down the Damrak from the 1889 station, shows the cleaner lines of Art Déco. These days it’s an arts and events venue.


As you move out of the centre through the Oud-Zuid residential district, Art Nouveau makes an elegant appearance.

Art Nouveau entrance Jan Luijkenstraay

Art Nouveau entrance Jan Luijkenstraat

At the end of the Damrak you come to de Dam, the open space in front of the town hall, and on the opposite side, in front of the Krasnapolsky Hotel, the 1956 Nationaal Monument to the casualties of the Second World War.

In front of the Nationaal Monument at de Dam

In front of the Nationaal Monument at de Dam

Twice restored since it was built, the monument’s sculpted elements are in travertine. The lions rampant on the Dutch coat of arms appear as a pair of lions flanking the central pillar, alert and roaring, tails lashing. Sculpted by John Rädecker,


and after his death by sons Han and Jan Willem, they make good use of the porous stone to suggest the manes and skins of their subjects. That this national monument, a combination of private and public initiative, commemorates the dead of the Second World War confirms how significant that history is for the country, just as much as the old joke with which the Dutch still tease the Germans: “When you go back home, will you send my bicycle back?”

"The Black Bookleaf"

“The Black Page”

The symbolism can be applied to today’s concerns. Here’s a neat inversion of its triumphalism, for an exhibition at the naval Scheepvaartmuseum marking the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Netherlands.



The theatre on the Leideseplein is another famous Amsterdam landmark. Run by an independent foundation with a broad group of sponsors including the Amsterdam municipal council, the current Stadsschouwburg dates from 1894. Its Renaissance Revival facade presents a grandly ornamented spectacle to the Leideseplein. In previous generations, the lower foyer was reserved for gentlemen smokers, complete with numbered racks for unfinished cigars. Meanwhile the ladies would retire to the upstairs foyer and balcony, with a panoramic view of the plein below. And just as in the New World


separate entrances to the different levels of the theatre were organised strictly by class, with the upper balcony for the cheapest (woooden) seats and their rowdy occupants. Queen Wilhelmina (“the world’s first female billionaire”, and, according to Winston Churchill, “the only real man among the governments-in-exile in London”) did away with the royal box-and-toilet.

Café and foyer of the Stadsschouwburg

Café and foyer of the Stadsschouwburg

Today the foyer hosts the Stanislavski restaurant, serving decent food and drink for theatre-goers and for the general public. There’s also a well-stocked bookshop. The theatre focuses on Dutch repertoire.

Holland Casino, with Christmas candles

Holland Casino, with Christmas candles

The Christmas lights were up in Amsterdam – inventive, not excessive. The windows of the Holland Casino were lit by candles. As in much of Europe, this state concession has the legal monopoly on gambling, with fourteen casinos. Profits go directly to the Dutch treasury.

Christmas lights on the PC Hooftstraat

Christmas lights on the PC Hooftstraat

In the PC Hooftstraat, where designer boutiques jostle for space with chic small hotels and book-lined residential front rooms – the Dutch don’t hide behind curtains – the Christmas lights were these rather grand and festive chandeliers.

The old and the new

The old and the new

Low-rise new buildings blend easily with more historic structures – nothing in het Centrum seems to be higher than five storeys. Everything is on a human scale, walkable, and pedestrianised without excluding cars, which mix easily with the famous bicycles and mopeds and the new rolling stock of the electric trams.

The American Hotel

The American Hotel

The American Hotel on the Leidseplein attracts a steady trade at all times of the day and week, and it is THE place to go for Sunday brunch. They serve a very decent coffee and excellent cake – try the apple tart, something of a Dutch speciality.

The American Caf

Looking back to the entrance of the American Café

Despite the name, the hotel’s exterior is not in as extreme a style as American Art Déco, more in the continental Jugendstil, but the interior is more exuberant, with Nouveau and Déco in an exhilarating mix.

Art Nouveau figures over what is now a dance floor

Art Nouveau figures over what is now a dance floor

The stained glass has a more Art Déco style

The stained glass over the bar has a more Art Déco style

A working building, but the original features - like lighting- stand out

A working building with original features – lighting, brickwork, furniture

The red light district or Rosse Buurt (‘pink neighbourhood’) is as popular and probably more famous an Amsterdam attraction than the American Hotel. Walking through it at three in the morning, you would suffer nothing worse than being solicited, and it’s more tightly controlled now.

Only in one or two side streets do you now see the famous mostly-naked ladies in display windows, all the more startling for being unexpected. They work for themselves, paying the landlord for space like any other retail business in the surrounding streets. The women are protected by legislation and organise themselves into trade bodies. There’s even a museum which explains the details of their working lives. Tourist buses make it a regular part of their itinerary.

Like the rest of het Centrum, it’s cleaner, more genteel than before and, my impression was, occupying a smaller area. Maybe it’s reduced as higher property prices make sale a more attractive option than trade.

The famous Amsterdam coffee shops were also less in evidence. Marijuana and hashish are still on sale, but strictly for personal use, and not being smoked on the street – you can smell more ganja on the streets of Sao Paulo than here.

Shop window in the Rosse Buurt

Shop window in the Rosse Buurt

Some windows included signs expressly forbidding photography, while at others, the door was opened to invite you in as you walk by, even in the January chill. Related businesses in the surrounding streets also used their display space to advantage.

A different kind of shop window on the Jodenbreestraat

A different kind of shop window on the Jodenbreestraat … 

There’s a different kind of shop around the corner on the main street. A branch of a Los Angeles charity, this vintage clothes shop has a unique additional service. It´s telling that it’s in Amsterdam, both an indication of the problems of permissiveness and an admirable response.

Further along the Zeedijk in the Rosse Buurt, there’s a discreet little bar and restaurant run in tandem with a circus. The Casablanca Variété has bar and dining space, an upstairs theatre seating 30 and a downstairs meeting room.

 ... and another kind of display

… and another kind of display again

Next door is a live music venue, Casablanca Muziek, which also welcomes karaoke singers. The eye-catching front window displays the costume of a famous Dutch clown, with text alongside – speaking in the persona of the costume – explaining its history. “When we began working with Circus Boltini in the Netherlands, even Princess Beatrix and Claus came to see me, with little Willem Alexander. Whatever happened to him?”


Instructional text with a moral is a characteristically Dutch phenomenon. The carved gable stone from the orphanage on the site of today’s Amsterdam Museum, with entrances in the Kalverstraat and in the Sint Luciënsteeg, has a piece of text in neat rhyming couplets about its erstwhile inhabitants, something like:

“There will always be more of us, and more costs to bear.

Don’t go without helping, or the change you can spare.”

Carved gable stone from the orphanage on the site of today's Amsterdam Museum

At Sint Luciënsteeg 27 the work of Joost Janszoon

The Dutch like a museum. The building which houses the Amsterdam Museum was built in the seventeenth century, serving as the Amsterdam Orphanage for the next 400 years. The collection includes a permanent exhibition on Amsterdam’s history, a reconstruction of the orphanage, and a programme of exhibitions based on works on loan – currently the portrait of his wife Saskia by Rembrandt – and on ground-breaking research into art history – from March 15th, the work of Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen (1470 – 1533), the earliest named Amsterdam artist.


Modern Delft blue ceramic by Maxim Velčovský

Modern Delft blue ceramic by Maxim Velčovský

The Dutch continue to appreciate both old and new. The origin of Delft blue pottery was the drive to copy Chinese porcelain when supply dried up after 1620. Though they did not manage to recreate porcelain, the use of white tin glazes and cobalt decoration to give the characteristic colours became widespread. This modern ceramic on a hotel counter neatly integrates the Delft tradition with Soviet-era public statuary, with a nod in the direction of the modern mania for tattooing.

Footbridge to NEMO science museum

Footbridge to the NEMO science museum

Public building continues to be commissioned on a large scale. The recently-reopened Stedelijk Museum has a large and sometime controversial modern extension which nevertheless works very well. The Rijksmuseum has also been extensively refurbished.


The NEMO Science Museum sits alongside the Centraal Station, low in the water like an exotic ship, with a footbridge echoing naval architecture. It makes good use of its surroundings, and perhaps also refers to …

The engine of prosperity

The engine of prosperity

… the eighteenth century ship anchored alongside the  Scheepvaartmuseum or naval museum close by. Here’s how the wealth of the Golden Age was generated and brought in, using a revolutionary design for a buis or tube, a merchant ship with substantial capacity and demanding fewer men to crew it. The Dutch gift for design has deep roots. It comes to the fore in the newly refurbished city from which those ships set sail.

A winter Christmas

A winter Christmas

The Christmas lights snake along the bare branches of winter trees. Street decorations – chandeliers, leaping angels, candles, foliage – are traditional and generally monochrome. The restrained yet striking style of today’s city Centrum might have appealed to the man whose actions started it all, Willem de Zwijger (William the Silent), the ancestor of today’s King Willem Alexander.

At Schiphol Airport, a busy, clean and efficient facility, there’s an outpost of the Rijksmuseum with some good oil paintings on show, if you need to while away an hour before your flight. This portrait of him in sober dress by Dirck Barendz and his circle captures a sceptical wisdom missing from better-known portraits.

The Germanic nobleman who started it all

The Germanic nobleman who started it all

Leading figure in the Dutch Revolt against Habsburg Spain which began the Eighty Years’ War, the story of his ‘Silent’ epithet suggests both restraint and passionate feeling. Raised a Lutheran and educated as a Roman Catholic, his resolve to oppose Philip II of Spain’s policies began in June 1559.

William and the Duke of Alva had been sent to France as hostages to secure fulfillment of a treaty following the Hispano-French war. During a hunting trip to the Bois de Vincennes with Henry II of France, William and Alva openly discussed a secret understanding between King Philip and King Henry aimed at exterminating Protestants in both France and the Netherlands. William kept silent at that time, but decided that he would not allow the slaughter of so many innocent subjects. The Dutch national anthem still swears loyalty to him today. It seems apt in a country still fiercely determined to be fair.

It was a public holiday in Sao Paulo last Saturday – the 460th anniversary of the founding of Sao Paulo.


The holiday fell on a Saturday, so no time off work, but nevertheless, with a sunny weekend beckoning, there was a holiday mood. A good day for a walk. Avenida Paulista, where a street celebration was promised, or Ibiripuera Park, with weekend crowds and shaded walks?

Corner of Rua Inglaterra and Rua Groenlandia, Jardims

Corner of Rua Inglaterra and Rua Groenlandia, Jardims

I walk up to Ibiripuera Park, the largest in Sao Paulo, through steady traffic. Vendors man their pitch at the lights, selling cut-price flowers, gadgets, and in his usual spot, a man who sells brooms. Sitting beside the road, I thought he had an exotic Brazilian animal on his lap, but it was only his stock of feather dusters.

Sao Paulo is well supplied with public sculpture, perhaps aspiring to the European tradition of bronze soldiers and statesmen, but it’s generally on a more intimate scale, celebrating more modest Brazilians – journalists, tennis players, civic leaders.


Cora Coralina, leading Brazilian poet

Cora Coralina, leading Brazilian poet

On an approach to a side entrance of the park there’s a bust of celebrated writer Cora Coralina (1889 – 1985), not published in book form until her mid-seventies, though she had been writing since her teens. Living in Sao Paulo for much of her life, she was a modest and popular writer, born in the interior of Brazil in  – and returning at the age of 67 to – the town of Goiás Velho which was the source of much of her subject matter. After her husband’s death she earned a living by making and selling sausages and cakes, selling books, and also writing stories, poems and children’s literature for the newspapers.

The park is bustling with the Saturday crowd – cyclists, joggers, skaters and skateboarders, families with pushchairs, friends out power-walking as they talk – and here too there are vendors, of agua de coco, ice-cream, refrigerantes or soft drinks, and bicycles for hire. On the grassed areas there are the practitioners of capoeira – a Brazilian dance and martial art form – people singing and playing the guitar, pairs of lovers, tight-rope walkers practicing, people in hammocks, religious groups praying in public …  Most people don’t have gardens, so the park offers them welcome space, fresh air and natural surroundings. During the week the park’s population reflects the affluent suburbs close by – they come to exercise – but on Saturdays they stay away.

Greased Pig by Ricardo Cipicchia

Porco Ensebado (Greased Pig) by Ricardo Cipicchia

We walk along the shaded asphalt paths, a leisurely stroll, with all kinds of people walking in both directions, skaters weaving through the pedestrians, cyclists in their lanes, and every imaginable kind of casual dress and undress. Children play around the water fountain, a circle of youths and girls bat a volleyball from hand to hand, someone strings up a hammock. The sun is quite fierce, but an avenue of giant bamboo is quiet and fresh. A large plastic cup of cool agua de coco is welcome. The park is full, but not crowded. A park employee stands at a pathway junction with a whistle, warning skaters to stay in their lanes as they speed down the hill.

Statues appear scattered throughout the park, chosen for popular appeal. The bucolic game with a greased pig is clearly a favourite – its back and neck have been burnished by many hands. The sculptor Ricardo Cipicchia also has a piece on the esplanade in Santos, a fisherman casting his net into a boiling sea.


Here in Ibiripuera everything is peaceful. So much so that the park police have an easy Sunday. Who could imagine that down on Avenida Paulista the street party included a demonstration, which turned into a riot, complete with special police and property damage?

Policing the park

Policing the park

From that perspective, you understand that one of the functions of public art is to define a national character, a model for citizens to follow. The gentle, innocent country people and poets are acceptable, desirable, but urban rioting seems to be just under the surface this summer. Both are cultural expressions, posited as opposing tendencies, and the function of public sculpture in this is clear.

In the days of the military Junta the radical arts group 3Nos3 performed “baggings” of public sculptures – covering the heads of various dignitaries and mythological characters with plastic or cloth bags to demonstrate the ostrich-like blindness of the country’s political class to the state of the nation and the abuses of power. (Thanks to Simon Lewandowski.) And perhaps a reference to some more sinister practices too. More at


Mario Ramiro bagging a public statue

Mario Ramiro bagging a public statue

In England for the festive season. Travelled across two counties today, Worcestershire and Warwickshire, to steady rain. Rivers, brooks and streams almost bursting their banks, plenty of standing water on the roads and in the fields. Most people are inside out of the rain – only a few solitary dog-walkers, and an intrepid group of hikers, to be seen.

Welcome to the UK, Birmingham International Airport

Welcome to the UK, Birmingham International Airport

The UK is not an effusive culture, but it prides itself on being fair.

Wudu: washing, to prepare for formal Islamic prayers

Wudu: washing, to prepare for formal Islamic prayers

Especially at Christmas and Easter, you may hear the ringing of changes on a peal of church bells.

Bell tower St Mathias Malvern Link

Bell tower St Mathias Malvern Link

A kingdom of two countries, a principality and a province, the United Kingdom has long known how to create consensus.

England from the Welsh borders

England from the Welsh borders

Gentleman farmer in Landrover Tdi 90

Gentleman farmer in Landrover Tdi 90

The country landscape is dominated by rivers, setting the course of rail and road, the character of counties, and marking the landscape as heavily as do Roman roads and military camps. (Castrum, camp (Latin); on the sites of the many towns with ‘cester’ or ‘chester’ in their names.)

At Shrewsbury, two views of the River Severn ...

At Shrewsbury, two views of the River Severn …

... revered as the goddess Sabrina by the Romans

… revered as the goddess Sabrina by the Romans

Paddington Station, London ...

Paddington Station, London …

... a Victorian cathedral of the railway

… a Victorian cathedral of the railway

Enamel sign for newsagent WHSmith

Enamel sign for newsagent WHSmith

Although not as numerous as they were, some towns still host a garrison.

Copthorne Barracks, Shrewsbury, 1878

1878 Copthorne Barracks, Shrewsbury


Just as important in creating the national character is the material culture – a pint of bitter ale in a country pub (“public house”), or at this time of year, a slice of rich dark fragrant Christmas cake, with a mantle of almond marzipan and lemon and sugar icing.

1900 Hop Market, former hotel and bank, Worcester

1900 Hop Market, ex-hotel and -bank, Worcester, where hops are still grown for beer


Lift, 1931 ex-Tetley brewery offices Leeds, now an art gallery

Lift, 1931 ex-Tetley brewery offices, now an art gallery, Leeds

Snug in the Nag's Head Malvern Link

Snug by the fire in the Nag’s Head public house, Malvern Link


Holly and pine cones symbolise new and eternal life

Holly and pine cones symbolise new and eternal life

Its history is ever present, but England wears it lightly now.

Morris Minor, predecessor of the British Mini

Morris Minor, predecessor of the British Mini

Worcester Guild Hall, with rare public statue of Queen Anne, top

1721 Worcester Guild Hall, with statues of Charles I and II and of Queen Anne, top


Semper Fidelis, the Worcester city motto, recalls the English Cvil War

The FIDELIS in the Worcester city motto recalls the English Civil War


I’ve written before about Bárbaro, an Uruguyan assado or barbecue restaurant in Vila Olimpia in Sao Paulo.


It’s more than a year since my last visit, and business is good. The property has expanded to include more space – it’s the width of three residential plots now, boasting a terrace, a sala de festa and an outdoor space at the back. The dining rooms at the front and the back continue to host a good tango show, with a three-piece band, a statuesque singer and an excellent pair of light-footed tango dancers.

Urugyan tango band with guest singer

Urugyan tango band with guest singer

The carnivorous menu is good – the morcilla salgado or savoury black pudding is a great starter – and a jug of clericot, otherwise known as white sangria, accompanies the barbecue very well.

The bandoneonista is a virtuoso, the keyboard player has a sense of humour, and the bass / guitar / singer / musical director is very accomplished. After the show, the bandoneoinista engages in spirited discussion about the nationality of tango musicians. He finishes the conversation with a friendly bear hug (um abraço) but it’s an Uruguyan, not a Brazilian hug, as it’s followed by a rough kiss on the cheek. Uruguyan men are uninhibited kissers of their own gender, while Brazilian men shy away in horror, proffering a theatrical Roman handshake instead. It’s not just the music which varies by country in Latin America. Here’s a famous tango which you’ll recognise, La Cumparsita, an Uruguyan composition.

No, not the outré Spanish film-maker, but a good tapas restaurant. The décor bears more than a passing resemblance to his film aesthetic, and your bill is presented in a fine red ladies´stiletto, but in the interest of avoiding copyright infringement, that´s as far as it goes.

Original artwork

Original artwork …

The architect-designed interior is stylish and comfortable – Spanish roccoco meets cocktail lounge – and the service is charming and attentive. Upstairs is an intimate function room seating 20 or so, and affording you a view of the industrious kitchen. Spanish chef Tomàs Peñafiel and his Argentinian team turn out tasty tapas and other Spanish classics – paella, bacalao, and churrros, among others – and the jamón serrano is good.

 ... with live jazz

… with live jazz

They´ve been open about a year now, and have recently begun to offer a live jazz quartet on Wednesday evenings from about 7 pm. With a repertoire from Spanish boleros through Brazilian choro to funk and jazz classics, the music matches the food for fusion and appeal.

Jazz en plein air and in full flight

Jazz en plein air and in full flight

And the wine list is also appetising. Spanish and New World, cava and sangria, and if that´s not to your taste, ask for your cocktail of choice. This is a venue whose watchword is good quality, in food, in wine and in music. What more could you want?


Avenida Paulista is the main thoroughfare in the older business district of Sao Paulo, in the city’s Centro. These days, the offices throng Avenida Faria Lima and the wealthy live in quiet low-rise suburbs like the Jardims, but once the mansions of the coffee barons lined Paulista in impressive displays of wealth. A few relics remain from its time as a grand address.

Catedral Nossa Senhora do Paraíso

Catedral Nossa Senhora do Paraíso

But being Brazil, nothing is quite as it seems. This cathedral building dates from 1952, and is the seat of the largest community of Melkite Greek Roman Catholic Christians in the world. They trace their ancestry to Antioch at the time of the apostles, following the Byzantine rite, in full communion with Rome. Services are conducted in Arabic …

Turn-of-the-century relict

Turn-of-the-century relict

This quiet beauty remains stubbornly anonymous. Government building?

Corner site - listed building?

Corner site – listed building?

Brazil has a system for listing buildings of historical and architectural interest – a listing is somewhat ominously called a tombamento – and the fate of such buildings seems to be government ownership or as in the case of the site above, business premises for consultancies and similar. Since 1991 there have been tax concessions for (regulated) conservation and restoration work on listed buildings, indeed the law applies to all kinds of material cultural heritage.


That may be seen as very little and very late in the case of Avenida Paulista, when you look back to how it was.

Avenida Paulista 1902

Avenida Paulista 1902

From http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/S%C3%A3o_Paulo_(cidade)

And down near Avenida Faria Lima, where the public infrastructure – Metro station and now roadworks and bus station – is gradually catching up with rapid commercial development, a quick solution is still popular. It’s November, shopping starts now; which colours shall we use for our redecoration? The strong Brazilian visual sense is in rude health.

Avenida Teodoro Sampaio

Reindeer on Avenida Teodoro Sampaio

A Croatian-born trumpeter playing New Orleans jazz in a French-look bistro – where else but in Sao Paulo, cosmopolitan world city?

Brand of cachaça (sugar cane spirit)

All of Jazz is a celebration and an academy for all forms of jazz, set on a quiet street at the modest end of upscale Itaim Bibi in Sao Paulo. It’s in an ochre-red building, with echoes of New Orleans in its first-floor balcony and its ambience.

Rua João Cachoeira 1366

Rua João Cachoeira 1366

The music starts around 10 in the evening, every day except Sunday, with an ever-changing programme to delight the ear as you sit at marble-topped tables and sip your drink or sample the menu.

Jazz quartet May 11 2013

Bentwood chairs, a tiled floor, a bar against one side and the small room is full – it would be crowded with an audience of 50.

Jazz video jukebox

Before the evening’s band comes on, jazz videos play on a small screen. Upstairs, there’s a wide range of jazz CDs and some videos for sale, alongside a few upstairs tables. The band takes its break on the street out front. Customers join in – this venue doesn’t stand on ceremony.

Trumpeter Busic is well-versed in the classics, from New Orleans to New York, from Dixie to Miles Davis, and his accented singing lends charm to the band’s playful renditions. A Latin Summertime, a gospel-tinged approach to blues – the musicians have a lot of fun with time signatures, styles and colours, sharing it with audience in best showman style.

André Busic Quintet 26th October 2013

André Busic Quintet 26th October 2013

The rhythm section is particularly jokey, the pianist inventive, and Busic preaches with the best of them when he cuts loose. The tenor plays with a sweetness all the more surprising for his impassive demeanor, while the greats of jazz look on from their monochrome portraits. This is a venue whose raison d’être is simply to come and enjoy the music.


The Teatro Colón is a landmark for tourists in Buenos Aires, if only to take the guided tour. This is a sumptuous building, recently restored, and with an active cultural programme, so taking the tour is a pleasure. Mainly an auditorium for opera and ballet, theatre performances are the rare exception. To see a performance there, visitors can try a Monday night booking, when prices are discounted.

Teatro Colón

Teatro Colón – zoom in to see bas-reliefs and busts by Argentine Italian Luigi Trinchero

Its scale is striking – the building’s setting, overlooking the wide thoroughfare of Avenida 9 de Julio to the east, the plazas separating it from the courts or Tribunales to the west, and with a reasonably spacious pedestrian plaza to the north, allows you to see it well. This building is large, seating just under 2,500, with standing room for 1,000 more, and boasting a stage area of some 400 square metres.

Where carriages draw up

Where carriages draw up

The principal entrance on the western Tribunales side on Calle Libertad has an ornate cast iron and glass canopy, to enable patrons to make a sheltered entrance from their carriages, as they were doing at its opening in 1908. The very elevated were able to take their carriages right inside the building, and enter the ornate foyer via a flight of carpeted steps.

Entrance for the better seats

Entrance for the better seats

The foyer is as heavily ornamented as the rest of the building, perhaps more so. It becomes clear that then as now, the social dimension of going to the opera loomed large in the public’s mind. An elaborate system of entrances and foyers kept the social classes apart, however united they were in their love of opera.

Grand foyer

Grand foyer

Though the (very knowledgeable, English-speaking) tour guide made much of the fact that two principal architects had worked on the building, in contrasting French and Italian styles, the building is in truth a great success in its styling, united in colouring and theme, and actually pleasantly varied in style.

Decorative fittings, imported materials - the steps are Carrara marble

Decorative fittings, also by Trinchero, imported materials – the steps are Carrara marble

The modern additions – coffee shop and restaurant, ticket sales, bookshop – are tastefully integrated into this Belle Epoque confection. But tasteful doesn’t begin to describe the impact of the ornamentation of the upper foyers.

Even the fire hoses are decorative

Even the fire hoses are decorative

The ornament is floor-to-ceiling, the colour scheme varied and harmonious, the art work largely gracious and in keeping with the building’s purpose – to impress, and to enable social transactions.

Beautiful stuccoed ceiling

Beautiful stuccoed ceiling

A palace – yes, to the Muses, but a palace – in which to feel at home. The gods and heroes of this pantheon are musicians, their busts presiding over the mortals below.

Every aspect richly decorated, harmonious

Every aspect richly, harmoiously decorated

The domesticated gods of a previous culture are pressed into service here. It was said that if you wanted someone to fall in love with you …

Cupid and Venus

Cupid and Venus

… you whispered the name of your intended in Cupid’s ear, and he directed his mother’s arrows to the heart of the beloved.

The upper level

The upper level

This in a setting which might already make you light-headed. And if your friends were to overhear the name, and assist the arrow in its flight, then so much the better.

Not a love seat

Not a love seat – the stained glass praises domestic fidelity in the person of Penelope

The serious side of the transaction was reserved for your elders. You were in due course made to sit on the two outer seats of this sofa de salon while the patriarchs compared notes and bank balances. Only if the outcome was judged satisfactory would the match be made. And woe betide you if a male member of your family made a faux pas, sitting down on one of the other sofas – these were strictly reserved for the ladies. Sitting betrayed the fact that you were a stranger to this echelon.

One of the world's best auditorium acoustics

One of the world’s best acoustics

Oh, and the music? Beyond the foyers is one of the best acoustics in the world (Marshall Long, Acoustics Today April 2009), recognised as such by performers like Pavarotti. The theatre’s “acoustics (have) the greatest defect: its acoustics are perfect! Imagine what this signifies for the singer: if one sings something bad, one notices immediately.” We were lucky enough to hear an orchestral rehearsal on our tour – the acoustics are indeed crystal clear.

And what of the ordinary public? The standing room at Teatro Colón was known as the ‘hen house’, filled with ordinary Italian opera lovers, who made their feelings clear, booing, catcalling, and throwing food at the stage if the music was not to their liking. Despite the social hierarchy, this voice from ‘the gods’ was also well-known.

The tango is quintessentially Latin American, and especially Argentinian. There are Uruguayan and Brazilian variants – tango and maxixe – but just as the samba is thought of in the same breath as Brazil, the tango belongs to Argentina. Arising in the working-class districts along the Rio Plata which separates Argentina and Uruguay, the tango has become a form known and recognised the world over, both its dance and its music.

The back room is to the left

The back room is to the left

It isn’t difficult to see a tango show in Buenos Aires: the ticket sellers are almost as prolific as the money changers (“Cambio cambio!”) on the main pedestrian thoroughfares. The most ‘authentic’ show is said to be the performance in the back room at Cafe Tortoni, one of the oldest established cafes in Buenos Aires.

Tortoni opened its doors in 1858, as the tango was beginning to emerge from the Porteno workers’ dwellings in La Boca. Judging from the early photographs, the cafes were a home from home for working men, offering food, warmth and relaxed company, in much more comfortable surroundings than the crowded wooden shacks they called home. (See https://theproverbial.org/2013/07/11/cafe-life-in-buenos-aires/ on Buenos Aires cafes.)

Tiny stage

Tiny stage

The Tortoni show is intimate, but it is nonetheless a performance for a seated audience. To understand the social meaning of the tango, you need to see a dance session at one of the many milongas or dance halls around the city. Not tourist destinations, these are more a dance school and tea dance venue.

Milonga el Arranque

Milonga El Arranque

There are more than 60 milongas in Buenos Aires alone. (Listings at http://hoytango.com.ar/) We went to El Arranque, which shares its name with a famous tango orchestra. On the afternoon we went, there had been a class, with a dance session for students to follow, the music provided by a DJ. A large dance hall in a nondescript modern building, it had an array of tables with checked table-cloths around a large dance floor, and a stage occupied only by a large banner. A simple menu and a rudimentary bar suggest that dancing is the main attraction.

Milonga dancers

Milongueros and milongueras

Despite the cavernous interior, the dancers moved with fierce concentration, not to say passion, following the musical format and the conventions of the dance with close and sometimes rapt attention. Pairs of dancers take a turn counter-clockwise around the outside of the floor, for a bracket of three or more dance tunes. Each bracket is separated by a section of faster music, allowing partners to return to their own, separate tables. Invitations to dance are made by eye contact and an inclination of the head or the lift of an eyebrow. Not that I saw any – it’s done with subtlety.

We saw couples form and dissolve with easy formality. Some longer partnerships were evident – a teacher dancing with a number of pupils, and executing more showy leg movements in the space left for him in the middle of the floor; younger couples honing their skills for competitive dancing; some couples who danced only with each other, and had perhaps been formed on this dance floor.

Personal styles were also evident. Traditionally the woman follows in tango. The moves are signalled by the man’s hand on her back, pressing and lifting to indicate direction. Some danced loosely and fluently, others with greater attention to formal steps. One woman danced in the Argentino style with all her partners – leaning into the contact at chest level so intensely that if he had moved away, she would have fallen – and dancing always with eyes tightly closed.


And just as the camera does in this footage of a tango competition at L’Arranque, your attention is drawn to the feet, partly by the intricate steps, but also so as not to intrude on the peculiarly public intimacy of the dance. It becomes clear that tango was a social dance before it became a show. And in the milongas, it remains so.

The Torre Pedroso de Moraes and the Torre Faria Lima in the business district along the Avenida Faria Lima in Sao Paulo are a pair of landmarks. Developed for Brazilian company Aché Pharma, Faria Lima stand head and shoulders above the surrounding mixed-use buildings, while Pedroso de Moraes provides a tongue-in-cheek foil. The high tower is iconic near and far.

Street-level view

Street-level view with theatre entrance below

Pedroso de Moraes was built first, and is known locally as the ‘Palácio da Carambola’ for its star-fruit-shaped supports.

Pure geometry

Pure geometry

The inverted ziggurat of Pedroso de Moraes is a kind of anti-tower, its sharp edges and broad-shouldered shape a riposte to the sleek areodynamics above.

Intersecting volumes

Intersecting volumes

Yet they interact harmoniously, the high-gloss finish serving to unite as well as to reflect.

Glossy surfaces

Reflective surfaces

A familiar sight when glimpsed in traffic, Faria Lima surprises with its scale in close-up.

Lilliputian street furniture

It dwarfs the street furniture

The distinctive entrance to the tower’s gallery and theatre is playful compared with its business-like access on Pedroso de Moraes.

Offices of Demarest & Almeida Avogados

Offices of Demarest & Almeida Avogados

The  Instituto Cultural Tomie Ohtake entrance gives the colours of its tower a playful shake, as if it were a handful of bunting ribbons. (Tomie Ohtake is a Brazilian abstract painter and the mother of the architect, Ruy Ohtake.)

Signature entrance

Signature entrance

The interior foyers are a series of long low spaces built with more of the raw concrete and white steel bracing used for the exterior. Exhibition spaces are the familiar white cuboids, pleasantly high-ceilinged.

Spacious interior view

Spacious interior …

... with comfortable café

… with comfortable café

There were photographic exhibitions on when I visited, both international and Brazilian, including photographs of Brazilian architecture, a fitting subject for such a well-known edifice.

Iconic building

Iconic building …

... with local adventures ...

… with local adventures …

... in architecture to match

… in architecture to match

One suspects that when Aché Pharma, recently the subject of bid speculation, becomes as obscure a name as Pedroso de Moraes – a Brazilian pioneer bandeirante known as “Terror dos Indios” – the tower for which they funded the development will still be known by the name of its architect.

Reflected cloudscape

Reflected cloudscape

Banded colour

Banded colour …

... carried through into interior

… carried through into interior

Carambola support

Carambola support

Even more dramatic at night

Even more dramatic at night


In 1554 a group of  Portuguese Jesuit missionaries established a school and settlement in the unexplored interior of Brazil, on a plateau which sits high above the place where the rivers Tamanduateí and Anhangabaú meet. Known as São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga, it was a mixed settlement of Jesuits, Portuguese colonisers and indigenous Caingangue people.

The first Colégio building was a simple wattle-and-daub hut, or in the words of José de Anchieta, one of the founding priests, “um paupérrima e estreitíssima casinha“, a very basic and narrow little house. By 1556 a school and church had been built using rammed earth.

The names for the rivers, and the fact that they shared the settlement, suggest that the indigenous people had good relations with the colonisers. The site for the mission chapel was originally the house of one of the indigenous chiefs.

Rebuilt 1653 and 1953

Rear wall overlooking the steep drop to the Anhangabaú

Not all the settlers had good relations with the indigenous people. In 1560 the Governor General of Brazil, Mem de Sá, ordered the inhabitants of the nearby village of Santo André da Borda do Campo to move to the Colégio, to protect themselves from indigenous attacks behind its walls. In 1562 the Colégio was itself besieged, and although it survived, attacks were to continue intermittently for the next 30 years. But the settlement grew, and in 1585 the Colégio was expanded.

Looking out over the inner courtyard

Inner courtyard

In their mission to convert and educate the indigenous peoples, the Society of Jesus also came into conflict with the colonisers, who wanted the indigenous as slaves and  labourers on their plantations, not as literate Christians. When disputes arose with the labourers who lived in Jesuit communities, the colonisers found they were dealing with the Jesuits, rather than with the labourers. In 1640, the Jesuits were expelled from the settlement they had founded. By 1653 Fernão Dias Paes Leme, one of the colonisers who had supported their expulsion, had brokered their return. The Colégio underwent major repairs.

Daughter of the cacique (indigenous leader) Tibiriçá with José de Anchieta

Bartira, daughter of the cacique (leader) Tibiriçá, with José de Anchieta

The colonisers mounted expeditions to the interior, setting out from São Paulo dos Campos de Piratininga to capture runaway slaves, to enslave more of the indigenous population – cheaper than buying African slaves – and to search for gold and precious stones. These expeditions followed a flag, a bandeira, the explorers being known as bandeirantes. It’s a history of which the city remains very aware.

Bandeirante pioneer Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva, Parque Trianon, Sao Paulo

Bandeirante pioneer Bartolomeu Bueno da Silva, Parque Trianon, Sao Paulo

Gold was discovered in the interior in the 1690s. The Jesuits meanwhile continued to convert the indigenous to Christianity, to educate them, and to learn their languages. They were active throughout the colony.

Jesuit Museum at Embu, Sao Paulo state

Jesuit Museum at Embu, São Paulo state

In 1759 the Jesuits were expelled once again, not just from São Paulo, but from Brazil and from Portugal by the powerful Prime Minister Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, who was later made the Marquess of Pombal by a grateful Joseph I of Portugal. The Jesuit church in São Paulo was used by the Portuguese Crown and later the state, becoming known as the Palácio dos Governadores, and the Pátio do Colégio as the Largo do Palácio. The church was demolished in 1896.

Tribunal de Justiça do estado de São Paulo

From the practice of Severo Ramos de Azevedo & Villares

Surrounded by more exuberant Paulistano architecture – the former Primeiro Tribunal de Alçada Civil  is an extraordinary 1930s confection – the Colégio which sits neatly on its hilltop today is a reconstruction, rebuilt between 1953 when the site was returned to the Society and 1979 when the Museu Anchieta was opened.

Pátio do Colégio

Pátio do Colégio, rebuilt 1653 and 1953

This quiet seventeenth-century Mannerist building hides its extraordinary history behind a modest whitewashed facade. When the museum’s re-design is implemented, let’s hope they make more use of its dramatic story.


‘Recoleta’ is an up-market district of Buenos Aires, a famous cemetery, and a mendicant order of friars and nuns. The austere Augustinian Order of Recollects, founded in Spain in the sixteenth century, established a convent and church on the outskirts of Buenos Aires in the eighteenth century. The church is still there, well-kept and worth a visit.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar

Less than a hundred years after the church was opened, the order was disbanded in Argentina, and the vegetable garden of the convent became the first pubic cemetery, the Cementerio del Norte.

Interior of the church

Interior of the church

The layout was designed by French engineer Próspero Catelin, said to have had the Parisian Père Lachaise cemetery in mind. The dead were not buried but held in mausoleums above ground. As yellow fever broke out in the poorly drained areas of downtown Buenos Aires, especially from 1852 and culminating in the epidemic of 1871, wealthier citizens moved north to safer ground, and the status of the district rose.

Still a working cemetery today

Still a working cemetery today – “May they rest in peace”

The cemetery was remodelled in 1880, from when the grand neo-classical entrance dates. Much of the material used in constructing the elaborate mausoleums between 1880 and 1930 is said to have come from Paris and Milan. When you catch sight of the statuary inside these gates, the effect is astonishing in its exuberance and richness.

Built for his son by the founder of newspaper  La Prensa José Camilo Paz

For his son by founder of paper La Prensa José Camilo Paz – sculptor Jules Felix Coutan

Recoleta is in fact quite small – some six and a half thousand plots compared for example with the 53,000 of London’s Highgate Cemetery – and the city crowds in to the northwest and southwest. As in the city, the Recoleta streets are shadowed and windy, with some sunny corners.

City of the living beyond the walls

City of the living just beyond the walls

And as in Buenos Aires, there are marvels of urban architecture to intrigue the eye. Just a touch more exotic.

Byzantine-style dome

Byzantine-style dome

Neo-classical dome

Neo-classical dome

Elaborate Art Nouveau tomb

Elaborate Art Nouveau tomb

One sees quite a few tombs which are barely Christian in style.

Early 20th century 'Middle Eastern', Argentinian naval family

Early 20th century ‘Middle Eastern’, Argentinian naval family

The detailed guide book (the website  http://www.ciudaddeangeles.com/  is sadly not maintained) confirms that “in 1863 the bishop of Buenos Aires retired its blessed [consecrated] condition after President Mitre – also buried here – ordered the burial of a well known Mason, blessing that has not and will not be recovered.” In fact, leading politicians – Sarmiento, Yrigoyen – buried at Recoleta in Masonic vaults were members of the Obediencia a la Ley N° 13 lodge.

Family of Italian origin, developers of BsAs wholesale food market

Family of Italian origin, developers of BsAs wholesale food market

Active from 1859, the lodge has its own vault in Recoleta.  http://www.scribd.com/doc/36186658/Boveda-Logia-Obediencia-a-La-Ley-N%C2%BA-13

Family tomb of de Alzaga and de Yturriaca

Family tomb of de Alzaga and de Yturriaca

The stories behind the monuments are perhaps more dramatic than the memorials. Martín de Álzaga – his family tomb, above, is shared with the de Yturriaca family – was a poor Basque immigrant whose wealth grew from trade in slaves, fabrics and weapons. He participated in the resistance to the 1806 British invasion of Buenos Aires, and its defence in 1807, but fell foul of the new government and was publicly shot in 1812, his body left hanging for three days. The Recoleta tomb is dated 1866 – the guide book says that his wife and daughter confined themselves to their home until their deaths and burials in the same mausoleum.

The impressive tomb of General Julio Argentino Roca stands out on its corner site for its elaborate sculpture and metalwork. Bronze victor’s wreaths adorn the side of the structure, and the angel atop the pediment holds two more – Roca was twice President of Argentina. Known as  el Zorro – the Fox – he devised and led the 1878-1879 Conquista del Desierto, which pushed back the indigenous tribes – dominated by the Mapuche people – who attacked Argentinian settlements in Patagonia, killing about 1,000, capturing 15,000 more, and pre-empting Chilean-Mapuche domination of the area. With the help of the Remington rifle, he laid claim to huge tracts of land, which were awarded to his backers. The settlement of Patagonia by Welsh immigrants dates from this time.

Family tomb watched over by its patriarch

Family tomb watched over by its patriarch

Though crosses top the railing and an obscured Christian cross decorates the pediment, the doused crossed torches on the frieze are Masonic. An apt contrast, in the light of the debate between revisionists and apologists for the Conquista

Tombs of national heroes like Roca are well kept, so what are we to make of the dilapidated tomb of the Sáenz Valiente family? The mouldings and ironwork barely keep the patched brickwork standing, and the stucco is long gone.

Tomb of Casto Sáenz Valiente

Tomb of Casto Sáenz Valiente

Anselmo Sáenz Valiente, a successful Spanish grocery merchant, was a hero of the British Invasion of Buenos Aires, joining forces with Martín de Álzaga to resist and repel the invaders, but avoiding political entanglement with him, despite being affected by anti-Spanish measures after moves towards independence began in 1810. His son Casto, the third-born of 14 children, was close to Juan Manuel de Rosas, who was to become virtual dictator of the newly independent Argentina. Perhaps he did not have his father’s instinct for political survival – the guide book says he fled to Uruguay, where Rosas laid siege to Montevideo for ten years. Does the state of his tomb reflect his continued political exile?

A cemetery of mausoleums naturally has architectural interest, but there is a wealth of decorative detail to enthrall the eye too. The non-Christian trend is also in evidence here.

'Egyptian' memorial, mourner wearing a Fascist helmet?

‘Egyptian’ memorial, mourner wearing a Fascist helmet?

The Biblical tradition is of course strongly represented. In a section of Recoleta set aside by de Rosas for prominent citizens, the Panteon Ciudadanos Meritorios, there’s a charming bas-relief in marble illustrating the New Testament verse on children. Its low-key simplicity is restful to the eye.

In memory of Peña, an educator

Sculpted by Italian Livi in memory of Peña, an educator

Sometimes a simple trick of the light is enough.

Shadow of a statue

Shadow of a statue

A small detail can be hugely significant. A simple family tomb …

2013-07-02 11.11.18

Top right is a plaque bearing a well-known name.

Memorial to little Eva (Evita) Peron, nee Duarte

Memorial to little Eva (Evita) Perón nee Duarte

Roughly translated, it says that whoever follows the same path as Eva Perón, in imitation of Christ, is also one of his disciples. The guide book tells us that there are always flowers on this memorial, and it relates more of Eva Duarte de Perón’s history, dramatic even after her death.

When Juan Perón was exiled from Argentina, Eva’s embalmed body was guarded by her sympathisers in secret, but flowers always appeared at her door; one of the guards shot his own wife by accident while guarding the body. The military government of the day quietly sent the body to a cemetery in Milan, where it stayed for 20 years. A new military government sent the body to Peron in Spain. When he returned to Argentina in 1973, the coffin was once more taken and recovered. Her sisters finally interred the body safely under the concrete of the Duarte family vault.

One begins to understand how strong the symbolism of earthly remains is in Argentina. In 1987, Juan Perón’s hands were removed from his body and an US$8M ransom demanded. It was not paid, no one was ever charged, and the hands have not re-appeared. It’s been interpreted variously as an attempt to promote Argentinian democracy, to destroy the cult of Perónism – which remains a significant political force in Argentina – or a Masonic ritual to deny Perón’s body rest.

The most haunting story though is associated with a memorial striking for its beauty.

Memorial to Rufina Cambaceres

Memorial to Rufina Cambaceres sculpted by Richard Aigner

Eugenio Cambaceres was a wealthy man, a controversial politician and novelist, who died in 1888 of tuberculosis when his daughter Rufina was only four. Her uncle was also a well-known politician. Her mother Luisa Bacichi was a dancer from Trieste, who despite not being accepted by local society later took up in with founder of the Radical party and President of Argentina, Hipólito Yrigoyen, who had many informal relationships with women. An unconventional family.

Rufina was found dead on the evening of her 19th birthday. Despite being examined by three physicians, no cause of death could be established. She was interred, but some day later cemetery attendants noticed that the coffin had been moved. When they opened it, Rufina’s face was said to be scratched and injured, presumably in an attempt to escape or at least to be heard. She had been interred alive, while suffering from catalepsy. Her family commissioned the tomb you see, with the freestanding young lady in white at its door.

Taking a little sun

Taking a little sun

There are those who say they see a young lady in white wandering near the cemetery at night. Certainly the way death is treated quite casually here – all the dead above ground, ornate coffins on display behind glass and wrought iron – lends itself to such stories. Even if the sombre reminder as you exit frames mortality firmly in a Christian context.

"We expect the Lord"

“We expect the Lord”

Buenos Aires is known as the Paris of Latin America, and at its best, it is indeed a spacious, beautiful, prosperous and cultured city. One of the factors which makes it cosmopolitan is the number of  cafés or bares – there is one almost literally on every corner in the microcentro. The city conducts its life in them, at every level.

Bar of the Plaza Hotel, Florida San Martin, near the river port to Colonia

Bar of the Plaza Hotel, Florida San Martin, near the river crossing to Colonia

The Plaza Hotel has been an upmarket destination for more than a century. Overlooking the Plaza San Martin in Retiro, it was opened in 1909 and hosts the wealthy and the well-known to this day. Its bar is a destination in its own right. The wood-panelled decor, buttoned leather and subdued lighting make for a relaxed ambience, and its high tea – cakes, sandwiches and a decent pot of tea – is a welcome treat. The skill with which the barman mixes drinks for his regulars suggests that he can provide a treat too, should you be in the mood. On Wednesday evenings they have live jazz music.

London livery company dinner 1925 - note guests of honour

London livery company dinner at the Plaza, 1946 – note guests of honour

At the everyday level, cafés abound. The Florida Garden opened in 1962, a meeting point for the avant-garde of the day. During the week it is more a businessman’s venue, with a pleasant mezzanine floor offering an elevated view of the daily bustle. The double counter is workplace and service facility, and the copper accents extend from the coffee machine over the decorated walls and up the stairs. They serve a decent coffee and the usual medialuna (croissant) with ham and melted cheese. It also sells coffee beans loose. The constant stream of customers confirms that it is still serving them what they need.

The counter at Florida Garden, corner of Florida and Paraguay

The counter at Florida Garden, corner of Florida and Paraguay

Out in the quieter suburb of Recoleta, overlooking the plaza in front of the renowned Cementerio de la Recoleta, is the equally famous Café La Biela. Opened in 1850 when the area was still farmland, and the vegetable garden of the local monastery only recently converted into the first public cemetery in Buenos Aires, it was a small pavement café on the site of a general store. As the city grew and as the well-off moved further north to escape the yellow fever breaking out in the lower land by the river, the café grew and changed, hosting the members of the Civil Pilots Association, and in its second century, racing car drivers and enthusiasts from Fangio and Jackie Stewart to Emerson Fittipaldi.

La Biela at Recoleta

La Biela at Recoleta

It takes as its symbol the connecting rod or ‘conrod’ from a car engine, known in Spanish as la biela. Sipping coffee, we saw customers reading the newspaper, having a meeting while the car waited outside with driver, having their shoes shined at table, taking the afternoon sun on the terrace, or planning their visit to the Cementerio.

Petit Colon on Plaza Lavalle

El Petit Colon on Plaza Lavalle

Buenos Aires takes its café culture very seriously, and prefers it traditional. El Petit Colón has the look – traditional ceiling mouldings, wooden furniture and bar, patterned wallpaper, brass fittings, black and white photographs, and spectacular light fittings. It’s popular with the lawyers who work around the nearby Palacio de Tribunales and with business people, as well as with the theatre-going public at the Teatro Colón from which it takes its name. Fast attentive service, good bar food and the usual excellent coffee complete the package. Difficult to tell that it opened as recently as 1970.

Cafe Tortoni on Avenida de Mayo

Café Tortoni on Avenida de Mayo

And so to that venerable Buenos Aires institution, Café Tortoni. Whether you ask where the best café is, or the best tango show, you get the same answer: Tortoni. Founded in 1858, and a feature of city life for generations, this café is such a landmark that if you look like tourists, and a little lost, as we clearly did, the locals give you directions to it unasked.

The bar at Cafe Tortoni

The bar at Café Tortoni

Here too the decor is in brown, beige, off-white and gold, with stained glass, brass light fittings, black and white photographs, wood and leather chairs, and the usual food and coffee. It’s the original style to which El Petit Colon pays homage. The costumed waiters play their parts well – we saw one grip a bottle of agua in the crook of his knee to open it with his free hand – and towards the back the cultural life of the café is celebrated with photographs, bronze busts and a souvenir shop. On the left hand side at the back is a separate room for the tango performances, seating 50 or so at tables, with a stage at the far end for musicians, singers and dancers (though not all at the same time).

Cafe Concert

Café Concert

The show we saw featured a pianist at the baby grand, a stony-faced bandoneon player centre stage and an electric bass to the right, with just enough room in front for the singer or for a pair of tango dancers. The performers walked in through the audience, and the dancers changed behind the curtain. A technician at the back ran sound and lights for an appreciative audience of visitors.

Café Tortoni is one of more that 70 cafés and bares declared Bares Notables by the city. Although supported by the city’s programmes, the status of such establishments does not prevent them from closing. They find ways of promoting themselves – tango shows, websites, supporters clubs – which raise their profile. Some recent establishments are experimenting with a more modern style – the Grand Cafe in Plaza San Martin is said to deploy a New York style – and such adaptation is needed for café life to survive. Clearly they are no longer the home from home of working men as seen in the early photographs, but as long as they provide what the Porteño – the citizen of Buenos Aires – needs, they will thrive. It seems that Buenos Aires needs a sense of history with its coffee, its medialuna and its WiFi.

Staying in Buenos Aires last week, I saw some of the expected sights – Recoleta, Cafe Tortoni, Calle Florida – but it was an unexpected visit to a museum which provided the greatest delight.

View over Caballito

View over Caballito

Seeing friends in the neighbourhood of Caballito, we had time to spare so we called in at the Museo Argentino de Ciencias Naturales “Bernardino Rivadavia” (MACN) on the main thoroughfare of Avenida Angel Gallardo. 

The museum from Avenida Angel Gallardo with street market

The museum with street market, from Avenida Angel Gallardo

Designed, built and opened in stages between 1926 and 1937, the museum is the work of the Department of Architecture of the Nation, placed in the Centennial Park. The two entrance blocks were built first, the plainer joining galleries added later, as is evident in the photo above. The design objective was to build “according to architectural standards in force at the time for European science museums.”

The northern entrance

The northern entrance – note brass spiders

From the first glimpse of the northern entrance hall, you are in the grip of a Gothic imagination. Yes, the owl is a symbol of wisdom, and the spider in its web perhaps signifies the power of carefully constructed thought, but for many people these are spooky, slightly menacing animals too.

Its twin at the southern end (note brass spiders)

Its twin at the southern end, lights above door replaced

The dramatic nature of their symbolism is emphasised by such devices as the high placement of the rather large owls, and the golden shimmer of the brass spiders and webs against the the black iron-work of the doors. These symbols are intended to invoke awe.

Geometric decoration

Geometric decoration

The largely geometric decoration of walls and floors points up these natural forms. And there are more surprises lurking in corners.

Animal decoration

Animal decoration

The relief sculptures of animals on display in the halls are to be expected in a museum, but the bats at the capitals of the pillars are an unexpected find, and once again, quite Gothic. They are carved in crisp, unmistakeable detail

Like their real-life counterparts, these bats don't repond well to light

Bat in direct daylight

Although the Musem’s website mentions two of the sculptors involved – Alfredo Bigatti, who worked in stone and bronze, and for the stage, and fellow-Argentinian Donato Proietto – the building is an anonymous work, perhaps reflecting the character of the commission from the state as well as the tenor of the times.

Staircase to first floor

Staircase to first floor

The handrail to the first-floor galleries uses the same combination of black ironwork and brass – the forms evoke snail shells, in a style reminiscent of Gustav Klimt.

Whale bone

Whale bone

Some of the Museum’s galleries are gloomy boneyards – the museums was directed for many years by a paleontologist, and it shows. The collection of dinosuar remains is extensive.

Hominid bone

Hominid bone

There are some good collections of live fish in aquaria, and the bird tableaux have a diverting soundtrack which can be summoned at the push of a button for each species. The geology collection is also good, and all sections have the admirable aim of providing a panorama of Argentinian samples. But it is an old-fashioned approach.

Theropod epidermis

Theropod epidermis

The quiet star of the show for me is the building itself. Maintenance is demanded to keep it at its best – with more dramatic lighting and a greater emphasis on its history and qualities, it could become a well-deserved architectural landmark of Buenos Aires.

Northern door from inside

Northern door from inside

I noted a bus tour of “Buenos Aires, City of Architecture”, and there are indeed many fine buildings from the Belle Epoque and Art Nouveau and Deco eras. This 1930s masterpiece deserves to join them.

Staircase off southern foyer

Staircase off southern foyer

The Museum’s dedication to informing and educating its public about Argentinian natural history could happily be complemented by highlighting its architectural history as well.

One of a series of basreliefs decorating the connecting galleries

One of a series of basreliefs decorating the connecting galleries

And if you were looking for a location for the next Batman movie, the Museum could stand in well for Bruce Wayne’s mansion … it’s a hidden gem of Buenos Aires’ architectural riches.

On the Museum, see




On Alfredo Bigatti, see



Heavyweight champion of the world

In 1920, heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson opened a club called Club DeLuxe on the corner of 142nd and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York.

He is said to have gone broke. A prominent gangster called Owney Madden took over the club in 1923, re-opening it after a year. Madden, an immigrant lad from Leeds in England, had risen through the New York underworld with a reputation for violence.

Madden and business partners Big Bill Dwyer and Big Frenchy De Mange (below)

Big Bill Dwyer, believed to own the Pittsburgh Pirates

Big Frenchy DeMange

Big Frenchy De Mange

also became owners in the exclusive Stork Club, where influential gossip columnist Walter Winchell (below) held court.

Walter Winchell in 1939 Photo by Granger fineartamerica.com

Walter Winchell in 1939 Photo by Granger (fineartamerica.com)

An owner in more than twenty clubs, Madden was known for his Prohibition-era business activities. He was also known for his revenge tactics and his pay-offs of City Hall.

Owen Madden

Owen Madden

From these origins sprang the musical culture which was to conquer the world, to nurture the aristocratic Edward Kennedy Ellington, and to make the name of the Cotton Club an international by-word for exotic sophistication. We should not be surprised that U.S. rappers glorify gangsta culture, or that funk in Rio is associated with organised crime. Whether they will produce another Duke remains to be seen.

To put Club DeLuxe in its setting, here’s a thumbnail sketch of the Harlem nightlife of that time, from The Harlem Renaissance by Steven Watson http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug97/blues/watson.html

In 1933 the Mercado Central opened in the centre of Sao Paulo, establishing a covered venue for what had been a collection of street markets for all kinds of food. Harking back to the dominance of agriculture during the café com leite era ended by the Revolution of 1930, the agricultural products of Sao Paulo state were to be sold in what was a grand and decorative yet also a functional building.

Entrance to Mercado Central with coat of arms of city of Sao Paulo over

The cornucopias supporting the Sao Paulo crest are echoed in the fruit-filled urns surmounting the keystone caryatids – could this be the origin of Carmen Miranda’s famous millinery?

Cast iron ribbed roofing with Corinthian capitals

Cast iron ribbed roofing with acanthus leaf capitals

The Mercado’s architect was Francisco de Paula Ramos de Azevedo (1851-1928), who ran one of the most prestigious practices of the time. He was the architect of what is now the Pinacoteca Sao Paulo gallery


a building which began life as a vocational school for the applied arts. The Mercado has also undergone changes of use – renamed the Mercado Municipal, and from 1969 transformed into a retail- and leisure-oriented space, while the sale of wholesale agricultural produce has moved to the larger, out-of-town-centre CEAGESP site at Vila Leopoldina. Like the Mercado, this site is also open almost every day.


The Mercado Municipal is a retail space where every conceivable kind of foodstuff is sold

You can't make a silk purse ...

Sold by Porco Feliz, without irony

including that essential for the feijoada pork and bean stew, pigs’ ears.

The food enthusiast can spend a happy hour or two shopping for the wares of vintners and butchers, fruiterers and fish-mongers (including piranha), sellers of herbs and spices, cheese-mongers, every kind of coster-monger … the variety of food is astonishing.

A mezzanine floor has been created inside the ample proportions of the market building. It has a good collection of restaurants of varied types, with a large common seating area crammed with chairs and tables, and a range of counters preparing the food bought to you by busy waiters. Going to the market is a family day out. In summer, the tables are cooled by large fans which spray misted water over the diners.

Themed stained glass

Paradise gardens

A striking feature is the series of stained glass windows on agricultural themes on the opposite side, above the food stalls.

stained glass

It’s a bird’s life

Imported from Germany, they depict the raising of the produce on offer below. Idealised even for 1930, there is little sign of the agribusiness engine of the Brazilian economy of today. Nonetheless, they are charming. They’re difficult to appreciate at a distance – click on them to see them across your screen. More on the Mercado’s history at


What’s missing from this picture? We couldn’t smell any freshly baked bread, though there are some few stalls which sell bread, and some of the older stalls serving food downstairs are famous for their bologna (mortadella) filled bread rolls. Perhaps food hygiene prohibits baking anywhere except in the padaria. What was stranger for Brazil was not being able to smell freshly roasted coffee – we didn’t spot a single stall.

They've Got an Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil ... ?

They’ve Got an Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil … ?

But you can visit any of six Nespresso shops in Sao Paulo, and more elsewhere in the country, where coffee is not so much a commodity as a high-margin luxury item, supporting the sale of expensive coffee-making machines which – truthfully – are nothing like as successful as the old Gaggia machine in any corner bar of Italian extraction. The staff are dressed in muted browns, the shop fittings are carefully co-ordinated, and you can serve yourself with capsule coffee. But that glorious smell is not in evidence there either. Strange country, Brazil.


From the official website

Not at all blue – from the official website

Digital remaster of October 30th 1930 session by The Harlem Footwarmers, from The OKeh Ellington C2K 46117

How to write a jazz standard.

1. Listen, to your musicians …

“This thing that clarinetist Barney Bigard used to play, Ellington made a tune of that, “Mood Indigo”, that Barney used to warm up his instrument.” Clark Terry

… and to your teachers.

Bigard learned it from his clarinet teacher Lorenzo Tio, who called it a ‘Mexican blues’ and titled it Dreamy Blues.

2. Innovate.

The usual voicing of the horns was clarinet at the highest pitch, trumpet in the middle, and the trombone at the lowest pitch. Ellington voices the trombone at the top of the instrument’s register, and the clarinet at the lowest. With the electric microphones of the time, it created a ‘mic tone’ from the overtones of the clarinet and trombone, giving the illusion of a fourth instrument. Both trumpet and trombone were tightly muted.

English release of original recording

English release of original recording, with credit to Ellington and Mills

3. Collaborate …

Lyrics were added in 1931 by Mitchell Parish, although credited to publisher Irving Mills, as was common practice, and accruing royalties for the publisher. Ellington never complained publicly about such arrangements, but praised Mills’ guidance and actions as invaluable to his career.

… with open eyes.

“Why in the devil, when you found out what was done to you” – double dipping on royalties and an agent’s fee – “why didn’t you blow the whistle?” (Maurice Lawrence)  Ellington replied that he could have, but then he “would have been black-balled in Tin Pan Alley”

4. Do the marketing.

In truth, the Ellington band had succeeded beyond expectation, at the Cotton Club and on national radio. Mood Indigo, their most popular single yet, had been released at the end of 1930. In 1931 their first nationally distributed press kit was released by Irving Mills. Tours, films and recognition as a composer were the next steps.

Ellington was fond of saying, “Well, I wrote that in 15 minutes while I was waiting for my mother to finish cooking dinner.”

The foremost Black and Tan club

At the foremost Black and Tan club

Original sound from 78 rpm and Victrola


Excellent article about Ellington from The New Yorker


Official website




Note on the song


Extensive biography “Duke Ellington’s America” by Harvey G. Cohen


Jazz nos Fundos is a venue for those in the know in Sao Paulo. On the edge of the Via Madalena nightlife district, and accessed through a working estacionamento or car park, it’s a place to come and listen to the best of Sao Paulo jazz, to patronise with friends and lovers, or to meet the opposite gender. Barely a building at all, it’s a roofed-in corridor which looks as though it was once a car-repair garage.

A nod in the direction of a salon

A nod in the direction of a salon

The venue’s studied air of post-industrial neglect is enhanced by the detritus and the decrepit musical instruments decorating the walls, the rows of old cinema seats for aficionados in front of the stage, and the general gloom of the L-shaped space. A changing art display is hung on some salvaged panels leant against the wall. Customers start to arrive at about 9:30, as the musicians are setting up. Arriving a little earlier means the crush at the small bar is easier to manage. It’s around the corner at the end of the seating area, where you can also dance, or find the toilet. This venue can’t be accused of being too comfortable.

A Latin line-up to make you dance for joy ...

A Latin line-up to make you dance for joy …

The cu-bop line-up of La Orkestra K has played here a few times. Their infectious dance music puts a smile on your face and a song in your heart. With piano, reeds, guitar, brass, wind, percussion and rhythm section, and vocals in Spanish and Portuguese, they cover a range of Latin American musics – Colombian porro and cumbia, Cuban paseo and bolero – and their own compositions, under the musical direction of Paulo K. Individually impressive as soloists, they have clearly worked together many times, to forge a tight and playful ensemble, as their SoundCloud tracks testify.


 ... and streamed live to a screen near you

… and streamed live to a screen near you

Formed in 2011, the Paulistano band has its origins in the music school of the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, and they have learnt their craft well. Just as impressive a sign of the musical vigour of Brazilian culture is the fact that Jazz nos Fundos streams all its music live over the Web, and archives it as an excellent library of contemporary Brazilian jazz. It’s a static webcam, but what a soundtrack! From December last year and this February, here is La Orkestra K’s contribution.


STOP PRESS La Orkestra K is in the recording studio putting the finishing touches to their first album. Stand by for dancing!

The eponymous Paulo K (arms folded)

La Orkestra K, the eponymous Paulo K with arms folded

On the coast fifty miles east of Sao Paulo is the port of Santos, the largest in Latin America. When Paulistanos say they are going ‘to the beach’ for the weekend, they are heading east, though many go to the more chic beach resorts further up the coast. Stuggling through the traffic on Friday and Sunday nights is part of the routine. But if you can go earlier or later than the crowd, it’s an easy trip by Metro and bus.

2013-03-30 13.16.56

Bus station Jabaquara

Taking the Blue Line or Linha Azul to its end at Jabaquara, and a Cometa bus to Santos Ponto da Praia had me on the beach in less than two hours. The descent to sea level through the rain-forest or Mata Atlântica which spreads over the hills is exciting and scenic.

2013-03-30 13.58.59

On the descent into Santos

Santos and surrounds are home to a mere 1.5 million people, much smaller than the Sao Paulo area’s 27 million. The modesty of its dimensions is part of its appeal after the Paulistano urban sprawl.

2013-03-30 14.53.21

Bust of the Duque de Caxias, modest compared with his 12-storey monument in Sao Paulo

Built on the coffee trade, Santos is a sprawling expanse of shipping containers and port service businesses. It remembers earlier trades too.

2013-03-30 14.51.29

O Pescador, Ricardo Cipicchia, 1941, near the Aquário Municipal

2013-03-30 16.46.19

1908 Sailors’ School – Escola de Aprendizes-Marinheiros – now Museu de Pesca

Fishing is still part of the scene, though not as economically important as it once was. While the Chinese container ships plough through the water to trade Brazilian goods with the world, visitors and locals throng the beaches, jog or ride bicycles along the seafront, and sit eating, drinking and talking in the restaurants.

2013-03-30 16.52.34

At the harbour’s mouth …

2013-03-30 14.57.32

… the view north

2013-03-30 14.56.55

Looking south from Ponto da Praia

With some judicious ordering you can have fish and chips for lunch.

2013-03-30 15.54.29

Restaurante Aquario’s Chopp

Santos has the usual apartment blocks overlooking – some might say spoiling – the sea view, and a long landscaped walk beside the water.

2013-03-30 14.59.48

Beach palms

The occasional villa survives, usually as a commercial property.

2013-03-30 16.36.42

Fin-de-siècle town house

The early apartment blocks are not entirely utilitarian – balustraded balconies and ocean-going Deco glamour make an appearance.

2013-03-30 16.03.09

A sea front corner block …

2013-03-30 16.40.47

… seems to invite a landmark response

Some later buildings make effective use of colour and ornament too.

2013-03-30 16.42.23

The ramp doesn’t obscure the exuberant detail of the entrance

2013-03-30 16.43.16

And around the corner …

2013-03-30 16.43.56

… the Santos answer to the Sao Paulo Copan Building

The more recent blocks look positively dull by comparison; even the newer landmark buildings seem to be trying a bit too hard.

2013-03-30 16.50.45

Clube de Regatas Saldanha da Gama

It’s a pleasant discovery to encounter the Chorinho no Aquario, a local music series now in its fifth year, setting up on the Praça Vereador Luiz La Scalla. It features well-known Santos and Sao Paulo singer Nadja Soares with a band of locals and guests, singing jazz and choro standards in a free-wheeling style.

2013-03-30 18.17.47

Nadja Soares sings choro, MPB (Música Popular Brasileira) and jazz standards

Later in the evening she appears at the Casa Verde Bistro – more living room than restaurant – in the Encruzilhada neighbourhood in Santos.

2013-03-30 21.02.52

Corner of R. Monsenhor Paulo Rodrigues and R. Júlio Conceição, Encruzilhada …

2013-03-30 22.51.35 Stitch

… with the Green House upstairs

Local regulars drift in and greet each other warmly. And when the singing begins, it feels even more like a party in someone’s living room.

2013-03-30 21.12.36

More than hearts and flowers behind the green door

The repertoire of artists such as Milton Nascimento from the time of the dictatorship in Brazil is sung with real fervour, and by the whole room. This music stirs strong memories.

2013-03-30 21.39.24

They can sing for hours behind the green door

Brazil has the capacity to surprise at the most unexpected moments. In a genteel upstairs room in a quiet part of Santos, I hear an echo of a more turbulent time, when songs and guitars were pitted against torture and dictatorship. I go home thoughtful, reminded once more of how central music is to the life of Brazil.



At the elevated heights of Rua Oscar Freire, Rua Teodoro Sampaio is known for music  – up where Oscar Freire runs out of boutiques and restaurants, Teodoro crosses it with shops offering every kind of musical instrument and supporting electronics, instrument repair, scores and books, CDs, and the odd bar. Lower down though, Teodoro becomes a furniture market, with emporiums selling all types of mobiliário – beds, chairs  couches and armchairs, stools, tables, accessories – and it stretches for many blocks. It’s surprising to find live music down here, but that’s just what the barzinho on the corner of Teodoro Sampaio and Rua Joaquim Antunes serves up every Friday night.

Barzinho on the corner of Sampaio and Antunes

On the corner of Sampaio and Antunes

Making its presence heard easily over the traffic grinding its way up Teodoro, a samba band is playing and singing lustily. Assim Ta Bom (Well Alright!) has been playing samba together for 20 years. The core of the band is two brothers on surdo (a large standard bass drum played with a rubber-headed beater) and four-string cavaquinho, and a father-and-son team on percussion and vocals. They also substitute for the cuíca, a kind of squeaking drum, by imitating its characteristic sound vocally. A tantao and a tamborim complete the ensemble.

Assim Ta Bom in action

Assim Ta Bom in action

All the players are mic-ed, and sing along vigorously. And as always in Brazil, not only the band but all of the audience too know the words, and they sing along freely. The band plays in the upstairs room, tiled and lit with neon. The beer is plentiful, and resupplied promptly; bar snacks are served too. The audience comes in large groups, and they run their tabs by putting the empties in their beer crate, and settling up at the end of the night. One table of eight or so consume a bottle of vodka – mostly the men – in an hour. It’s a raucous, good-natured event.

The audience gets on its feet in style

The audience gets on its feet in style

The lyrics are bawled out over poly-rhythmic drumming, through which the cavaquinho melody can just be discerned. This music, played in the same circular grouping or roda as capoeira, is about the rhythm and the words. It prompts some startlingly impressive dancing. As a gringo tourist, I am made to feel completely welcome.

Samba ao vivo

Samba ao vivo

Assim Ta Bom are loud, warm, enjoyable – much like Brazil. The way the locals respond to them – not just friends and family, but casual passers-by and bar regulars too – suggest that like Brazil, they are here to stay.

Rua Joaquim Antunes 381

Brado, a newly opened restaurant in Pinheiros in the west of Sao Paulo, is worth a second look and listen. A free-form menu boasts a range of Italian and Brazilian food – the asparagus risotto was good. The bar is stylish without trying too hard.

Good selection, and good service

Good selection, and good service

A tasteful interior is complemented by the quiet walled garden at the back, complete with banana tree. At the front, timber decking extends almost to the footpath. A manobrista  is on hand to spirit your car away to nearby parking.

Two thirds of a jazz and choro trio

Two thirds of a jazz and choro trio

On Saturday, the passing traffic wound its windows down to hear choro and Brazilian classics and jazz standards played with elan by a trio of electric bass, keyboard and woodwind. And it wasn’t only me who found the music to their taste – as well as appreciative honks and thumbs-up, I saw one taxi literally go by, reverse and stop out front for three minutes during a lull in the traffic to allow both driver and fare to appreciate the repertoire.

One-Note Samba and more

One-Note Samba and more

So much nicer than traffic noise, the music made it a pleasant place to catch the breeze. And with good coffee, prompt service, and panna cotta com marmalada de pêra to look forward to, it’s a tempting alternative to the Saturday feijoada.


Wire sculpture – compare with Lanchonete Frevo below



There were stars of the stage as well as the band stand in the ‘Harlem Renaissance’. One of the earliest was Florence Mills, who had learnt her craft on the East coast vaudeville circuit with her two older sisters, and in a quartet of performers called the Panama Four.

Cast of Shuffle Along 1921

Cast of Shuffle Along 1921

But it was the Broadway success of Shuffle Along, the black jazz musical which marks the start of the Renaissance in 1921, that launched international careers for her and at various times for Josephine Baker, Adelaide Hall, Lena Horne, Paul Robeson and Bill Bojangles.


From Shuffle Along, later included in revue Dover Street to Dixie

One of the earliest musical revues written and performed by African Americans, it ran for around 500 performances on Broadway and on tour, and in London, Liverpool, Paris, and other European cities. See http://jass.com/sissle.html on its production history.

Mills’ voice was too soft to register well on the recording technology of the day, but she became a very popular performer nonetheless.

Mills is said to have turned down a starring role in Ziegfeld’s Follies to work on the revue Blackbirds with entrepreneur Lew Leslie. From the first 1926 version starring Mills, Blackbirds became an international success.

Florence Mills by London society photographer Bassano, 1923

by London society photographer Bassano, 1923

In London, Blackbirds was a sensation – Blackbirds parties were all the rage, and the cast were invited to fashionable ‘society’ events. The Prince of Wales said he had seen the show 11 times.

Christmas card from London 1926

Christmas wishes from London 1926

Its success proved Mills’ undoing. The London show ran for more than 250 performances during 1926 – something like five shows a week for a year – and it took its toll on her health. She returned to the US unwell the following year, dying of an infection while in hospital, aged just 32.

Thousands of admirers came to the funeral home and to the funeral. Duke Ellington memorialised her in a piano composition. Rooted in the ‘stride’ style of Harlem, it’s notable for being a solo composition reaching into the parlours of white American and middle-class black American culture – a piano is a weightier investment than the brass instruments of New Orleans jazz. Here it is, played in October 1928. You can hear the Duke finding his voice in this tribute to Florence Mills.

Black Beauty


“The vagabond who’s knocking at your door

Is standing in the clothes that you once wore … ”

from It’s All over Now Baby Blue (Bob Dylan) 1965

Blues of the Vagabond

Way back in November 1929 in New York, the band led by Duke Ellington, resident at the Cotton Club and known on record as The Washingtonians, The Harlem Footwarmers, Joe Turner & His Memphis Men, Sonny Greer & His Memphis Men … and so on, recorded a side for OKeh written by Ellington called Blues of the Vagabond. Duke was the immaculately dressed gentleman professional, arranging, playing piano and leading the band. He looked like this.

The young Duke

The young Duke

At the apogee of what was called the New Negro Movement – later known as the Harlem Renaissance – in the following year they recorded as Mills’ Ten Blackberries, Frank Brown & His Tooters, and the New York Syncopators. In October 1928 for Okeh, under the Duke’s name, they had recorded what became something of a signature tune, The Mooche, also written by Ellington. Here it is: irresistible!

The Mooche

Opposite a glamorous building of the privately-funded Universidade Nove de Julho in Barra Funda, a slightly shabbier building plays host to a minor musical miracle.

New building for private university

High-rise private university, Avenida Francisco Matarazzo, Barra Funda, reflecting …

Room in a public school, dedicated to music

… low-rise public school, Avenida Francisco Matarazzo, Barra Funda

In the music room of the Colégio Olga Ferraz, where the Associação Cívica Feminina (ACF) runs after-school activities, a band for local youth meets regularly to practise. It’s the Banda Choro Blue from a small charity, the Instituto de Música Choro Blue, run by expatriate Bostonian John Berman and his partner, the tireless Lilian Candalaft. This article in the Brazilian business magazine Epoca has more details  http://epocanegocios.globo.com/Informacao/Resultados/noticia/2012/11/alegria-do-choro.html

Where the Brazilian greats are studied, guest musicians visit

Where the Brazilian greats are studied, and guest musicians visit

When we arrive, some kids are already there, and greet us in a consciously adult manner, secure on their own territory. A good number of them are children of migrant workers from the north-east of Brazil, nordestinas who find work in Sao Paulo as maids and cleaners, some of them single parents supporting children on very modest wages. One of Berman’s motivations in working with these students is to raise their awareness of and pride in their own musical culture, which is rich and strong in the African-influenced north-east.

Jazz and choro musician John Berman (foto Michel Pereira)

Jazz and choro musician John Berman (foto Michel Pereira)

A natural and charismatic teacher, he gradually draws them into the practice room, helping them to set up music stands and instruments, checking tuning, welcoming his students warmly as they arrive, and introducing the visitors. I am presented as an interested blogger, his daughter Debra as a New York visual artist – more about her work at  http://brasilart.org/2012/07/15/human-canvas-photo-post/ and at  http://brasilart.org/2013/02/17/decor-deb-berman/ . Her boyfriend Max Comasky, a bass player of 13 years standing, sits in with the band today.

Berman begins by reinforcing some learning points on Brazilian musicians and musical styles, in the guise of choosing something to play. The kids respond with good-natured, sometimes jokey answers.

Deepening the learning

Deepening the learning

Veterans of public playing despite joining the band somewhere betweeen the age of eight and thirteeen years, they settle comfortably into playing from their repertoire, and the music begins to swing. One young man sits beside the guest on bass, absorbing his moves with close and longing attention – he aspires to playing the bass himself.

Max Comasky, bass, and understudy

Max Comasky, bass, and understudy

Students begin with the recorder before choosing an instrument, perhaps starting in the band on percussion, which is also Brazilian.

Group learning, percussion section

Group learning, percussion section

Some are studying instruments elsewhere – the sisters on the front bench are taking classical lessons for violin and for flute, though they play the band repertoire with skill too – and everyone can take the loan instruments home to practise.

First violin and flute on the front bench

Close concentration on the front bench

The elan with which they play makes clear that these students do practise – the two lads on saxophone swap improvised phrases playfully, the other flautist on the front bench shyly constructs a phrase, the clarinettists underpin the pieces with steady melodic flow.

Alto and tenor saxes, with tenor doubling on flute

Alto and tenor saxes, with tenor doubling on flute

Modestly accomplished

Modestly accomplished

Concentrated woodwind

Concentrated woodwind

When Berman wants to illustrate a point about the rhythm of the music, he waves his arms wide and claps and counts in the rhythm he wants, and has the students stand and move to the music so that they feel the rhythm. Spontaneous smiles break out.

Get up, get on up ...

Get up, get on up …

Comasky demonstrates his ‘slap bass’ technique, adding the instrumental element.

Get UP, get on up ..

Get UP, get on up …

As latecomers arrive, they pick up instruments and join in. Despite it being school holiday time, the band’s all here.

Not a good place to take a phone call ...

Not a good place to take a phone call …

 ... but he makes that triangle ring like a bell

… but he makes that triangle ring like a bell

And yes, during this practice, Deb Berman warmed up by decorating the entrance door before moving on to the back wall, for a quick-sketch mural in the colours of the Brazilian flag.

2013-02-13 16.02.24


But by far the most exciting and impressive thing is that these kids, barely teenagers, perhaps in the face of indifference from parents

Percussion ...

Percussion …

 ... wind and ...

… wind and …

 ... woodwind

… woodwind

are enjoying practising and playing music, over a time-scale of years – that’s more than many students with much greater access to such opportunities can manage. Their joyful noise is a testament to their spirit and that of their supporters. Encore!

2013-02-13 16.23.15

Banda Choro Blue

P.S. Here’s a clip from Brazilian breakfast TV about Choro Blue. The band is covered from about 2:15 on.


P.P.S. And here’s a snap of Deb Berman’s mural at Choro Blue’s forthcoming new practice rooms. The paint is still wet …

Choro Blue mural, Sumaré, Sao Paulo

Choro Blue mural, Sumaré, Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo is quiet this weekend. There are blocos out dancing in the streets – I can hear them coming up from Vila Madalena, as can the barking dogs, followed it seems inexorably by emergency sirens – but many folk have gone elsewhere to sample the delights of carnaval, while the city known in Brazil for hard work (and some say for not knowing how to play) pauses to draw breath. It rained heavily today, as it can in January and February. That dampens carnaval spirits. This year’s accessory is the clear plastic disposal anorak.

Today I strolled down Rua Augusta to the corner of Rua Oscar Friere. It’s an interesting mix – Oscar Freire is all designer boutiques and high-end restaurants, though the locals say that trade is a little precarious. Augusta on the other hand is known for drag queens and prostitutes. In previous generations it was known for chic coffee bars and the fashionable youth style of la dolce vita.

Center Oscar Freire Augusta

Center Oscar Freire Augusta

The building on the corner is an elegant example of Brutalism, the raw concrete cast in flat facades pierced by rounded windows. The concrete of the balconies is harder to keep clean, and the inhabitants have domesticated them with paint, but the faintly nautical effect can be glimpsed behind the abundant plant life and inserted air conditioners.

A graphic sign used to grace the shopfront on Oscar Freire, showing a man drawn in black and white dancing with a coloured umbrella. (Google Earth is keen on copyright.) Lanchonete (pronounced lanchonetchi) Frevo has been here since 1956.

Entrance to Rua Oscar Freire 579

Entrance to Rua Oscar Freire 603

On Sunday afternoon it’s quiet, though it does a brisk trade during the week. The diner is famous for beiruites – a cross between a hamburger and a steak sandwich, it’s a slice of beef with sliced tomato, melted cheese and oregano, in toasted pita bread. A small one is a decent snack. A chope of draught beer makes a refreshing accompaniment. Service is copious, fast and friendly.

The business is built on this simple fare. The decor, unchanged since it opened, has moved from being out of fashion to being a design classic, by virtue of standing still. Even the appliances – scales, beer pump, air conditioning – are vintage. They don’t make ’em like that any more.

Wire figure 1956

Wire and wood figure 1956

Primrose yellow tiling, fixed red bar stools, and wooden decoration of the supporting beams, window sills, hanging lamps and the front of the kitchen – styled as a beach hut, complete with plastic palm trees – anchor it firmly in the 1950s. The same colour scheme of grey, red and primrose yellow is used in its upmarket sister site.

Frevo Shopping Iguatemi

Frevo Shopping Iguatemi

The square tables start to fill up, some pushed together for groups of family and friends. I order dessert, discovering that they do not serve coffee, so I order another chope.

He dances over the beer pump

He dances over the beer pump

The bevelled mirrors bolted to the walls, even the taste of the dessert – strawberry ice-cream with tinned fruit salad – is 1950s. Frevo is an institution, one of those places which has been around long enough to boast about it, with black and white photographs, with regular and one might say ancient customers, and a venerable patron.

Dancing couple, cool breeze

Dancing couple, cool breeze

And the name? Frevo is the music and dance of carnaval from Recife in the north-east of Brazil, the umbrellas integrated into an acrobatic dance routine. Perfect for a rainy Sao Paulo carnaval afternoon.

We Anglos are used to speaking the world’s lingua franca – around 70% of the world’s business is transacted in English – so we’re taken aback to find that not everyone can default to our tongue, or that some have only a handful of words in their Anglo vocabulary.

It’s not confined to Latin America – in Tokyo airport I saw an alluring refrigerated display of a drink they call Sweat – but in Brazil, with less British influence than say Argentina, it’s especially true, though they’re catching on, witness the huge number of English language schools. Sao Paulo is providing free English lessons for taxi drivers to prepare for the Cup and the Games. Cultura Inglesa, a clever combination of consulate, arts centre and language school, has 56 branches in Brazil.  http://www.culturainglesa.net/wps/portal/inicio

Evidence for the absence of English in Brazil and Uruguay surprises you with unintentional, sometimes Anglo-Saxon humour. A selection below.

Leather goods boutique Christ, Punta del Este, Uruguay

Boutique, not church, Punta del Este, Uruguay

Supermarket, Montevideo - not a Welcome sign

Supermarket, Montevideo – not a Welcome sign

For the educated dog, Sao Paulo, Brazil

For the educated dog, Sao Paulo, Brazil


Not.   Supermarket, Sao Paulo

Let's hear it for fabric softener. Supermarket, Sao Paulo

Let’s hear it for fabric softener. Supermarket, Sao Paulo

Boutique near the Playa de los Ingleses, Punta del Este, Uruguay

Boutique near the Playa de los Ingleses, Punta del Este, Uruguay

Pharmacy, Sao Paulo

Pharmacy, Sao Paulo

Bakery section, Sao Paulo supermarket

Bakery section, Sao Paulo supermarket

People are puzzled when I stop to take such pictures …

Sao Paulo is under constant development and refurbishment. As in many large cities, the sounds of building work are a near-constant accompaniment to daily life – power tools, delivery trucks, steel and concrete fabrication, the shouts and whistles, and the hand-tools, of workmen (haven’t seen a woman builder yet) are woven into the soundtrack. In Sao Paulo, ‘verticalisation’ is the main activity.


Make a space and fill it in

The older buildings are gradually demolished to make way for towers of apartments, with perhaps a commercial element included. This process is not always straightforward – the redevelopment of Avenida Faria Lima in the 1960s, for example, met with some resistance. See https://theproverbial.org/2012/08/16/regeneracao-gentrificacao/ .


Corner of Rua Artur d’Azevedo and Rua Fradique Coutinho

On the corner of Azevedo and Fradique, one block of buildings has been gradually shut down for demolition and re-development. A series of graffiti-style posters has appeared, drawing attention to the site.

The female figure was the first to appear, on the traffic control unit, much as they have done in nearby streets, at first painted onto the unit direct.

Corner of Rua Joaquim Antunes and Avenida Rebouças

Corner of Rua Joaquim Antunes and Alameda Gabriel

Eventually all four sides of the Azevedo and Fradique unit were covered, security banding adding a randomly appropriate element to the image.


Mixed media – paint, newsprint, traffic unit. Her eyes have been opened

Images on paper had begun to appear elsewhere in the neighbourhood.


Rua Teodoro Sampaio


As the humans leave, they emerge

As buildings fell vacant, the images spread, much as their real-life subject might do as they are disturbed by demolition. The instinctive revulsion most people feel towards cockroaches was deployed very effectively in this piece of guerrilla art.


The bar on the corner is now closed

Zezé of the gymnastics academy had been above the shopfront on Azevedo – latterly an automotive workshop – for 35 years, and bid her students and neighbours a sad farewell.


Rubble on the academy stairs and the blinds awry – only the façade is still standing

This development is symptomatic of a deep-seated issue in Brazil – the ownership of property. Business owners often do not own their premises. The goodwill they build up over years can be destroyed with little notice to make way for a more profitable development.

A year ago the artist put the finishing touches to the mural on the local pool hall, also established about 30 years ago (the leaping / floating man against a blue background an homage to French surrealist Yves Klein – see  http://tudosobretech.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/exposicao-a-fotografia-manipulada-antes-do-photoshop/  ). Whatever benefit the new building delivers, I doubt it will be as characterful as this establishment. Are the graffiti artists the only ones to mourn its passing?


Mural art with cockroaches

UPDATE Demolition is well under way. A hole in the fabric of the city, soon to be filled by another vertical. For a moment, the unadorned sides of cast concrete buildings are exposed.

Standing on the corner

View on the corner


Here’s the hole in the ground from which the new tower will be built.

Corner of Azevedo and , October 2014

Corner of Azevedo and Fradique, October 2014


In a previous post https://theproverbial.org/2012/11/19/sao-paulo-necropolis/  I sketched the history of a leading cemetery, the Cemitério São Paulo on Rua Cardeal Arcoverde. I went back on Sunday for a stroll – it’s a quiet place in a noisy city, its sculptural works are some of the most impressive to be seen, and it’s a noticeably green spot in the concrete jungle which surrounds it.

Angel in the city

Angel in the city

Arriving early, you encounter the destitute who sleep in the shelter of the grand graffiti-ed entrance porch, with blankets, cardboard and plastic for warmth. Some also use cachaça – sugar cane spirit – perhaps mixed with soft drink. In this setting, one is more inclined to think “There but for the grace of God … ” than to condemn.

The other side of the porch was occupied

The other side of the porch was occupied

Rua Conego Leite which leads to this entrance suggests the cemetery’s former grandeur too – a terrace of picturesque Art Nouveau villas hides under painted motley, a neo-classical loggia on one corner of the crescent facing the entrance echoes the porch’s style.

Loggia, corner of Cardeal Arcoverde and Conego Leite

Loggia, corner of R. Cardeal Arcoverde and R. Conego Leite

Inside the cemetery there are signs of life too. I explored another corner this time, and beside a plot too small and awkward to use I found a kind of living space and home-made shrine on the niches for cremations, where a sheltering tree grows.

Someone lives here

Someone lives here

The trees and plants, here by accident or by design, are in good shape.

Beautifully variegated, self-seeded ...

Beautifully variegated, self-seeded …

 ... or perhaps not

… or perhaps not. Next to a well-tended plot

The main monument a traditional yew tree

Shaded by a traditional yew tree

Plants in art and in life

A more controlled planting

Thoughtful integration of plant and stone

Thoughtful integration of plant and stone

The cemetery is thronged with the usual devotional and memorial sculpture – vistas of Christs interspersed with Pietas, the occasional Madonna and Child, grieving families, and a scattering of angels. More unusual examples stand out in this feast of sculpture.

Relaxed, informal angel, awaiting her or his charge

Relaxed, informal angel, awaiting his or her charge

Memorial family group

Memorial family group

Mourning family group

Grieving family group

Overcome with grief

Overcome with grief

Neighbours in death

Neighbours in death

An imaginative approach to sculpture is not restricted to the human figure here. Contrasting colour, shape and texture – an arabesque of carved marble against a slab of dark polished granite – the use of arch- and box-shaped space, the integration of plant life with stonework, even the varying treatments of the plinths, all display the keen Brazilian sense of the visual.

The symbol of the opening door recurs.

Heaven's gate

Heaven’s gate

Slabs of stone can be incised …

Motto on an academic family tomb -

Academic family tomb – “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree” Psalm 92

… whether horizontal or vertical …

Memorial to veteran athletes of Sao Paulo, with Olympic urn

Memorial to veteran athletes of Sao Paulo, with Olympic urn

A poetic adieu, touchingly casual

A poetic adieu, not set in stone

… or indeed casually leaned against a rough-worked upright. A slab of stone can be left symbolically blank …

2013-01-27 11.27.25

Both blank and incised, both symbol and language

Both blank and incised, both symbol and language

… or serve as a sculptural reminder of a first-rank family.

Back of family memorial by Brazilian sculptor Victor Brecheret

Back of family memorial by Brazilian sculptor Victor Brecheret

(Front-facing view on the crest of the hill in my previous post  https://theproverbial.org/2012/11/19/sao-paulo-necropolis/ ) The northern entrance at the bottom of the hill echoes the idea with a more prosaic but nevertheless striking composition in raw concrete.

Northern gatehouse and offices

Northern gatehouse and offices

It’s an effective background to another innovation, stone trelliswork which echoes the pierced wall of concrete and also integrates plant life.

Closed and open

Closed and open

This memorial alerted me to yet another Paulistano immigrant community, the Hungarian, and with the same ‘thoughtful integration of plant and stone’ as the box-shaped Hungarian memorial above, made me ask if I was seeing a Hungarian aesthetic.

Stone of various kinds can be seen in bas-relief too, whether traditional military-style work …

Compare with the WWII Brazilian Italian airman in previous post

Compare with the WWII Brazilian Italian airman in previous post

…  a memorial style …

Journalism is an honoured profession in Brazil

Journalism is an honoured profession in Brazil

… or a more symbolic portrayal.

The grain of marble like falling light

The grain of marble like falling light

Purely cast bas-relief can also be found.

Door to mausoleum shared between three families

Door to mausoleum shared between three families

There are signs that people occupy themselves in varied ways here – placed on the back of one tomb I saw a collection of broken pieces of white marble, and imagined children amusing themselves by collecting them while older family paid their respects and browsed. The staff inter the dead, but they also gather fallen branches, build and make repairs, clean the tombs with feather dusters.

If you visit as I did not to bury or to pay respects to family or friend, nor with a morbid urge, it’s the sculptural aspect which is so striking. A range of examples illustrate the point.

Pensive angel by Gildo Zampol

Pensive angel by Gildo Zampol

Among the angels in white marble which appear here, especially along the walk from the entrance porch leading up to the chapel of rest, this work is outstanding not just for its technical virtuosity – zoom in for a closer look –

Torso close up

Torso close up

but equally for its finely judged expressiveness. This is a portrait, an archetype, and a spiritual ideal. It sits quietly amidst the ritual and the workaday aspects of the cemetery, a beautifully executed artwork.

Window and torchère, chapel of rest

Window and torchère, chapel of rest

Tomb components with instructions for assembly

Tomb components with instructions for assembly

Memorial sculpture can be showily theatrical or surprisingly frank here.

The archangel Michael, though in Brazil it could be Eshu

The archangel Michael, though here it could be Candomblé deity Eshu

The Last Kiss by Alfredo Oliani.

The Last Kiss by Alfredo Oliani. Her eyes are already sunken in death

He is still very much alive

He is still very much alive. Commissioned by a wife for her husband’s tomb

On the ridge of the hill, a well-known though less direct work by another Italian Brazilian sculptor is known as the Túmulo do pão, the Tomb of Bread. It’s a poignant reminder of the impact of a death in the family.

Túmulo da família Forte by Galileo Emendabili

Túmulo da família Forte by Galileo Emendabili

Sculptor of the military obelisk in Ibirapuera Park which commemorates the 1932 Sao Paulo Constitutional Revolution, Emendabili is of course popular here. This smaller-scale, more private work has a huge impact.

The pathos of the boy’s head on the table and the stoical grief of the man are beautifully conveyed. Staged to make full use of its setting, giving the same symbolic weight to the table and to the loaf of bread as to the human figures, this is a tour de force, one of the strongest in an impressive collection of sculptures which stand the test of time.

2013-01-27 11.00.36

The dead tellingly marked by absence

More at http://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cemit%C3%A9rio_S%C3%A3o_Paulo

David Newman Texas 1933 - New York 2009

David Newman Texas 1933 – New York 2009

Ray Charles needs no introduction. His version of “Unchain My Heart” with the Raelettes is cool and tight where Joe Cocker’s is raucous, sprawling. It makes for a rather different interpretation of the song.


On that 1961 track, the sax player is David (‘Fathead’) Newman. Newman was a jazz player on tenor sax and flute. Beginning in 1954, he spent 12 years with Charles, and then joined the band of jazz flautist Herbie Mann for a 10-year stint.

He was a well-known hard bop jazz player in later years – playing with Stanley Turrentine, and with Cannonball Adderley as producer, for example – but he played very widely. The roll call of those with whom he recorded – Aretha Franklin, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Queen Latifah, Dr John, Manhattan Transfer – demonstrates that he has nothing to prove. His debut album, recorded in 1958, released in 1960, and introduced by Charles, who also plays piano on the album, is a more R&B-tinged offering.

The intention “was to find some swinging numbers, not too far out, that everybody could understand and enjoy, and still show off the best qualities of each member of the band.” Here is their rendition of Dizzy Gillespie’s Latin dance track Tin Tin Deo, with Marcus Belgrave on trumpet, Bennie Crawford on baritone sax, and Edgar Willis and Milton Turner on bass and drums.

Tin Tin Deo

Festival entrance, Swing Street, Punta Ballena

At the Festival entrance, Swing Street, Punta Ballena

The Festival Internacional de Jazz de Punta del Este in Uruguay is in its 17th year. A festival on a dairy farm, its main venue is an outdoor stage set in picturesque countryside at Punta Ballena outside the beach resort of Punta del Este, 3 hours along the south coast from Montevideo. (See www.festival.com.uy/ )


The main stage in its setting

Punta is a place where people feel comfortable – here LBJ attended an American summit in 1967, the World Trade Organisation began with the Uruguay GATT talks here in 1986, American film stars buy houses here.

The Festival office

The Festival office

Dairy farmer Francisco Yobino began a jazz festival here in 1996. His Finca del Sosiego was doing well making dulce de leche – milk-and-sugar fudge, a popular dessert in Latin America – and he had diversified into leisure activities. His first love, jazz, proved irresisitible.

Front row, great view, good sponsorship

Front row, great view, good sponsorship

He is no longer farming, but the show goes on. The musical director is veteran Cuban clarinettist Paquito D’Rivera, an international performer and composer, one of three band leaders featured on the night we went.


Main stage pre-show

The music began while it was light, led by drummer Carlos Carli. He’s a long-time collaborator with D’Rivera, born in Uruguay – and very pleased to be back – now running a music school in Madrid, and he’s played with Gary Burton and Pat Metheney among others. With Ricardo León on piano and Cono Castro on acoustic bass, we had a tight rhythm section.

 ... playing as the sun set

As the sun sets …

His ensemble featured Spanish bandoneon player Leonel Gasso, a well-known accompanist of tango singers and a veteran of tango shows. The bandoneon – a concertina originally from Germany and a standard instrument in the tango’s orquesta típica – is an unusual jazz voice.

… the music starts

Gasso gave it full play – and in the more familiar tango repertoire of Astor Piazzolla – playing the instrument balanced on one knee while the jazz flowed steadily underneath.


Carlos Carli Cuarteto

The audience, many of a certain age, and from Brazil as well as from Argentina and Uruguay, responded enthusiastically, though no-one danced the tango … The Uruguyan Vice-President was reported among the audience, a sign of how seriously Uruguay takes its culture.

Blissed-out audience

Blissed-out audience

As darkness fell, Paquito on clarinet and Diego Urcola on trumpet guested with Carli, bringing on the night in style. They stayed on stage for the second set, joined by Alex and Zachary Brown on piano and acoustic bass, and Eric Doob on drums – young US musicians who also played an impressive bracket as a piano trio. The Quinteto played a series of classical melodies – Bach, Chopin, Beethoven et al – in a jazz vein, improvising around the well-known tunes with great good humour.

Paquito D'Rivera Quinteto

Paquito D’Rivera Quinteto

D’Rivera plays with strong rhythmic drive and lyrical sweetness. And he’s an accomplished showman as well, chatting and joking with his audience, and giving his colleagues room to shine. We were in a fine frame of mind at the second interval. I strolled around for a look at the festival.

Evening dining hall

Evening dining hall

The dining room was being prepared for the after-concert paella and, the PA system in the corner suggested, a musical feast too. Corporate sponsors could enjoy the use of a pavilion with table service close to the stage during the concert, though there were no takers this time. Some people did come dressed for dinner.

Fresh air and music

Fresh air and music

The well-organised facilities also included simpler food and drink – that essential for an enjoyable evening in Uruguay, the parilla or barbecue grill, was doing a roaring trade.

Asado in full swing

Asado or barbecue in full swing

Punta has about 10,000 residents, 15,000 if you include the surrounding country, but it is boosted hugely by tourists during the summer. An evening’s jazz was an inviting prospect after a day at the beach – the 500-odd seats had almost all been taken. Perhaps it was the fresh night air thinning out the crowd.

Outdoor auditorium

Outdoor auditorium at interval

The final band of the evening, the Gary Smulyan Quintet, hails from New York. Once again a trio of hugely competent young musicians drove the rhythm section – Mike LeDonne on piano, John Webber on acoustic bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums – enabling Gary Smulyan and special guest Joe Magnarelli on trumpet to run wild and free.

The Gary Smulyan Quintet

The Gary Smulyan Quintet

A diminutive figure, Smulyan sports a baritone sax which he plays with startling ferocity and attack, though he can also blow sweet and low. The aficionados who remained were treated to a whirlwind tribute to cool jazz and bebop giants of the instrument Gerry Mulligan and Pepper Adams.

On this showing, Punta serves up a good-natured and world-class festival. Other Punta venues also deliver excellent music. Medio y Medio runs a sell-out mini-festival in a characterful Punta Ballena venue, while the Conrad Hotel and casino offers a wide range of theatre, music variety, and floor-shows. There’s a good chance that summer visitors to Punta can find a cool end to their summer holidays.

Birth of the cool ... is that a halo or a music disc?

Birth of the cool … is that a halo or a music disc?

In the Switzerland of South America – in Montevideo, Colonia and Punta del Este – a unique Uruguayan approach to cars can be seen. Cars are expensive and the climate is benign, so the road along the south coast from Montevideo to Punta boasts gently rusting fields which present a history of the car in the twentieth century. And some are on the street …


Mid-20th century car on 17th-century street, Colonia. Not the rustiest road-going car I saw …

At Carrasco airport, the taxi fleet is dominated by white C-class Mercedes estates, and the long-distance bus services are frequent and excellent. The transport infrastructure is sound.

Land transport, República Oriental del Uruguay Armada

Land transport, República Oriental del Uruguay Armada, Colonia

The familiar brands are there.

Champion spark plug, Montevideo

Champion spark plug, Montevideo

In Punta, playground of the rich, you see plenty of Porsches and the odd Ferrari, while at the other end of the scale, Uruguyan recyclers – recolectores – use a very eco-friendly form of transport.


Recolector, Plaza Zabala, Montevideo

Horse-drawn transport has its enthusiasts and collectors, but most striking is the 3- and 4-wheeled, small-engine transport.


Cart and carriage collection, Finca El Sosiego, site of the Punta Jazz Festival

As elsewhere, quad bikes are basic and economical, adopted and developed enthusiastically. The well-known brands appear here too.

Kawasaki quad, petrol station, Punta

Kawasaki quad, petrol station, Punta

In Colonia hire quads ply the cobbled streets; Dad drives with son up front, while Mum and daughter take the rear-facing seat, enjoying that view. Quads can also be hired at the ferry terminal from Buenos Aires.

Ready to tackle the slopes

Ready to tackle the slopes

Locals clearly find them useful.

2013-01-10 13.17.01

Quad in a mild climate, Colonia

None more so than the jobbing builder I encountered. It was hard to believe that this is road-legal, though it reveals the Uruguayan approach to regulation: when he’s stopped by the police the usual reaction is a joking “Get that thing out of the way!”

No differential on the only axle

Kick-start engine, no differential on the axle

It boasts a 1969 100 cc Honda engine, like the Honda Cub step-through bike, and does 38 kilometres per litre, 107 miles per Imperial gallon.

Single windscreen wiper, tiller-style steering

Single windscreen wiper, tiller-style steering

Metal sides, fibreglass roof repaired with gaffer tape, sliding windows, carpeted floor and doors …

Room for all the tools of the trade

Room for all the tools of the trade, including self-made ladder

He has to drive carefully in cross winds, and take corners slowly. Don’t think somehow he’ll be putting in a claim for injury on the job either …


Here’s one I saw at a wedding reception.

1949 V8 Cadillac, Montevideo 2014

1949 V8 Cadillac, Montevideo 2014

During February, I took a break in Uruguay, to see their famed carnaval and to sample the pleasures of coast and countryside. Nothing had prepared me for the delights of the old town centre in the capital Montevideo though. To say I could have been in Paris or Brussels, or perhaps in Palma, is not intended as a back-handed compliment – Uruguayans themselves are proud of the more European style of their culture compared with other parts of South America. The elegance of Montevideo architecture astonished me.


Ex-headquarters of Uruguayan Navy, now ferry terminal, Puerto de Montevideo

The centre of Montevideo is small enough to explore on foot. A busy and prosperous port – ferry terminal, cargo operations, one of the few railway lines – it handles a constant stream of visitors from Buenos Aires, a few hours across the Rio de la Plata by ferry, and tourists from neighbouring Brazil. They stroll past as you sit on the terrace of your favoured restaurant with a glass of medio y medio, an easy-drinking mix of espumante and dry white wine.


British cast-iron water spout …

In the usual way, the central wholesale food market has been transformed into a popular retail emporium. The Uruguayan version has a surprising number of barbecues or parrilladas – I stopped counting after 20 – offering every kind of meat cooked to order. During the working week at lunch time, they are extremely busy, serving between a dozen and 40 or 50 customers at a time, at counters and tables. Not a country for convinced vegetarians, Uruguay.


… and British market hall, Mercado del Puerto

A pleasant surprise awaits you a block or two away, up the hill from the quayside. The historic core of the centre is crammed with turn-of-the-century town houses, street after street of them.


Gracious stucco and cast iron ornament …


… from Belle Epoque to Art Deco


Some are inhabited and in good order


Others await investment


Beautiful moulding, though balustrade needs attention

Art Nouveau gem

Art Nouveau gem …

 ... and occasionally, more utilitarian Art Deco

… and occasional, more utilitarian, Art Deco

Entrance to a naval officers' club

Entrance to a naval officers’ club …

 ... beautifully tiled

… beautifully tiled

Majolica colours

Majolica colours, naval motifs

Some frontages need rescue

Some frontages need rescue

Some demand more drastic measures

Others demand more drastic measures

Heritage renovation

Heritage renovation

Further up the slope of Montevideo Hill, the Plaza Zabala has some of the grandest buildings, around an equestrian monument to the city’s founder, Bruno Mauricio de Zabala. Formerly residential, these palatial buildings are now commercial or cultural.

Casa Matriz, now Discount Bank

La Casa Matriz, now Discount Bank

Palacio Taranco, now Museo de Artes Decorativas

Palacio Taranco, now Museo de Artes Decorativas

The museum’s director told us proudly that the 1910 building’s design was completely French – the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is also the work of its architects Girault and Léon.

Palacio Taranco interior

Palacio Taranco interior

Other, less grand buildings have been re-purposed too. Away from the centre, a prison has become an art gallery, with temporary and permanent exhibitions – a cool Donald Judd caught my eye.

With paint and ironwork, prison becomes gallery

Predio Carcelario de Miguelete, now Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo

Predio Carcelario de Miguelete, now Espacio de Arte Contemporáneo

Prison cells from 1889 exhibiting artworks now

And in a more comfortable part of town, a prison administration block (see below the clock) has become a shopping centre.

Administracion building welcomes shoppers

Administracion welcomes shoppers

The country’s institutions  – parliament and central bank – still occupy imposing buildings in the centre. Guardians of Uruguay’s political and economic health, both are regarded with fierce loyalty by their citizens.

Asamblea General in wedding-cake style, complete with carriage drive

Asamblea General in wedding-cake style, complete with carriage drive

 Banco Central de la República Oriental del Uruguay

Banco Central de la República Oriental del Uruguay

That other great institution, the Roman Catholic church, is also in evidence, both in Montevideo and in the country.

Montevideo church

Montevideo church

San Carlos church

San Carlos church

A nation’s history can be read from its gravestones. At San Carlos, there was the pauper’s grave of a slave of a military officer, and of one who had fought in the ‘war with the English’ (1806-1807? 1845-1849?).

Pauper graves of Maria, "morena esclava del Colonel Leonardo Olivera", and to a commander in the war "contra los Ingleses."

Graves of Maria, “morena esclava del Colonel Leonardo Olivera”, and of a commander in the war “contra los Ingleses”

Indeed, driving through the countryside brought to mind British landscapes, complete with flocks of sheep and dry-stone walling.

Could this be Wales?

Could this be Wales?

Grand monuments may honour Uruguayan politicians, but it was refreshing to see the role of ordinary farmers and drovers being acknowledged too.

Supporting the monument to Zabala

Supporting the Zabala monument

Wool and beef are still major exports

Wool and beef are still major exports

The gap between rich and poor is less marked than elsewhere, and the physical evidence of prosperity is clear. It seems that a prosperous life has been and is still possible for the vast majority of Uruguayans – it’s known as the Switzerland of South America.

Entrance to a countryside villa, now museum

Entrance to a country villa, now museum

And prosperity is not confined to the capital in this agricultural economy.

San Carlos town house

San Carlos town house

Cast iron door grille

Cast iron door grille

The Uruguayan way of life appeals. Which is why I’m going again. Stay tuned to see more of this … and a happy and prosperous 2013 to all!

Town house courtyard with working well, yerba maté kit in foreground

Town house courtyard with working well, and yerba maté kit in foreground

Aeropuerto Internacional de Carrasco, airside - architect  Uruguayan-born Rafael Viñoly

Aeropuerto Internacional de Carrasco, airside – architect Uruguayan-born Rafael Viñoly

Walking down Rua Cardeal Arcoverde, at the gateway to the bar-and-restaurant-mecca of Vila Madalena in Sao Paulo, I stumble upon artistic traditions, old and new. I’ve been this way before, and enjoyed the street art along a roughly-built brick wall flanking a car parking site.

Street art, Rua Cardeal Arcoverde ...

Street art, Cardeal Arcoverde …

As so often in Sao Paulo, the open space is fleeting, temporary. Car parking is a way of making real estate cover its costs until you can make it really pay, by building an apartment block on it.

 ... now under black paint, with the building demolished

… now under black paint, and the building demolished

The street art may have been superceded, but something catches my eye. I’d noticed a form of street art recently which had made me smile – images on paper flyposted to the street wall. It seemed appropriate, given the subject.

Here was a whole nest of such images – maybe this was from where the other had migrated, or was I seeing a new trend emerging?

Xilo Shirt shopfront, Rua Cardeal Arcoverde, Sao Paulo

Xilo Shirt shopfront, Rua Cardeal Arcoverde, Sao Paulo

‘Xilo print’ is Portugenglish for woodcut print. From this shopfront a group of artists produce and sell printed T-shirts, prints on paper, and printed canvas bags and cushion covers. Blocks are cut by hand into MDF (medium density fibre-board) and stored in racks in the shop – they print a shirt while you wait. The images are cultural icons – musicians, artists, actors, cinema characters, signs and symbols, the ever-present sexual images. Old blocks are built into the decor of the shop. And they offer woodcut printing classes.

There are originals for sale too, mixed media on paper, displayed hanging by bulldog clips from nails in the wall. High art appears among the cultural icons, from Leonardo to Magritte. I mention the now-obliterated art across the street, and I’m told that the harlequin figure – see above – was by a Spanish artist. These folk care about their art, and they make it pay too.

Creative quarter, Vila Madalena

Creative quarter, Vila Madalena

What’s more, Xilo Shirt is in a little cluster of original clothing shops, all decorated in the distinctive manner of Brazilian street art while blending seamlessly with the ‘native’ graffiti. A car mechanic’s wall next door sports a colourful satirical piggy bank next to a blue octopus with a manic grin. .

Pig and octopus

Pig and octopus

The combination of outspoken visual brio and entrepreneurial energy strikes me as characteristically Brazilian. You sense the huge potential of the culture, especially when you consider the country’s immediate economic prospects.

What was less expected was a glimpse of the past. Further down Cardeal, there’s a basement shop which has always intrigued me. It’s a jumble of furniture, architectural fragments, light fittings, bric-a-brac and the odd painting, but I hadn’t seen it open before. The door was open, so I made my way down a sloping walkway with inset steps – like the entrance to a tavern cellar – and spent an intriguing half hour with the occupants and their wares.

Carved marble cartouche at the altar, Catedral da Sé

Carved marble cartouche at the altar, Catedral da Sé

Turns out they are restorers of antiques, hence the varied jumble. They make objects to order too – a resin Egyptian sarcophagus for someone’s birthday celebration – and carve plaster moulds for novelty figurines. Incredibly dusty, this Aladdin’s cave gave me a glimpse of another Vila Madalena, a fine arts workshop. I recall that it’s said that the craftsmen and women working on the Sao Paulo cathedral in the 1920s lived in Madalena. Like planets aligning, the pull of the area became clearer. I saw the street art from a longer perspective.

Familigia Mancini has had not one but two very successful restaurants in the old Italian quarter of Sao Paulo, Bela Vista or Bixiga, for many years. On the gently curving one-way pedestrianised cobbles of Rua Avanhandava, the customers’ cars, the taxis, the moto-boys delivering pizzas on their light motor cycles and the occasional rubbish truck or Prefeitura van jostle for space while people alight and manobristas whisk their cars away. It’s lucky there’s plenty to watch on the street, since you can wait forty minutes for a table, nursing a Campari and soda on the benches outside Mancini’s.

Mancini’s, Rua Avanhandava, Bela Vista, Sao Paulo

Set amid the tall Sao Paulo apartment towers, the street is a glittering river of la dolce vita which has brought the neighbourhood upmarket. Apartment blocks have been renovated, and the affluent footfall has attracted chic interior decor boutiques – another attraction to occupy you while you wait to be seated.

Mancini’s is a comfortable establishment, but tonight we are on the other side of the street at Walter Mancini’s, where not only the food but also the music vies for your attention. In contrast with the homely interior of Mancini’s – exposed brick and wood over a number of levels and alcoves – Walter Mancini’s is built along a curve of plate glass looking onto the street, and refracting the lights of the interior. This is one place where Sao Paulo – TV actors, journalists, established musicians – comes to be seen, and it’s reflected in the decor.

Front row seats at Walter Mancini’s

The soundtrack is jazz standards, played by a changing line-up of trios and quartets who take to the central podium. A small grand piano, acoustic bass and a drum kit are fixtures, and the amplifier is decently soft and clear. Valve trombone, saxophone, a chanteuse, all make an appearance. The musicians appreciate and acknowledge the occasional applause from the customers – many are so engrossed in their conversations and their company that you can forgive the players their stony-faced demeanour. For all that the playing is skilled, and the standards played with competence and passion. You see the musicians at table when they have played their set.

Oh, the food? I’ve never had a bad Italian meal, even in the back streets of Palermo, though some have been indifferent. Here it’s Italian Brazilian, which is prepared with a somewhat heavier hand – pasta is thicker and doughier, sauces more salty, flavours less balanced and refined – competent, satisfying and popular though it is. In truth, this is a social restaurant rather than a gastronome’s delight, where the ambience is key, whether one is with family or with the stars and the ‘wannabe’ stars. The decor gives you a clue – a long frieze of framed black and white photos of old Sao Paulo, and over the bar, brass plaques commemorate the performers, writers and artists of the metropolis. Lowering your eyes when you finish studying the plaques, another, more obvious function of the bar is crystal clear. Here you can enjoy the delights of your favourite tipple as you observe le tout Sao Paulo. Once you have secured a seat.

A Sao Paulo insititution

Bought a carpet runner today at Praça Benedito Calixto from the expert Oswaldo. It’s a beautiful floral pattern featuring the traditional dark blue indigo and dark red madder, with geometrical elements of the pattern in natural wool of a creamy white, the floral decoration with pink, brown and green detail, and the pattern symmetrical around a central medallion.

One half of Hamadan carpet runner, 10 feet by 2 feet 6

Traditionally a centre of carpet trading for what is made in the surrounding villages, the finer carpets are named for their villages while more everyday items are known by the name of the city, Hamadan. These beautiful objects are described as “good utility carpets”. See


When you learn that Hamadan has been known for its carpets for a very long time, and you begin to realise just how long ago that could be – it’s on the Silk Road, it’s mentioned as Ekbatana in the Book of Ezra in the Old Testament, as well as by classical Greek historian Heordotus, and indeed may be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world – your perspective on what’s under your feet, and on the people who made and make these objects becomes dizzyingly extended. Take a step back from the generic ‘Persian carpet’ and appreciate it in its historical context, just as beautiful as its impact in the here and now.

It really is called that … this municipal cemitério has a grand entrance. The street opposite ends in a semicircular crescent, now obscured by commercial development. The shops specialise in antique furniture, appropriately enough, whereas the porch shelters the destitute.

On busy Rua Cardeal Arcoverde – named for the first cardinal born in South America

Begun in 1920, since both the Cemitério da Consolação and the Cemitério do Araçá were full, the Cemitério São Paulo extended the opportunity for the socially ambitious literally to build on their reputation with grand tombs and statuary by established sculptors.

Just past the entrance there’s a well-kept memorial to the combatants of the 1932 Sao Paulo Constitutional Revolution, showing the city’s crest.

Their inspiration the law, LEX

The gate is a neo-classical composition, matching the chapel and the records office in style if not in colour scheme.

Both the sober entrance framing the city and…

… the chapel of rest flanked by funerary cypresses show us peace above, PAX

A crucifix stretched out in the sun beside the records office

You’re struck by the profusion of statuary, especially of the human figure in every attitude of grief.

Unusually strong male statue strikingly installed

The sloping site positively writhes with humanity in vistas and avenues.

Metropolis and necropolis

The cemetery is a welcome patch of nature in its urban surroundings, providing quiet, fresh air and cool shade, though as in the surrounding city, every available space is used.

Niches in the perimeter walls

While there are some grave sites for professional groups …

The final curtain

Mausoleum for nuns of the Brazilian order Missionarias de Jesus Crucificado

… and for individuals …

Italian first conductor of Sao Paulo Conservatorium watched over by van Beethoven

… the vast majority are family vaults, and focus on their dynasties from both sides of the family, emphasising the male line.

Individuals pass on, we continue

Their names are from Italy, Lebanon, Japan and Armenia  as well as from Portugal. The iconography is largely Roman Catholic, with classical and Masonic allusions too –

Cristo Redentor, the Good Shepherd at the Door, the broken column

Masonic temple in miniature

Even Shinto veneration of one’s ancestors appears in syncretist Brazil

– in this context, meaning accrues readily.

” … shall be raised indestructible.”

Tile work makes an occasional appearance.

Mother and child, family tomb

Statuary in metal and in stone is finely wrought.

Shepherd boy and charges

Colour and texture effectively deployed

Marble crisply carved, whether in close-up …

… or complete piece

The mausoleums are well built, with careful detailing.

Drainage for planter boxes

Some measures have been taken against the ravages of the twentieth century – air pollution, for example – and there are almost no graffiti.

Art Nouveau work with near a century’s accumulation of grime

This angel remains snow white

Some memorials were prettily and deliberately conservative in the 1920s.

Angel in bas-relief under Romanesque arch with acanthus-leaf capitals

Some embraced the future with a will.

Memorial to a son in the Italian air force

Some symbols are updated in style, or used in a less obviously religious way.

The Via Dolorosa winds around a funerary vase

Image of the statue of Nossa Senhora da Conceição Aparecida, patronne of Brazil

Young woman enveloped by a stiff cloak – perhaps alluding to the venerated statue

The worship of Mary is a recurring theme in Brazilian Catholicism, with appearances as the Virgin and as the Mother of God.

From the life of Mary in bronze, the family name and “Ave Maria” carved high on the obelisk

Modern mother and child

Obelisk or chapel, traditional or modern, family or individual, even Christian or not, all kinds are gathered here.

For a priest, a chapel …

… complete with altar, Islamic inscription, Candomble offering … ?

… and angels above

Small but functional family chapel

Family tomb by leading Brazilian sculptor Victor Brecheret

Jesuit tomb for Maluf family – perhaps less keen to highlight construction now

(See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-20373040 )

Sure of salvation through living right …

Traditional grouping with traditional message

… or trusting in God at the last trump …

At St Peter’s gate

… when the final preparations are made,

Fear no more the heat o’ the sun

a door does seem an appropriate symbol.

Chapel of rest

Life in Sao Paulo always seems to be book-ended by tower blocks – unless you live in an expensive suburb like the Jardims, where the height of development is curtailed, or in a gentrifying suburb like the slice between Avenida Faria Lima and the Pinheiros Marginal ring road – see


– where the tower blocks are commercial, not yet residential. In Pinheiros, residential towers are springing up on available plots, though the apartments being sold off plan are not moving as easily as once they did.

A pair of towers face each other …

You notice that in a suburb like Itaim Bibi, which has been developed as a business and residential district for some time, the property owners and their architects seem to be competing for landmark status.

… across the street in Itaim

It becomes a bragging contest, in which money talks.

Itaim landmark not just in its own street, with pretensions to the status of the Copan Building

Close up, it's huge

Close up, it’s huge

The retail branches of banks – they do very well in Brasil on a level of customer service which expatriate Anglo-Saxon customers find surprisingly inadequate – are dotted about the city. Their investment in branch property is modest, but well presented.

Lighting outside bank branch off Rua Henrique Schaumann

The chic boutiques display their wares cautiously for the emerging middle class. You sense a precariousness about their existence which does not seem to be shared by the banks.

Show room dummies on Rua Henrique Schaumann

Alongside, on the hoardings of building sites, street art flourishes briefly.

Next door to the showroom

And in the interstices between developments, the poor make a living.

Catadores – recyclers – are a familiar sight in Sao Paulo, pulling their handcarts laden with metal, wood, or most often cardboard, through heavy traffic. Their efforts contribute to an admirable and economic 76% of cardboard produced by Brasil being recycled. More at


They recycle cardboard, support their childen – the family sleeps behind this fence tonight

The cheerfulness of most Brasilians in the face of such differences in prosperity, whether or not during the traditional season of goodwill, gives one pause for thought, and much hope for Brasil’s future …

Traditional Christmas trees, Sao Paolo style

… even book-ended by such disparities in prosperity. Perhaps that is not the problem we perceive it to be.

Just another tower in Itaim …

… reflecting its neighbour across the street

The Church and Convent of São Francisco (Convento e Igreja de São Francisco) in Salvador is a well-known tourist destination – its gilt woodcarving is deliberately and overpoweringly impressive. You may have seen it in Michael Palin’s recent BBC documentary series on Brazil. A church of the Franciscan monastic order, the current buildings were begun in 1686 (the convent) and 1708 (the church) though decoration of the interiors continued through the first half of the 18th century.

Praça Anchieta, Pelourinho, Salvador de Bahia

The church is set at the end of a long narrow square – named for one of the first Jesuit missionaries to Brasil in the 16th century, José de Anchieta  – off the main square in Pelourinho, the historic town centre.

The cross on the praça is a 19th century addition.

Its facade is in the early baroque style, with large elaborate volutes which support the central gable, and make the composition a little top-heavy …

Central gable flanked by campanile towers with mother-of-pearl tiles

… though it works well close up. You enter via a porch to the right.

Painted perspective on the ceiling of the porch.

Built between 1749 and 1755, the porch is an impressive piece of interior decor, with panels painted on wood, and a striking illusionist ceiling painted by José Joaquim da Rocha in 1774. It’s a bravura display of skill in baroque composition, albeit in paint. Panels in blue and white tile work (azulejos) are a 1782 addition.

Cloisters of the Franciscan monastery, with salvaged stone

From this dark paneled and painted chamber, you emerge into a cloistered stone courtyard lit by a fiercely blue sky. It’s as though you’ve traveled three centuries from inside a Renaissance cabinet of curiosities to step into a surrealist Giorgio de Chirico painting.

The inner walls of the cloister are decorated with azulejo tile panels based on the work of 17th century Flemish artist Otto van Veen, who produced engravings illustrating epigrams from Roman poet Horace.

“Estarás seguro se viveres bem.”

The choices are gloomy and perhaps inevitably sententious – there is much brooding on death and the fate of sinners, as well as on the virtue of knowing your place and of being thrifty. The tiles are held in place by crude repairs and patches in places – an unintentional effect is to underline the ‘tempus fugit’ theme, but sometimes the effect is comic too.

Scrambled sage

The worthy scholar’s confused mien is understandable – he looks like he’s trapped in a sliding number puzzle.

This looks like an architectural salvage yard.

Tile collage

Van Veen taught Pieter Paul Rubens for a number of years, and produced a number of ’emblem books’ which influenced and served as source material for many later artists.

However bright the skies, nothing can prepare you for the blinding interior of the church, said to be the best example of the igreja dourada or ‘golden church’ style of Brazilian colonial baroque.

Nave with side chapel and pulpit, Igreja de São Francisco, Salvador da Bahia

The splendour of the surfaces, the elaborateness of the carving, the spiralling columns, the profusion of decoration on every available surface, the almost total absence of straight unadorned line, even the choice of complementary colours – white and blue – all are designed to overwhelm the worshipper with the gilded glory of this church.

I found myself looking for a more restful surface on which to focus. The ceiling over the altar was a little quieter.

Gilded painted vault with cherubim over the altar

The nave ceiling was heavily decorated too, but with less gilt.

No rest for the eye

Even the chiaroscuro of a bright window offered some respite from the blazing glory of the dourada style.

Beautifully carved and decorated oriole window high up in the nave

Your eye may alight and rest on the dark lustre of carved jacarandá wood, the work of Frei Luis de Jesus ‘The Woodcarver’, for which this church is also justly famous.

Finial on railing of side chapel

If your eye falls below the handrail, you may wonder how or indeed why the monks were able to decorate their church with such voluptuous sway-backed acolytes.

Dark beauty

At the altar the caryatids are fair and gilded, with pink hands and faces.

Upholding the word of God

And above the altar an unusual crucifix, after the image by the Spanish painter Murillo, shows Jesus embracing founder St Francis of Assisi.


But wait, even allowing for fervent religious imagination, no one swept up at the Crucifixion …

Do my eyes deceive me?

High up on the altar, a workman calmly and carefully sweeps up the dust. Another man was going around replacing light bulbs. I found myself resting my eyes on their activity.You welcome such visual interest in the goldstorm of this interior.

Man at work

My perception was truly confused – was this holy water font, donated by Dom João V of Portugal (‘O Magnânimo‘), golden or not? Deliberately chosen no doubt to allude to the dourada style, it is made of yellow conglomerate. Dom João also donated the Horace / van Veen azulejos.

One of a pair at the entrance to the church

When you learn that a fifth of each ton extracted from the gold and diamond mines of Brasil was crown property – Portugal is said to have collected more gold over a few decades than Spain took from the rest of Central and South America over 400 years – and that Dom João was also known as O Freirático because of his preference for nuns as sexual partners, the interior of this church comes into clearer focus.

Dowry donation boxes

Brasilians are philosophical about such cultural history. This piece of furniture in the sacristy was used as a kind of ecclesiastical safety deposit box, where the fathers of prospective brides placed money for their daughters’ dowries and presumably for the cost of their weddings. No visitors to the church were surprised that behind the regularity of its squared facade, some doors gave onto bigger boxes than others.

In 1742 Dom João suffered a stroke which left him, the erstwhile Prince of Brasil, politically ineffectual. He spent the last years of his life, the time of his donations to this church, devoted to religious activities.

Unintended humour of labeled statue in the vestibule, with Biblical Golden Calf behind

The relaxed attitude – now and during his reign –  of Brasilians to religious life is at one with the syncretist version of Catholicism tinged with west African Yoruba traditions which continues to grow in Brasil today. Is this statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception actually standing on a crescent moon, like the Yoruba goddess Iemenja?

Brasil’s culture swirls with fascinating cross-currents – the Franciscan Igreja de São Francisco faces the Jesuit Catedral Basílica de Salvador across the square, for all the world like rival football clubs. Both are in a district, Pelourinho, named for the public pillory or whipping post used for punishing African Brasilian slaves “pour encourager les autres”. Brasilians accept such seeming contradictions easily.

” … it is in giving that we receive … ” (Prayer of St Francis)

The irony of a church named for a saint the basis of whose Rule was poverty being decorated with an estimated 960 kilograms of golf leaf – not to mention the dormant power of the Roman Catholic Church in a country where the public education system is by common consent a shambles, political corruption is endemic (see


for an example) and the gap between rich and poor significant – is a little harder to accept.