By Ernest Barteldes
Before I close the topic on our last trip to Brazil, I would like to share a few final thoughts about the trip and my impressions of the country after a four-year absence caused by exorbitant ticket prices that only relented this year, when there are no major events going on there.
The first thing I noticed was the change of attitude when it comes to punctuality – in the past, we’d plan something for a certain hour but it was accepted that everyone would be ‘fashionably late.’ At every experience we had there, folks were either early or precisely on time. Mind you, this was not a one-off event but something that happened every single time with no exception, including concerts, which used to be notoriously late there.
I recall arriving at the 14-Bis show a few minutes behind schedule and found myself entering as the opening act was already playing. The same happened the next day at the Ivete Sangalo & Criollo Tim Maia tribute, which started precisely at 5:00 PM as announced.
I am not sure if this is a recent thing. On our 2009 trip to Rio, Renata and I went to a show at a jazz club that was announced for 7 PM but it was well after 9:00 when the artist finally took the stage. It was a drag to just sit there and wait but what else could I do? I am glad that this attitude is changing, and I hope it reaches my expatriate Brazilian friends here in New York – most of them are still “old school” about it.
Both in Fortaleza and Salvador there was a feeling of insecurity – many of our friends and relatives there kept telling us to be careful with muggers. Crime is apparently high in certain areas of both cities, and residents are afraid – most lock themselves inside their apartment complexes and only go anywhere in their cars.
I did not feel like that when I was there – when in Brazil, I routinely take public transit and walk the streets at various hours. But I do so by keeping a aware of my surroundings. Renata and I never flash cellphones or wear anything that might bring attention to us – except if we are going somewhere fancy, I always dress in T-shirts, sandals and shorts, and Renata doesn’t wear any jewelry except for a bracelet or two that no thief would look at twice. We also try to keep our voices low so folks won’t realize we are not speaking Portuguese (Renata still hasn’t learned – but then again my Polish is pretty non-existent).
In spite of my own feeling of safety, I understand where they are coming from – a day after we left, there was news on the Fortaleza papers that an off-duty police investigator drove off as an attacker tried to mug her while she was in her car. As she fled, the assailant pulled a gun and shot at the car, instantly killing her. One could argue that the crime happened in an area that is currently going through a process of gentrification, but watching the footage (available on the link above) online just makes your blood curdle (an arrest was made shortly after the crime took place).
On our previous trip, I was walking down Beira-Mar Avenue to get a caipirinha at a street stand not far from my mom’s apartment. As I walked over, a TV crew stopped me to ask if I didn’t feel scared of being out like that after 11 PM in an area where tourists are frequently targeted. I said I really wasn’t because I don’t consider myself a visitor in Fortaleza, and that I basically keep my eyes open. Unfortunately, this sense of fear is something folks in large cities in Brazil have to grapple with every day – and that is something that is apparently not going away anytime soon.