30 January 2009

In Country: Thinking About Amazonian Activism

It's about 9:00pm in Sao Paulo and we're in the midst of a thunder and lightening storm. The rain is coming down in buckets and has been for a couple hours now. There it was: another close flash and huge clap of thunder. That lightening bolt seemed to have just crashed into the building next door!

Okay, back to the task at hand. I have been thinking about Amazonian activism and the World Social Forum taking place in Belem right now. As a result, I did a little checking on JSTOR, one of CRC's databases and found some articles that may be helpful in explaining why Indians protest mainstream society's degradation of the rainforest. Here are the citations:

"The Salt of the Montana: Interpreting Indigenous Activism in the Rain Forest."
Hanne Veber
Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Aug., 1998), pp. 382-413
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association

"Indigenous People Incorporated? Culture as Politics, Culture as Property in Pharmaceutical Bioprospecting"
Shane Greene
Current Anthropology, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Apr., 2004), pp. 211-237
Published by: The University of Chicago Press on behalf of Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research

"Social Conflict and Political Activism in the Brazilian Amazon: A Case Study of Gurupá "
Richard Pace
American Ethnologist, Vol. 19, No. 4, Imagining Identities: Nation, Culture, and the Past (Nov., 1992
Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association

In Country: Sao Paulo

Considered to be the third largest city in the world, Sao Paulo is a teeming metropolis and the economic powerhouse of Brasil. Its population stands at about 18 million, although I have read several other figures from a variety of sources. The following is a link to an interactive map of the city. http://travel.yahoo.com/p-map-481751-map_of_sao_paulo_sp-i . At present we are staying at Dona Zilah's Pousada in the Jardim District of the city. To get a sense of the scale of this place, consider that it took us about an hour to get from the outskirts of the city to the bus station last night. My travel guide book suggests it takes 2 hours to get from one side of the city to another.

One of the factors that causes this slowness of travel is the traffic. It is bumper to bumper most of the time. There is, however, a very good subway system which operates mostly underground, shuttling the masses of humanity about their daily lives.

As for its geography, Sao Paulo sits at about 2500 feet above sea level on a plateau overlooking the South Atlantic Ocean. The weather today calls for showers and temperatures at about 22 Celsius (73 Fahrenheit).

Early this morning David and Fernando caught a bus headed to Campinas; David had a dental appointment to keep. So Hope and I stayed in bed a few hours longer and will stay close to the pousada until they return.

Probably in large part because of its size, Sao Paulo can be a fairly dangerous city. People are kidnapped for ransom quite frequently; petty theft of cameras and purses is also common for tourists; and car jackings are on the rise. As a security measure to address the car jacking problem the city government recently passed a red light law. Essentially drivers are no longer required to stop at red lights after dark. Rather the driver is encouraged to slow to ensure there is no cross traffic and then proceed through the intersection. Needless to say, when driving in Sao Paulo one is taking one's life in one's hands.

As a consequence, Hope and I will not be driving anywhere today. Nor will we wander too far from the pousada until David and Fernando return. There is comfort in having a body guard for a husband!

29 January 2009

In Country: On the Road to Sao Paulo

Early this morning David, Fernando, Hope and I left Curitiba on an intra state bus headed for Sao Paulo. We had deliberately chosen to travel during the day this time (all of the other bus trips have been under the cover of night) so we could see the lay of the land. Since Curitiba sits in a bowl shaped valley, the bus had to wind its way through verdant mountain passes for most of the 410 km (roughly 250 miles). At many points we came around hilly peaks and saw banana plains undulating below us. There was lots of evidence of deforestation, including some sad examples of clear cutting, and the consequent erosion that comes with it. Even though this is not the Amazon, historically this region along the eastern coast of Brasil has also experienced a tremendous amount of deforestation since the Portuguese first began colonizing the region in the 1500s. Many experts claim 95% of the old growth forest has been destroyed. Initially the colonials cleared the land to make way for corn and coffee. Now it seems that much of it is used for banana plantations. Waves and waves of banana trees flow across the hillsides between Curitiba and Sao Paulo. As a result most of the roadside vendors and truck stops have massive amounts of bananas for sale. For banana lovers it is a veritable heaven on the road.

The bus was traveling along at a good clip when suddenly it pulled off to the side of the road. At first I did not take much notice as I thought we were at a brief truck stop, and so I continued practicing my Portuguese by podcast. But after a while I asked David, who was sitting across the aisle from me, what was happening. It was at that point that I learned our bus had been stopped by the federal police and they were even then searching the luggage compartment under the bus. A few moments later one of the officers came on board, located Fernando and sent him off the bus. Oh yes, my heart was pounding and my imagination was racing. Every bad movie and every true documentary I had ever seen about jails in foreign countries came swimming before my eyes. David, on the other hand, was very low key. I tried to model his demeanor but it was very hard to do. This was made all the more challenging when the officer began to question David about the contents of one of the bags in the compartment above his head. I passed the officer our U.S. passports, he examined them for several minutes, and then he exited the bus. Fernando was still not back yet. David suggested we would all get off the bus if the officer did not let Fernando back on. We weren't going anywhere without him.

Thankfully Fernando got on the bus shortly after the officer got off. Apparently Fernando had a lock on his luggage and the feds wanted to look inside. Of course Fernando was clean so once he unlocked it and they checked out his bag they allowed him to get back on the bus.

This was not the fate of some other guy who was pulled over in a private vehicle. Through the bus window we watched a man in handcuffs walking with a wife and small child in her arms toward a police car. Busted. Guilty or innocent, I hope that guy gets religion tonight!

After the bus was rolling again, Fernando reported that a man had shot a police officer in Sao Paulo last night. This might explain the checkpoint and a crack down on highway traffic into the city.

No, I did not take photos of this event.

28 January 2009

In Country: Economics

For the past few days I have been struck by the amount of sales, particularly shoe sales, in the stores here in Curitiba. Initially I thought it was because summer was almost over and the stores wanted to make way for fall inventory. But after asking around a bit I discovered that we are only half way through summer right now. This got me to thinking: why are all the stores advertising massive liquidation sales?

A brief search on the internet seems to have yielded some of the answers. Apparently Brasil, like most of the rest of the world, is experiencing an economic slowdown of epic proportions. Here are some of the facts:
  • On January 21, the central bank of Brasil lowered the interest rate one full point. This surprised many analysts who expected some lowering of the interest rate but not a full point. After adjusting for inflation Brasil's interest rate now stands at 12.75%, which is the highest in the world. However if you think 12.75% is high, try paying a loan with a 40% interest rate. As recently as 2002, this was the going rate for banks in Brasil. http://articles.latimes.com/2008/nov/26/business/fi-brazhousing26
  • Personal and household defaults are on the rise, registering in at 8.1% in December 2008. This is the highest default rate in Brasil since 2002.
  • The government has recently announced a 15 year job creation-housing construction investment plan for low income families. This suggests that Brasil is as badly in need of jobs and economic stimulus as the U.S. http://www.khl.com/magazines/international-construction/detail/item30530/Brazil-plans-to-invest-US$-152-billion-in-housing-sector/

Most of the information can be found by doing a simple Google search with the terms "Brazil economy"; and here is a link with some helpful explanation http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&refer=columnist_marinis&sid=aeH44ekPr1yY

It is worth noting, however, that Brasil's economy seems to be better poised to withstand the worst of the global economic crisis than other Western nations. There are a variety of reasons to support this optimism. First, because Brasil's interest rate has been so high, very few people actually purchase homes they cannot afford. Another way to say this: there has been very little speculation in the housing market here. Second, because Brasil is almost completely energy independent, its overall economy is quite resilient to price fluctuations in oil and gas. In addition, the Brasilian government holds several billion dollars in reserve in case of currency drops or inflation threats. In other words: Brasil has saved money for a rainy day.

All of these factors serve as buffers for this economy to withstand the global shocks that are sure to come in 2009. Certainly Brasil will be effected but not to the same depth and degree as the U.S., the U.K. and countries in the Euro-zone. http://www.latinbusinesschronicle.com/app/article.aspx?id=3106

In Country: Looking Ahead

You wouldn't know it from the mainstream media, but there is an alternative to the economic forum taking place in Davos, Switzerland right now. The alternative event is the World Social Forum which started yesterday in Belem, Brasil. Comprised of indigenous groups and international activists, the World Social Forum is focusing on peace and justice issues, the impact of the global economic crisis on the poor, and environmental problems such as deforestation in the Amazon. Several Latin American heads of state are expected to attend, including Brasil's president Lula da Silva.

Other links include: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/americas/2009/01/200912814011816387.html




Alas, the conference in Belem ends February 1 and I am arriving in the region February 4. Alas.

26 January 2009

In Country: Superagui

Superagui is a remote island on the outer edge of the Paranagua litoral. Its western shores face inland and are comprised of rugged mountainous jungle rising out of salt marsh seas. This section of southern Brasil consists of the largest stretch of intact Atlantic rain forest in the world, and is known in these parts as Mata Atlantica. Its eastern shores face out on open ocean; the next stop across the Atlantic is the west coast of Africa. With 20,000 species on record, it is second only to the Amazon in diversity and richness of plant and animal species. This portion of the Mata Atlantica is now preserved as Parque Nacional de Superagui and achieved UNESCO World Heritage listing in 1999.

On Friday David, Fernando, Hope and I chartered a private boat to pick us up from Ilha do Mel and transport us to Superagui. This is the only way to reach Superagui as there are no regular boat routes between the two islands. The only other way to get to Superagui is to hail a passing fishing boat and hope the skipper stops.

Needless to say, life on the island is slow and unpretentious. The main economy for the residents is fishing, although with the degradation of Paranagua (the city) garbage increasingly washes up on the shores of Superagui. According to Fabio, a worker at the pousada where we stayed, 60% of the garbage that the residents of Superagui pick up from the beaches comes in on the tides. This is a huge problem for the people of the barro (village) and seems to be a big source of conflict within the community. Apparently there are two sentiments among the locals. On the one hand, the residents want to develop tourism because of the income the tourist industry represents. On the other hand, many old-time locals want to keep the culture of the island insulated from outside influences. Fabio reports that the old-timers resist advice and assistance from anyone who is not a local. Probably as a result of this tension there are some interesting statistics among the population. Importantly, out of a population of 1200 people nearly 700 of them are children. Indeed we saw evidence of this everywhere. Children lounging on the beach, jumping from the public pier, riding bikes on the beach, and chasing the dogs that seem to be everywhere. My first impression was that this is a youthful community. Fabio, however, disabused me of this idea when he claimed that island life -- fishing in particular -- is very hard on the body. Consequently men die very young. This, he suggests, is the reason for the imbalance in population numbers.

Main Street, Barro do Superagui. (I am not kidding.)

What further exacerbates the problems on Superagui is another obvious contradiction. On the one hand, tourists represent the second most important industry to the island's residents. On the other hand, the locals apparently do very little to make tourists comfortable or happy when they arrive. For example, we were encouraged to take a hike through the rain forest in an effort to see a rare and endangered monkey that only lives in this region. However once we set out on the trail we encountered no less than five river crossings with bridges in various states of decay. In three instances, all that was left of a bridge was the pilings. A long bamboo stick lay against the bank. The visual suggestion: use the stick for balance so we could delicately wobble across the pilings. David and I joked about American lawyers who would love to sue the government for infrastructure we experienced. The trail, after all, is part of Brasil's national park system. Luckily for us, none of the river crossings were very deep or wide.
Alas we never did sight any of the monkeys, which are actually known as Black-faced Lion Tamarin (Leontopithecus caissara). This was a moderate disappointment but not totally unexpected since this species is, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), on the red list as being threatened with extinction. Fabio, my pousada resource, claimed that 20 years ago tourists who came to the island would cart the animal home, apparently to make into house pets. According the IUCN, there are only about 400 left in the world. A Google image search will show you that they are cute but I just can't see making them into pets.
Superagui is also well known for its plant species, including the bromeliad. I did get a couple pictures of those as we traipsed through the jungle.

Another creature for which the area is well-known is the tucuxi dolphin. We encountered several pods of these on our boat ride to Superagui and again when we left the island. They are small and quick, therefore I was not able to get any good photos of them. Apparently these dolphins are one of the least studied in the world. Here is a good start to the basics about the tucuxi dolphin: http://dolphins.jump-gate.com/differnt_dolphins/%20tucuxi.shtml

An interesting article that explores the tensions between tourism and fishing, development and environmental protection can be found at this link: http://www.geographical.co.uk/Features/Brazil_Nov07.html .

In Country: Superagui Beach Scenes

After spending a couple of wonderful days on Ilha do Mel we caught a small, privately owned fast boat for another island in the Paranagua litoral called Superagui. I will write more about Superagui and our experiences there in another post. For now, just enjoy the beach scenes that we encountered when we first arrived on the island.

25 January 2009

In Country: Images of the Beach at Ilha do Mel

In Country: Estas Aqui

Whew! We have made it back to civilization after having spent a week on the islands of the Parana litoral. Click here for a really cool interactive map of the litoral. http://iguide.travel/Parana .

To re-cap: last Sunday we took the train from Curitiba (on the left side of the map) down through the jungle to Morretes. On this map Morretes is located between the roads labeled PR-410 and BR 277. After a couple nights in Morretes we caught a local bus to Paranagua, a large and important shipping port in southern Brasil. From Paranagua we hopped on a boat headed for Ilha do Mel, which is the island shaped like a fish in the mouth of Paranagua Bay.

Ilha do Mel, known in English as Honey Island, is great. Cars are not allowed on the entire island, hence there are no roads. Rather, everyone gets around on foot via sandy walking paths, and only a small portion of it is inhabited by the 1200 year-round residents. The fat western portion of the island is a rain forest ecological preserve and is off limits to visitors.
We stayed at Enseada Pousada, a clean place run by Sueli and Carlos located a short walk from the beach. Each morning Sueli had fresh home made breads and hot coffee waiting for us when we woke up. Each afternoon, hammocks were strung outside our room for island lounging.

After breakfast on the first morning we walked to the lighthouse known as Farol das Conchas. On the map it is the topmost (northeastern) dot located on the tail of the fish-shaped island. The lighthouse, built in 1872 in Scotland, was brought to Brasil under orders by Dom Pedro II in the waning years of his Empire. This view of the island is on the path near the light house. Surfers frequently try their skills on the waves on the left side of this morro (hill); there were lots of them here on the day we visited.

On our second day we rented bikes and rode down the beach to an old fort known as Fortaleza de NS dos Prazeres (Fort of Our Lady of the Pleasures). This fort, constructed between 1767-1769, is only one of many built by the Portuguese in the 17th and 18th centuries as they sought to defend their colony from English, French and Spanish attacks.
Apparently the fort at Ilha do Mel was constructed by the Portuguese after one particular episode involving a French pirate ship chasing a silver-laden Spanish galleon into Paranagua Bay in 1718. The Portuguese, concerned for the island residents and their ability to fend off powerful invaders, initially placed two roqueiras (stone throwing cannons) on the bluffs above the village in 1734. As Brasil became more important to Portugal, this measure was not sufficient and a series of look out towers and the fort itself were contructed in 1767 and remained in use until 1815. With the exception of one conflict with England in the 19th century, the fort never really saw military action and since 1972, it has been under the protection of the Office of National Historical and Artistic Heritage.

Clearly baroque in style, there are several features on the fort worth mentioning. Above the entrance appears the King of Portugal's crest. There are also two gruesome faces placed on each side of the doorway, apparently to ward off evil. In an era of divine right kings and the power of the Catholic Church, this makes some sense. Today they are just grim reminders of a world that no longer exists. Most of the information about the fort came from a this source: http://www.patrimoniocultural.pr.gov.br/arquivos//benstombados/File/BIBLIOGRAFIACPC/ESPIRAIS/prg2.pdf

22 January 2009

In Country: All Things Arabic

As a result of my encounter with the Arabic art work at the Museum of History and Geography in Paranagua, I have done some searching around about relationships between Brasil and the Middle East. This is a sampling of what I have found:

Many people of Arabic descent began coming to Brasil in the latter decades of the 19th century. One contemporary author, Milton Hatoum, writes fiction using his experiences being Lebanese-Brasilian in the Amazonian city of Manaus. Hatoum, a recent recipient of Brasil's highest literary prize, is considered one of Brasil's most important living authors Sadly for me, I have not even heard of him before this afternoon, much less read any of his books. Interestingly for the U.S., Hatoum will be in New York in April for the World Voices writer's convention.

According to Larry Luxner and Douglas Engle, authors of the article entitled "The Arabs of Brazil", which was written in 2005 "an estimated nine million, or five percent [of the population of Brasil], can point to roots in the Middle East. Brazil has more citizens of Syrian origin than Damascus, and more inhabitants of Lebanese origin than all of Lebanon. Of the nine million, some 1.5 million are Muslims; the majority are Orthodox Christians and Maronites" (http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com/issue/200505/the.arabs.of.brazil.htm).

In addition, the Arabic language has found its way into Brasil by way of the Iberian Peninsula and Muslims in Spain. Indeed, over 100 Arabic words in Portuguese—arroz (rice), alface (lettuce) and açucar (sugar) to name just a few - are used by millions of Brasilians everyday.

In Country: Paranagua

On Tuesday morning David, Hope, Fernando and I caught a local bus headed for Paranagua. Founded by the Portuguese in 1585, this seaport community is a city in decline. At present the population stands at about 138,000 people, although that number reflects a drop of about 10,000 people from a decade ago. This out-migration is likely due to the city's sagging economy and degraded water front. All of this is a travesty since the city is the oldest in Parana state and the downtown is its historic center. the Lonely Planet guide book describes Paranagua as being in a state of "tropical decadence"; from the looks of things, this is an accurate assessment.

Many of the historic buildings are vacant and hallowed out. Pigeons roost on elegant balconies. One can only imagine this lovely city in its 18th century heyday, when colonial women wore silks imported from Europe or Asia and powerful men smoked Cuban cigars.

While walking around Paranagua, we discovered a restaurant market where locals go to eat. Fernando and Hope ordered a big platter of shrimp and fish. As vegetarians, David and I ordered fresh squeezed lemonade and mixed salad with vinegar and oil, along with the standard Brasilian rice and beans. However in a moment of inspiration (although David would say it was weakness), I decided to try the shrimp. And . . . it was divine! So with my husband's chin on the ground in dismay, I tried the fish. And . . . it was divine too! So, let the record stand: on the day that Obama became President of the United States, I broke my four year vegetarian fast at Paraiso da Comida Restuarante in Paranagua, Brasil.

After lunch we headed for the Museu de Arqueologia e Etnologia only to find it was closed for repairs with no known date for re-opening. This too is a sign of Paranagua's decline. Most likely the city cannot afford to pay for the repairs. We did however discover another cultural site: the Instituto Historico e Geografico de Paranagua. Inside, the display consisted of an odd assortment of old military weapons, typewriters, urinals and portraits of Paranaguans of past greatness. To my dismay the cabinet that housed the porcelin from which colonial royalty ate in the 18th century also contained the droppings left by 21st century rats. Another sign of tropical decadence in a city that once was great.

Having encountered evidence of rodents, I decided I could not stomach much more decay. As I turned the corner to leave I found, to my delight, a small section of items with Arabic writing and Islamic influence. These objects were certainly the best part of the entire exhibition and included musical instruments, artwork and a bible (not the Qu'ran) in Portuguese and Arabic. Signage near some objects claim that these items were donated by Sheik Fayed Mohsin BM Moussa AL Hasani and Ali Hajar.
As this sign suggests, these items most likely came from the Iberian peninsula which has a long and illustrous relationship with Islam.

21 January 2009

In Country: Morretes and the Hard Rain

Sunday, the day we came by train into Morretes, was sweltering hot. Our room at the pousada had a fan but the air flow was not good and so we spent a miserable night sweating in the tropics. On Monday morning I woke up before everyone else, grabbed my camera and walked around town taking photos. My only company were some dogs, a fisherman on the banks of the Rio Nhundiaquara and a few town folks riding their bikes to work. Everyone rides a bike in this town.

After breakfast David, Hope and I walked around town some more. Morretes is a cute colonial town with well kept homes, a meandering river and gorgeous views of Serra do Mar, the mountain range that separates the inland city of Curitiba from the coastal litoral of Paranagua Bay.

As the day progressed, gray storm clouds gathered overhead. By late afternoon we could hear the thunder beginning to rumble over the mountains. And then, very swiftly, it began to rain. And rain. And rain. In fact it rained so much, so fast that the street in front of our pousada was flooded level with the sidewalk within minutes. I was not quick enough to catch it with the camera, but several of those early morning cyclists now rode through the flooded streets steering the bike with one hand and holding an umbrella over their heads with the other. It was a sight to see! Of course, I realized right away that this is normal for them; they live in a tropical rain forest, after all.

18 January 2009

In Country: Morretes and the Loud Train

Early this morning David, Fernando, Hope and I caught a train to Morretes (pronounced mo-hate-ohs). The train travels through the last remaining 5% of rainforest along the Atlantic coast of South America. Refered to in Brasil as Mata Atlantica, it's a 4,600 mile coastal band of jungle and granite cliffs leading down to the sea. The train ride lasted over 3 hours and the views were stunning. With plant leaves larger than a grown man, flowers so vibrantly red against the green undergrowth and views of the cliffs floating sublimely along the blue horizon, this jungle landscape is breath taking and awe inspiring. The train track took 5 years to build (in the 1880s) because of the rugged terrain, and is considered a feat of 19th century engineering for the country. It was originally intended to carry wood and soy beans from the interior to ports on the coast, but was converted to a tourist attraction about 20 years ago when truck transport became more efficient.

The only drawback to the entire train trip was the screeching of the train on the tracks. Because of the steep incline down the mountainside the train traveled very slowly, at times only moving at about 20 miles per hour. Consequently the sound of the train braking on the steep downgrades was deafening. Indeed I spent a good portion of the trip with my hands over my ears. For most of the morning I wished the Brasilian transportation authorities could figure out a way to grease the wheels, so to speak.

After the long, loud and lovely train ride we finally reached Morretes. Founded in 1721, this sleepy little colonial town boasts a population of less than 20,000 people. Once off the train we were able to locate a cute little pousada (similar to a bed and breakfast) right off the main street in town.
This is the view from the porch off our room. It is very hot and humid today; although I have not seen an official temperature reading, I would suspect it is over 100 degrees.
At present I am sitting in the Lan House, an internet cafe just down the street from our pousada. The sound system loudly plays Red Hot Chili Peppers, music I listened to in the early 1990s. Most of the people in this darkened room are 20 year old males. Clearly it is the town's hangout.
The internet in Brasil is wildly popular and widely available. Internet cafes like this one exist in most cities large and small, and there is lots of talk in political circles about using the internet in education. I read a statistic somewhere before arriving in country that said Brasil's population is one of the top 4 countries (after China, India, and the U.S.) to have access to the internet.
The cost per hour in the Lan House is R$1,00 which equals about 45 cents U.S. Pretty cheap, eh? If they only knew Americans pay $10 or $12 per hour for the same service!

17 January 2009

In Country: Oscar Niemeyer

On Thursday David, Fernando, Hope and I went to the Museu Oscar Niemeyer on the north side of Curitiba. Constructed by Niemeyer in 1967, the building's original purpose was to house an educational facility.

In 2002 the entire complex was converted to museum space and renamed in honor of Brasil's most famous (and still living) architect. The centerpiece of the museum, the portion depicted here, is known as the Museu do Olho or Museum of the Eye which was created by Niemeyer when the conversion to a museum took place.

This structure is a fine example of Niemeyer's classic work with its emphasis on curved lines placed in relation to rectangular shapes. It serves as an important symbol of Brasilian identity and also as an international monument to modern architecture. It is worth noting that Niemeyer is considered the last great modern architect. All of his contemporaries are deceased; Niemeyer, at 101, still lives in Rio de Janeiro.
The interior is no less strange than the exterior. This view shows the hallway between the main exhibition hall and the entrance to the "eye."

There are several current exhibits on display, including a collection of pottery artifacts from the American Southwest. Another exhibit focused on the life and works of Nise da Silveira, the first woman psychiatrist of note in Brasil. Among other important contributions, da Silveira introduced Jungian concepts and techniques to South America in the 1950s by writing the first book in Brasil about Carl Jung. Her work included the use of art and animals in the therapy of psychiatry patients. The exhibit at this museum included original images created by schizophrenic patients in the process of treatment, although there is another similar museum in Rio which was established by da Silveira in 1952. Click here for a link containing more information on Nise da Silveira and the idea of "Images of the Unconscious" in Brasil. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_go2043/is_/ai_n29076018

After exploring several galleries, we finally took our leave of the museum. On our way out, a sea serpent sculpture waved good bye to us. It is a fitting conclusion to a day at the Museu Oscar Niemeyer.

In Country: Memorial de Curitiba

Prior to colonization by the Portuguese, the original inhabitants of this region were the Tupi. Indeed the word curitiba is thought to have its origins in Tupi or Guarani, two of the most prominent indigenous languages in the pre-contact era. Most etymologists relate the term to the pinion pine, a tree which is quite prevalent in the region.

Brasil's indigenous origins are frequently given the nod in public artwork, including the mural found at Curitiba's Memorial building near the Largo do Ordem. On the far right one can make out two unclothed individuals, in what is certainly a romanticized Euro-centric perspective of the noble savages of the New World. Moving across the scene to the left is an artistic rendition of the first Portuguese ship which landed here in 1500. On the far right one can see the image of the modern man -- clothed in white, which is a Brasilian symbol for cleanliness -- holding a naked woman. She represents Carnivale which is typically celebrated in January or February.The Memorial de Curitiba was constructed in 1996 in an attempt at promoting the history, art and culture of the city. It is a fabulous, multi-storied display of (mostly) modern art. My favorite was this glass mosaic piece by Soeli Ferenc. She applied small pieces of glass to larger sheets in a pyramid shape. In the middle of the pyramid sits a lamp. The soft glow of the lighting creates a soothing effect of green and brown garden shapes.

Other installations at the Memorial de Curitiba include this bronze reproduction sculpture entitled A Tocadora de Guitarra by Victor Brecheret (1894-1955). Although there is some disagreement about Brecheret's place of birth (whether in Italy or Brasil), he is considered one of the most important 20th century Brasilian sculptors to work in the Modernist style. More information about him can be found at http://www.victor.brecheret.nom.br/indexing.htm . With its sensuous shape and clean lines it strikes a strong contrast to the flowing water of the fountain placed next to it.
After spending a couple hours exploring the Memorial de Curitiba, we talked with an employee. He claimed that the idea for the Memorial came from the then mayor of Curitiba, Rafael Greca de Macedo. Although I have not yet been able to confirm that information anywhere else, it does not seem improbable as Greca de Macedo is involved in many activities to do with city planning and history of the region. Here is a link to more information about him: http://uninews.unicredito.it/en/articles/page.php?id=7944&media=print .