A Year of Fellowship and Official Visits

July 15, 2015

By Kim Gamel

  • 2015 |
  • knight-wallace |

On the eve of the KWF ’15 trip to Brazil, President Dilma Roussef went on television to appeal for patience and support for fiscal austerity measures. Her appear-ance was widely met with jeers and some nasty names.

The fellows arrived in the economic and cultural center of São Paulo at a pivotal time for Brazil. The once-promising economy is on a downward spiral and anger is rising over a massive corruption scandal involving the state-run oil company Petrobras. We learned all about this and more in seminars and roundtables organized by Suzana Singer, editor at Folha de São Paulo, in between lavish meals and a dance lesson. Our hosts Sabine Righetti ’13, Sylvia Colombo ’14 and Silas Marti made sure everything went smoothly.

There were plenty of surprises along the way, starting on our first day when we got a special viewing of an apartment in the landmark Copan building, a curvy structure in the heart of downtown that was designed by modern- ist architect Oscar Niemeyer. Reporter Fabricio Lobel recently rented the flat and opened his new home to us for a glimpse of the glorious view from his windows. We then took a bus to the Liberdade neighborhood, home to the city’s vibrant Japanese community, for a sushi and tempura dinner. Coffee plantations lured Japanese workers to the area more than a century ago and Brazil now has the largest Japanese diaspora in the world.

We also met with some of the coun- try’s top luminaries. Henrique Meirelles, a former Central Bank governor and cur- rent chairman of holding company J&F, gave us a rundown of the evolution of the economic problems that have caused inflation to spike and the Brazilian currency to plunge against the dollar. We discussed what’s driving the growing global demand for meat. Meirelles has some ex- pertise in the subject; J&F controls JBS, the largest meat production company in the world. Then we returned to an auditorium at Folha for a candid discussion with Delton Dallagnol, a federal prosecutor who is leading the task force investigating the Petrobras scandal. He explained how the arrest of a single money launderer led to a probe that has reached into the president’s inner circle. I’d pick Bradley Cooper to play him in the movie.

A major highlight was a new addition to the Brazil program. We hopped on a plane for an hour-long ride to Belo Horizonte, the capital of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais. World Cup fans will remember this area for its Mineirao stadium, the site of Brazil’s devastating loss to Germany last year. The first order of business was of course dinner at the restaurant Xapuri, where we were treated to stewed chicken, farofa and other local delicacies capped by a buffet of delicious desserts.

The following day took us on a mountainous trip to the Inhotim open-air museum, a 5,000 acre complex filled with contemporary art installations and exotic gardens. The park is de- signed to encourage an in- teractive experience between visitors and the art. The best example of that was the Cosmococa pavilion where one room has a dimly lit swimming pool in which a few brave fellows took a dip while listening to the music of composer John Cage. Another room plays Kimmi Hendrix tunes while visitors lie in hammocks. We had lunch at a buffet, battling bees for dishes of salad, fish and pastries. Then the park’s creator, mining magnate Bernardo Paz, met with us to discuss his vision saying, “This is not a museum. This is life.”

Later, a bus took us on a 2 1⁄2 hour ride to Ouro Preto (which means Black Gold in Portuguese), a 17th cen- tury colonial mining town. There Silas Marti, Folha’s arts and design critic, gave us a tour of the church of St. Francis of Assisi designed by AntÔnio Francisco Lisboa, which is perched on a steep hilltop and features carved decorations and golden woodwork, paintings and statues. It also boasts an amazing view of the cobblestone- street lined city.
For the weekend, it was back to São Paulo. We spent our next to last day with renowned architects Fernanda Barbara and Fabio Valentim who treated us to a personalized tour of the museums in the modernist Ibirapuera Park, including the Afro-Brazil museum. Brazil was the last place in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888, and the exhibit includes rare photos.

A bonus was watching skaters defying gravity under a long concrete canopy that distinguishes the park. We also saw the Sesc Pompeia, a unique cultural and leisure center with two towers that act as a sports center and are linked by covered walkways. That night fellows enjoyed a forro dance lesson and a glimpse of local clubbing. After some awkward but fun moments on the dance floor, the group got more comfortable in an adjacent dining area where they were offered caipirinhas and beer.

The last day summed everything up. We started with a tour of several poor neighborhoods on the outskirts of São Paulo. Our tour guides were bloggers who write for Folha’s Mural blog with the mission of portraying more than poverty and violence. We saw crowded favelas occupying land literally across the street from barricaded wealthy housing units. Break dancers and graffiti artists showed Fellows how they give voice to youths. In a sharp contrast that must be felt daily by all Brazilians, we then gathered for lunch at a swanky steak house where waiters carved meat straight onto your plate until you turned up a red card signaling for them to stop. Finally we boarded the bus for the airport, on the same day that hundreds of thousands of Brazilians gathered in the downtown streets to protest the president and call for her impeachment.