July 08, 2006 GMT
(4) Brasil: The Mountains cont┤d

Big Al continued to work throughout his lifetime.

He decorated Churches and built edifices. Everywhere around Ouro Preto and in the neighbouring towns and villages his work can be found. Perhaps his most famous work is the Twelve Prophets which are located in front of the Church in Conganhas.


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In Ouro Preto, his home town, the majority of his work can be found. Ouro preto (black gold) and the name of the town whose fortune was derived from the mineral, provided the funding to finance the many churches Al was commissioned to build.


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The Igreja do Carmo holds perhaps the single greatest Oratorie collection in the New World, if not the World. We gazed upon this magnificent spectacle in all of its splendor and uniqueness. Never before had I experienced such a collection. Never before had I understood the value and use of Oratorios. I had encountered them throughtout Mexico, Latin and South America...beside roads, in mines, on mountains. I had gazed upon their presence without understanding their place in this world. Now I knew.


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......................................... ................................. ......................

Today was the first day of the rest of my life.

I walked into the operating room in the Brasilian Hospital wearing only a blue hospital gown. Only the day before, I had entered the realm of the Portugese hairless sect as my parts had been shaved in preparation for the day┤s events.

A stainless steel operating table separated me from the doctor. He was flanked by two nurses. A tray of instruments lay on one side of the table...scalpel, forceps, scissors and a variety of other tools.

I walked up to the table and looked silently into the doctor┤s eyes. He nodded. I reached under my gown and placed Harry on the table. Harry recoiled in horror at the cold, septic feel of the table. I reached back under my gown and placed him on the table once again.

The doctor leaned forward. "There is a lot of swelling" he volunteered, as he prodded Harry.

"That is his normal size", I returned.

"We must proceed. It is for the best." With that he reached over and picked up the scalpel. He glanced back at me for an instant, then looked intently at the task before him. A thin line of blood traced the path of the scalpel. Forceps pried the folds of skin apart. I felt something probe inside the opening and then Harry was placed on the table.

I stared upon him with sadness. We all looked silently at his lifeless form. Then the nurse stepped forward, snatched him up and placed him on a tray. In a single fluid motion she turned around and retreated to the door.

I tried to speak but the words wouldn┤t come. She exited the door and disappeared down the hall. I tried desperately to say something...to shout after her but nothing came out. I motioned frantically.

"It will be OK," the doctor said, finally. "You have two. You can still enjoy a normal sex life."

"It is not the same. I grew up with Harry. We travelled together. We lost our virginity together. We were one."

"You will be just fine" was all he said. "Call me if you need help", were his last words as he exited the room.

The nurse helped me to the dressing room. I undid my gown and let it drop to the floor. The image in the mirror frightened me. I looked lop-sided. I had lost the symmetry of my form.

I dressed slowly and stepped out into the street. The sounds of the city rushed up to greet me. People were walking, laughing and playing. They were having fun. Suddenly I felt very alone. I felt different. I retreated to my room.


I awoke with a start. I sat bolt upright in bed. Sweat coursed my brow. I threw back the covers and looked upon my form. Harry was still there snuggled up against his other brother Hairy. The Control Center lay coiled across them planning his next move.

I was whole. It had all been a bad dream. The doctor with the glass eye. The topless nurse with the stiletto nipples (well not all of it was bad). The operation. Today would be a good day. I dressed and rushed out into the street....

Posted by Robert Bielesch at 07:38 PM GMT
July 16, 2006 GMT
(5) Brasil: The Journey to the Falls

We zig-zagged our way south to the Falls...the Foz...Foz Iguašu for the Brasilians, Foz Iguazu for the Argentians and Foz Iguassu for the Paraguayans.

Hotel Fazendas became our home. We sought them out as we travelled to enhance the experience. We had given up on towns and cities...traded the crowds and cars for the placid solitude of the Country Inn.


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We became spoiled. Travelling in the low season we were often the only ones at the Inn. Other times we shared the complex with one other couple. The entire staff was at our beckon call.


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The roads meandered through the rolling hills which continued forever. In all of our travels we never drove out of the hills...never found a flat piece of earth or a straight stretch of road.

The road was built over the hills and not through them. The gradients at times were quite steep. The heavy trucks roared down the hills at 140 kmph and ground their way up the other side at 10 kmph. We on the other hand maintained a more consistent velocity of 90-100 kmph.

Able to pass at will we defied all of the rules of the road, the signs and the markings. My navigator, unaccustomed to my behavior, surely questioned my judgement at times but was in no position to alter it. Have no fear. It was a well calculated move with an adequate margin of safety. It just didn┤t look like it at the time.

The Portugese on the other hand defy all logic when executing a pass. It seems they have not the patience to wait for an opportune moment or the horsepower to execute the move once the time has come. They poke their noses into the oncoming traffic at gay abandon narrowly avoiding impact. They pull out into oncoming traffic before the oncoming vehicle has moved past them. They truly are a suicidal bunch...the whole lot of them.

Whatever the reasons, the results are catastrophic more often than not. With a population of 160 million more than 100,000 die in traffic accidents each year. That is at least twice the USA fatality rate for twice as many people. That means for an equivalent population the Brasilian fatality rate is about 4 times the USA rate.

However, it is even worse than that. Since over one half of the population lives below the poverty line the number of vehicles is substantially less than in the USA...perhaps as many as 10 times less. That makes the carnage on the roads unfathomable. The poor have their just reward. Trapped in a never ending cycle of poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy they are the ones building the roads...the very same roads that the 20% of the rich use to end their lives in disproportionate numbers.

The Brasilians are proud of the Itaipu Dam. And why shouldn┤t they be? It is touted as the largest operational dam in the world and they are quick to point out that it will not be surpassed by the Three Gorges Dam in China when it is completed. I am not in a position to judge, but they believe it here.

But what is the cost of this infamy? At a final cost of $18 Billion it will certainly never pay for itself. After 20 years of operation it has returned only $2 Billion in royalties. It has buried the world┤s largest waterfall, Sete Quedas, and created a 1400 sq. km lake. Environmentally it has changed local weather patterns and populations of plants, animals and indigineous peoples. The ultimate effects will not be realized for decades.


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We took a bus tour to see the dam. That was the only way. We settled into the luxurious comfort of a padded seat, surrounded by cool, climate controlled air. We temporarily lost our minds and thought this was the way to travel. We arrived at our destination and our bus and twenty others disgorged their contents. Hundreds of tourists snapped pictures of everything that moved and didn┤t move. They crowded the railings for the best shots. They elbowed and shoved each other to try to be first.


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We could never be part of this. Who were we kidding. We moved away from the crowd anxious to return to our two wheeled freedom.

In spite of such engineering feats and the fact that Brasil is heavily industrialized it is still a 3rd World Nation...a label they despise. However, it takes more than industry to become a 1st World Nation. Brasil is industrialized but they forgot about their people on the road to commercial enterprise. They turned their backs on 40% of their population and left them illiterate, poor and living in squalor. Today, the richest 10% control 54% of the nation┤s wealth.

The disproportionate distribution of wealth is staggering. The misery of the poor in this wonderful country compares with that of the poorest countries in Africa and Asia.

No Brasil, you are still 3rd World with a thin 1st World layer. You need to provide education, health care and reform. Then and only then will you be eligible to climb the ladder.


Posted by Robert Bielesch at 01:40 AM GMT
July 25, 2006 GMT
(6) Brasil: The Way Back to Rio

Statistically Brasil is a 3rd World country. Visually it is something totally different, especially in the section south of Rio de Janeiro to Foz Iguašu.

The infrastructure is 1st World. The architecture is 1st World. The people are 1st World. I have not seen anything to support the label.

Alcohol fuel (Alcool) is available universally at roughly half the cost of gasoline. LNG is available in the major centers, a step North America has not yet made. Fuel of all sorts is readily available throughout the country.

There are more paved roads than it seems they have the time and money to maintain now that they are built.

The hotel infrastructure is at least as good as North America, if not better. Tourist hotels and facilities rival the best. Prices range from a few dollars to over a thousand for a nightly stay. Water parks and leisure facilities are world class. Beaches are immaculate.

Restaurant food and services have been excellent. Only in one other country south of the USA border have I been able to patio dine without being pestered by vendors and people begging. That other country is Argentina. None of the others can make that claim. More often than not I have had to pick up my food and retire to the sanctity of the interior to avoid the begging. In the poorer countries they follow you inside and stand by your table. Not so in Brasil...at least not in this part of Brasil.

Brasilians are beach people. On the weekends it is a tradition to go to the beach. Any place with a strip of sand and some water seems to attract the crowds...or not.


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You would think they would tire of the beaches, but they seem to crave them. Small towns swell to many times their size with the beach crowds. Come Monday everyone has gone home except for one gringo and a gringa.


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A hotel room always includes breakfast in the fare...a nice buffet of coffee, fresh fruit, assorted cold cuts and cheeses, breads, sweet breads, cookies and cakes, cereal and juices. The standard American breakfast is but a fading memory. It will be difficult to re-adjust once the time comes.

Brasil is heavily industrialized. Industry is conducted on a world scale. Large factories and plants dominate the landscape. In part, industry has been located outside of major centers to ease the transportation burden and to provide employment in outlying areas...a concept that is no stranger to America.

Brasilian cities have no equal in all of Mexico, Latin America and the rest of South America. Wherever a population base exists a "wall city" quickly evolves. Dozens, even hundreds of skyscrapers for businesses, hotels and apartments spring up. Most city scapes have a "Wall Street" look extending for miles across the urban sprawl. This look is limited to only a few North American cities but here in Brasil it is more common than not.

I think in the background lurk the hidden evils of poor education, illiteracy, poverty and health care. Somehow, this part of Brasil south of Rio de Janeiro has managed to cover those evils...to keep them from prying eyes much the same way America has. Statistically they must be there but they are not on the surface like in Mexico, Latin America and the rest of South America.

Brasil...you paint a pretty picture of a country confident of the present and proud of your past. You are a definite crowd pleaser...you are a 10.


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Posted by Robert Bielesch at 01:27 AM GMT
 


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