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September 15, 2010


Your words and images will stay with me and I, too, will walk around with a question mark above my head.

Sounds like a lot of things have not changed much since I was there twenty years ago, then, despite the recent years of a more progressive government. I guess these things never change quickly or easily. On my two visits to Rio the city's soaring beauty filled me with happiness. The views. The light. The vast beaches. The caipirinhas. The whole wonderfully rich, complex, historic, gorgeous place. But the grossly visible racial stratification shocked me and stayed with me. I went there to attend political events. My hosts were white politicians, their white executives, light-skinned black secretaries and darker-skinned black drivers and domestic staff.

I loved this! The photos are stunning--the two men looking left indentically, and the barber shop are my favorites.

I loved it too. As the writer pulls himself up for doing, I got all worked up about the racism and forgot momentarily to enjoy the beauty - which I suppose is letting them win, isn't it? We have to keep finding the space to love beauty as well as refusing to accept the bad stuff.

Intoxicating words, beautiful photographs. I am grateful to you for opening up this particular window on Rio.

Fascinating. And how perfect the black and white photographs.

New name, same marvellous eye and brain finding the right words for the experience. Bravo Edivaldo/Teju - how evocative is that name, Edivaldo - so Brazilian! And the photos are brilliant; how did you manage to catch that precisely choreographed instant when the two men on the beach were in exact synchronicity? Were they dancers?

Stunning photos and words, Teju/Edivaldo. So much that I did not know about Brazil - what an eye-opener for me.

Wonderful, wonderful!
I want to go there but would probably have stultifying experiences, as a person of my class, age, gender and color. So I do so appreciate your illuminations.

Amazing writeup! Loved every paragraph.
Black people will rise again!

Fascinating and thought-provoking, as always. Thank you, Teju.

The remark about the "hierarchy of color" reminded me of something I read in Patrick French's biography of Naipaul:

" In all professions, according to John, 'There was a definite bias in favour of the lighter-skinned. Not only in the newspapers. It was like that in the civil service, in the higher ranks of the police. You entered the banks and all the people you saw, the tellers and so on, were white girls or white men.' 'White' or 'lighter-skinned' in this context in Trinidad in the 1940s might mean British Expatriate, Portuguese, 'French Creole' (someone of European appearance, usually descended from plantation owners), 'Spanish' (mixed ethnic descent with fair skin and 'good' - meaning straight - hair), or 'Red (African features with light skin and hair). The gradation was strict and instinctive, part of a way of thinking that was instilled early in this ethnically diverse colonial setting, although people might try to 'pass' as something they were not. There was even a Bajan rhyme about skin shades: 'white, fusty, dusty, musty, tea, coffee, cocoa, black, dark black'. "

That was Trinidad in 1940s. You talk about a city in 2010. How little has changed. Will it ever? Here again, something Naipaul said comes to mind:

"Prejudices are made meaningless by achievement, and racial prejudice is no exception."

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.