I am finding myself suffering from increasingly frequent bouts of nostalgia mixed with curiousity. Each of these comes about when I see a magazine article or TV piece about Brazil and the upcoming Football World Cup and Olympic Games. “Odd so and so” I hear you say, so let me explain.
Throughout the nineteen nineties I was a frequent business traveller to Brazil. During that time I witnessed some significant changes in the economic climate, the social policies, and the commercial development of what was a fairly chaotic state. The Cruziero was re-valued and called the New Cruzeiro and inflation, at times, was running at 1500%. This in itself caused some dramatic business problems, particularly when I was trying to manage exchange rates back to the UK. The Brazilians, being very pragmatic, would pay in cheques at 15.30 on a Friday afternoon with the intention that I would not be able to bank them until Monday – by which time they would have devalued by a good 10%. My solution was to recruit a “runner” who could take a cheque from the office on the twelfth floor and have it banked by the time the Banks closed for business. The interview process was very simple: time the candidate from Floor 12 to the Bank Counter on the Ground Floor. The successful candidate could earn his annual salary in one run.
But apart from the work life there were plenty of opportunities to experience Brazil. The Amazon was an obvious attraction – and justly so. A flight over this enormous expanse was both a joy and an agonising view of how much deforestation was happening; with areas of jungle the size of a UK town cleared of all vegetation. And then, of course there is Copa Cabana beach – not my favourite location, but it had to be done. A colleague of mine who was en-route to Chile had a stop over in his flight at Rio and took the opportunity to visit the beach. Having only what he stood up in, plus his hand luggage including travel documents, he decided that the temptation for a swim was too great and entered the water. When he returned his possessions were not where he had left them and in only his underpants and not speaking any Portuguese he had to explain his dilemma to the local Police. And don’t forget Santos: nobody can go to Brazil without going to the place where Pele played.
So, hence the nostalgia. The business scene is now more normalised as a result of the economic turnaround and I am guessing that processes are now more straightforward. But the real charm was the culture and the people and surely that will not have changed. Where else could you have a Madis Gras with such enthusiasm and real passion (not the restrained way in which us Northern Europeans exude passion) and where else could a street cleaner become an international star because of his dancing while sweeping the streets.
Brazil is about to go Global, and I can’t wait.