Today's Reading


More of a warning than a preface, really. During this trip through Amazonia, quite determined to . . . to write a modernist book, probably more determined to write than to travel, I took many notes, as you'll all see. Quick notes, often telegraphic. A few stretched out more patiently tho, prompted by the rests imposed on our flat- bottomed steamer as it struggled against the river's rush. But almost all jotted down with no artistic airs, nothing meant to be polished or worked out, nor the slightest intention of revealing to others the land I traveled. And I never did really work it out. Sure, I made a few attempts. But I'd stop right at the start, not even sure why, just plain discontented. I'm sure I was displeased even back then by the personal nature of what I was jotting down. While I rejoiced and enjoyed my way up and down the Amazon, it's also true that I was sunk in myself all along that broad watery road.

Now I'm putting everything together here, just as it was in the notebooks and loose sheets, sometimes more written out, sometimes less. I only made a few unavoidable corrections as I copied it out. The whole thing wafts of modernism and has aged a good bit. But for the anti-traveler that I am, one who's always traveling wounded, fretful, incomplete, always casting myself as unwelcome in the strange places through which I pass, rereading these notes opens up feelings so immediate and intense that I find myself unable to destroy what I've preserved here. Ah, well . . .SÃO PAULO, DECEMBER 30, 1943

* * *

SÃO PAULO, MAY 7, 1927

Departure from São Paulo. I bought an enormous bamboo cane for the trip, what a silly thing to do! It must've been some vague fear of Indians . . . I know full well there's nothing adventurous or dangerous about the trip we're about to take, but in addition to our logical faculties, each of us possesses a poetic mind as well. Half- remembered readings spurred me on more than the truth—savage tribes, alligators, bullet ants. And my saintly little soul imagined: cannon, revolver, cane, jackknife. And opted for the cane.

Well, in my eagerness to show just how calm I was, I kind of lost track of time, I forget the cane, remember the cane in the taxi, go back for the cane, and finally manage to make it to the station cane in hand. Just five minutes till the train leaves. I bid everyone farewell, seeming calm, feigning happiness. "Bon voyage,"

"Bring us back an alligator" . . . I hugged them all. And then there were still five minutes left again!

I'm not cut out for travel, for pity's sake! I'm smiling, but on the inside there's haunted, incest-colored regret. I go into my compartment, now it's too late, I've already set off, I can't regret anything now. A compact emptiness inside me. I sit in myself.


Rio de Janeiro. Lunch, as always on the days I arrive in Rio, with Manuel Bandeira. I don't know, I find Rio an awfully ugly city, but people do say it's beautiful . . . The natural landscape is splendid, I know that, but the city, the urbanity of it, man's labors, man's suffering and glory, all that's thoroughly detestable. The most important thing to observe: the streets in the residential neighborhoods and the poor outskirts. The residential streets have a family-like air, an inside-your-house-in-the-morning air, not yet tidied up for the day, an indiscreet housecoaty air that isn't just an air, it's the plain truth. The people are still just as Debret painted them, downright indiscreetly dressed in their doorways, out on the sidewalks. And the poverty—the workers in these neighborhoods have none of the architectural dignity that their condition warrants: the houses are garishly ornate, ramshackle, simultaneously unhygienic and ornate, putting on a show of happiness and celebration. Repugnant. At night I went with Luciano Gallet out to the docks to meet a friend of ours who's arrived from Europe. Manuel Bandeira was there as well, enthusiastically awaiting a poet from Bahia, Godofredo Filho, s'posed to be quite good.


Rio. Lunch with Paulo Prado. This is what happened: I get to the Copacabana Palace, eyes dazzled by the noon glare, I'm looking for Paulo in the whats-it-called, the hall, I see someone waving to me sitting right next to the big window in the middle, it has to be him, I head that way. Once up close, yes it is Paulo Prado with Marinette, and . . . For heaven's sake! It's Graça Aranha, we're on the outs but it's a bit late for that now, I won't snub him, he doesn't deserve it, I wasn't the one who picked a fight. He did, or at least pretended not to see me since I bawled him out in two articles for wanting to decide my life when I hadn't given him power of attorney. Paulo Prado gets up with an amiable air to set me at ease: "Have you met?" Graça Aranha gets up and ho-hos, half- deflated, "Oh, but of course!" I choke. And it all went well, we re-befriended each other, and the only disagreeable vestige of it all is that verb. Paulo Prado, when he's able to, tells me that the day before, after we'd arranged to meet, Graça Aranha announced that he'd be joining him for lunch that day. He felt obliged to say that I was invited but also found a way to add, knowing how I felt about the falling-out, that I had no hard feelings and he was sure I'd be cordial. But Graça said he'd think it over. That night he phoned Paulo to say he'd come to lunch and it was too late to consult me. I'm not sure about the "too late" part, Paulo Prado certainly didn't go to the trouble, knowing my feelings as he did. But it was a damned awkward surprise. I'd have come to lunch anyway, as long as I knew that Graça was willing to reconsider the act of blindness in which he pretended, unobtrusively it should be said, not to see me.

At night, hot as blazes! At Manuel Bandeira's house, taking the breeze in Santa Teresa. I meet Rodrigo Melo Franco de Andrade. Manuel is still singing the praises of Godofredo Filho, assuring me that he writes the most splendid poetry and declaims it ever so well. And finally the poet starts in with the verses, eight, ten poems, there's no stopping him.

Suddenly I turn to Manuel and mutter: "But, Manuel! He can't declaim to save his life, and the poetry is just short of hateful . . ."

"Don't I know it! Back in Bahia, I swear I thought it was beautiful, but the second Godofredo started reciting in front of you all, I realized just how awful it is!"

MAY 10

Rio. Lunch with Manuel. Visit to see Ismael Nery's latest paintings. Always very interesting, to be sure. He's always researching, cooking up things in his brain, brainy things, a bit harebrained if you ask me. More interesting than good. And so full of himself, honestly! Dinner and evening with Dantas and, Good Lord, his wife! Finally, the gentleness of my friend and the damp rising off the lagoon.


That night Machado de Assis appeared to me in a dream, clean- shaven, and told me he was in hell.

"Poor soul . . ."

He chuckled a little and said: "But I'm in Dante's hell, the place where poets go. The only hardship is having to get along with the rest."

MAY 11

On board the 'Pedro I'. I wasn't able to enjoy any of the sensations I'd planned to have upon my departure, a gnawing worry distracted me completely. The porter they found to take my bags from the hotel to the docks, a little old man, turned up with one of those pushcarts, whatever they're called, with just two little fist-sized wheels in front. When I laid eyes on the cart I didn't like it one bit and my imagination saw the thousands of times those wheels would have to go round and round on their way from Lapa to the dock. And wouldn't you know I almost set off without my bags, which turned up at the last minute once the ship's luggage compartment had already been shut. What with all that going on I barely said goodbye to anyone and didn't notice how many travel companions were coming along for the ride. I knew we'd have a wild bunch from São Paulo, a real circus troupe, all great fun and up for anything. Well, when I got around to taking stock, everyone had flown the coop! It's just Dona Olívia and the two girls, Dolur and Mag.

Dona Olívia, with that little smile of hers, says to me: "You must not be too pleased to be the only man along on the expedition . . ."

"If I knew I wouldn't have come, Dona Olívia."

Curt, sincere. She had nothing else to say. Neither did I. I was angry at her and the girls. She remembers to add that Washington Luís telegraphed ahead to the governors of the states and to Peru. I don't say boo, but since it's very windy I excuse myself, go to my cabin, and swap my hat for a more appropriate travel cap. I looked in the mirror and managed to be a little easier. Seen from the sea, Rio all lit up at night is hallucinatory. A fast-moving hallucination, to be quite explicit. I let myself go with it. The water moans, oily and leaden, lazily throwing back the frisky lights from the beaches. You can feel the festivities, they're throwing a grand romantic ball, suggested to me by the Ilha Fiscal. An impossibly rich Croesus, the owner of the American sugar trust, why on earth sugar! is having the Queen of Sheba over at his castle in the Pyrenees. Telegrams sent out to buy all the lighted candelabras in the world and pick up all that jazz by authentic Negroes from the United States. Armies of servants run by with trays piled high with ice cream because it really is quite hot out. The Lady of the Camellias leans out the long low window over the waters and has fun spitting. Farther off, the Baron of Rothschild, the king of Belgium and a maharaja from who knows where tootling on brilliant silver whistles. Strolling by on the terraces, hard to make out, there's Paolo and Francesca, Paulo Prado, Tristão de Ataíde and Isolde, Wagner, Gaston Paris, Romeo and Juliet etc., gazing up at the stars which are indeed in splendid health, eating ice cream because it really is quite hot out. Mad dancing in Largo do Machado, Lapa, Praça Onze. . . . and then a murmuring frisson runs through the crowd packed along Avenida Rio Branco. Thousands of horses, white after the name of the avenue, bearing pages all clad in white satins and diamonds, emerge at an imperial gallop, wounding people, killing people, terrific cries of unhappiness, which are met by the songs of sirens upon sirens hidden behind the lights on the hills. And once the avenue is a pool of blood from end to end, here come elephants and camels bearing polished copper gongs striking, first the elephants which are the tallest, then the camels, then the lions, then the ferocious panthers roaring as they go, all at a pell-mell dash. And as soon as the panthers go by, bellies splashing through the blood running on the ground, seven hundred black slaves, tootling on whistles, bare naked with turbans of polished silver, come hauling, tugging on garlands of white camellias provided by the Lady of the Camellias, white Eulalias and white Magnolias, a little white dock pushcart, which rolls along at a sublime velocity to bear the Queen of Sheba to her destination.

MAY 12

We don't stop at Vitória. I commence sweating buckets. So drowsy, not seasick but drowsy as all get-out! . . .

In the morning a butterfly moth showed up on board that must've been about ten and a half feet from wingtip to wingtip. It was oh so lovely, all in dark velvet with appliqués in Venetian lace. I was already acquainted with this sort, since a lady in my neighborhood keeps a pair in her garden. Even so, the apparition was received with general applause, because during the rushing around to try to catch the butterfly, it always managed to find a way to introduce the passengers to one another, and that evening it put on a ball in the saloon.

Now we've been joined by yet another Swiss naturalist, Professor Hagmann who lives in Manaus, a moneybags called Humpity-Hump, the son of an Italian factory of São Paulo silks, a fellow wearing yesterday's clothes, the Adolescent in his undershorts winking at my companions, and, a bit ungainly, a grown man completely at home.

MAY 13

City of Salvador. Just terrific, I'm exhausted. But the devil of it is that there's no use saying "terrific," "wonderful morning," "delightful architectural invention," "beautiful girl." There's no use, it doesn't describe it. Those qualifiers only exist because man is a fundamentally envious being: you say that something is "wonderful" and he not only believes it but his imagination also magnifies whatever it was you felt. But if I could describe without tacking on qualifiers . . . Well, I wouldn't be me.

And since the night we set off, I've been trying not to introduce a certain someone. She's an American, a sugar-sweet summery girl and photogenic to boot. Pretending I don't know a word of English, I take photographs. It was enchanting to converse through eyes and gestures alone. I've never looked so lookingly in all my life and it truly is sublime. Perhaps as a result she pledged to me her eternal love, but was forced to stay in Bahia, since I can't afford any entanglements.

MAY 14

Life on board, and I keep on sweating more and more. Schaeffer, the Swiss friend of John Graz, introduces himself. Professor Hagmann is getting increasingly unbearable, bent on teaching us about Amazonia, while only ever saying the most obvious things. Today, as he was telling us the meaning of the word 'oca' in Tupi, Scales asked naughtily, "So what does 'dondoca' mean?" But the professor didn't understand. He's too pure.


Still-bright nightfall, we stop by Maceió for a fat cat to get off. A boatman comes up singing "Meu barco é veleiro" [Mine's a Sailboat], a beautiful coco, and sticks a harpoon into the 'Pedro I'. Then they bring on so, so many mail bags, everyone on board is made amply aware that Alagoas is quite advanced on the score of epistolary literature.


My dream went like this: I carefully wrote a speech in Tupi so that we might convey our greetings to all, once we were among the Indians. We met a tribe all assembled at the mouth of the Madeira, complete with a scrivener and a justice of the peace I could complain to if anyone were to mess with the Coffee Queen. Well, I recited my speech, which was a short one. But right from the start the Indians started exchanging looks and seeming like they were going to laugh. I soon saw that it was useless and that they were fixing to eat us all up. But that wasn't it: when I finished the speech, they all started shouting at me: "It's all wrong! It's all wrong!"

MAY 15

Recife and more Recife all day long—the pleasure was all mine, by the way. Ascenso and Inojosa at the dock. Boa Viagem Beach in the morning, chilled coconut water. Lunch at Leite, that inevitability of Recife, like the Butantan in São Paulo. Ascenso's house all afternoon, him sing-saying verse after verse, completely oblivious to our restlessness or fatigue. Just guess where we had dinner? Leite. Outing to Boa Viagem under a sublime moon, those girls . . . Departure at midnight, having had such tremendous pleasure that not even Inojosa could dampen our spirits.

MAY 16

Never mistake another's cabin for your own without the resident's consent. The mistake undone rather lamely, life on board goes on. What strange feelings I'm feeling . . . On land, even on vacation, I don't know . . . there's a sort of psychological predetermination that won't let you escape a single second from the notion, the feeling, the whatever-it-is of a struggle for life, or at least work. The sea cleans your being of that state of being. I realize that exercise does away with the drowsiness and this laziness that, while it aches a bit, is no heartache really. Round Cape São Roque. The sea of Ceará. Tomorrow we'll get to Fortaleza. It must be the recollection of the Padaria Espiritual that sells me a Horatian cookie. "I like my Venuses easy and raring to go," I chewed away in the moonlight. I swallowed hard.

MAY 17

By morning, Fortaleza. We didn't get off, the stop was quite short. Lacemakers on board—those inevitabilities you already know you'll find in the city of Such-and-Such . . . Just imagine running across lacemakers from Ceará in Le Havre, how wonderful that would be! and surly French chauffeurs in Botucatu . . . Life on board. I'm still dripping sweat; I'll have some linen clothes made in Belém. But the drowsiness has been defeated. I don't know why, I remembered a story that my uncle Pio, who's not my uncle, told me once. As a kid, he was playing with a little black boy, one of his father's slaves, the black boy did something or other, and uncle Pio went:

"Oh, you uppity little Negro, I'll tan your hide!"

"You try and I'll run!"

"I'll run after you!"

"I'll git away between your legs!"

"I'll squat down!"

"I'd grab a rock an' hit you with it!"

"I'd dodge!"

"I'd grab a cane an' give you a caning!"

"Ain't got no cane!"

"I'd give you a switching!"

"Ain't got no switch!"

"Aw, I dunno! I'd grab whatever I could an' give you a whatevering!"


Morning finds us in the middle of a canefield. So this is what they call the "wild green seas" . . . It's a canefield and there's nothing wild about it. On the contrary, it's a meek servant, a Chalaça, and 'Pedro I' mounts on him and does as he sees fit. Frankly irritating. Cud-chewing a-courting cane-sucking while we're all impatient to see the mouth of the Amazon tomorrow. The mouth of the Amazon . . .

We were all atremble as we contemplated, from the pilothouse, nature's most famed monument. And I swear unto you that there is nothing so sublime in all the world. Seven kilometers out, the sea was already streaked with brown as the river water advanced. It was a tremendous gargantuan swath dappled with an amphitheater of forested islands so enormous that the littlest one was bigger than Portugal. The surging of the river and the clash of the waters formed tremendous eddies and swells and the waves broke seven meters high raining down foam foam foam pink with the Sun's dawning. And so the 'Pedro I' forged on through a blooming shower. It forged on with difficulty, bucking and jumping, lurching over the flanks of baby whales and anacondas from the rainforest that had ventured out this far, led on by the freshwater mirage. As we drew closer, the islands, under the curtains of herons and storks that the wind drew back, were a catalogue of all the vegetable species, and in the fantastic hodgepodge of jequitibás, perobas, pine trees plane trees, humbled by the vast bulk of the baobab we could make out the longed-for rubber trees dominating the tangle with the harvesters hanging from the most audacious branch tips on strips of raw leather to pluck the rubber fruits. The scent of the pau rosa and the macacaporanga breathing from the resin of all the trunks was so inebriating that we swayed, nearly falling out into that big old world of furious water. What eloquence! The birds sang in flight and the din of the whistling ducks the flamingos the macaws the birds of paradise kept me from hearing the ship's bell calling for dinner. The Lady touched me on the arm and I started. I went with the others, leaving my wept-out thought on the magnificence of that hastily made landscape at whose heart there shone just-precisely-like a glass eye the guaçu wheel, the flooded island of Marajó.

MAY 18

Last day on board, a day made of nothings, with the precision of a Panama hat. The Arabian phonograph records of the Syrian from Belém, who winds up recommending the haberdashery he has there. It was he who reminded me of a Panama hat, since he wears one and sells lots of them, come from Iquitos. I don't know, I'd like to sum up my impressions of this coastal journey along Brazil's Northeast and North, and I can't quite do it, I'm a bit stunned, marveled, but I don't know . . . There's a sort of stubborn feeling of not- enoughness, of mottled motley colors, that absolutely wrecks the neat gray European I still have in me. For now, what I'm struck by is just how both nature and life in these places were cobbled together quite hastily, with far too much castroalves. And I have this truly irresistible half notion that instead of using the Africa and India that it had within itself, Brazil has put them to waste, only using them to dress up its appearance, its skins, sambas, maracatus, outfits, colors, vocabularies, delicacies . . . And on the inside, it let itself remain that which, by virtue of climate, race, cooking, everything, it will never be able to be, will only ever be able to ape: Europe. We take pride in being the only great (great?) civilized country in the tropics . . . This is the flaw in us, this is what makes us impotent. We ought to think and feel like Indians, Chinese, folks from Benin, Java . . . Perhaps then we might be able to create a culture and civilization of our own. At least we'd be more us, I'm sure of that.


During the night, the 'Pedro I' docked at Salinas to borrow a native pilot who could guide us through the treacherous mouth of the Amazon, and when we got up at the crack of dawn today we were already in it. What can I say of this river mouth, so literary, so awe-inspiring when regarded on a map? . . . The immenseness of the waters is so vast, the too-immense islands become far off and faint, you can't find anything to wonder at. The mouth of the Amazon is one of those grandeurs so grand that they overflow man's physiological capacity to perceive them. You can only monumentalize them mentally. All the retina puts into your consciousness is a big old world of muddy water and an unchanging scrub of forest on the faraway squinted-out islands. The Amazon is the final proof that monotony is one of the grandest elements of the sublime. It's an indisputable fact that Dante and the Amazon are equally monotonous. If you're ever to enjoy it a bit and make out the variety in these monotonies of the sublime, you've got to trap your sensations in tiny frames. Then you'll find the colorful sailboats charming and think the death of would-be beaus is just dandy, take hold of the tree-planted horizon that the refracted light cuts loose from the solid ground of the islands and put a hand on the Book of Job. The mouth of the Amazon is so gargantuan that its grandeur is a bluff. The Woolworth Building, the movie theaters in downtown Rio, and "I-Juca Pirama" are far grander.

But when Belém commences, narrowing the broad horizon, beauty shows its face again. We got there before the rain and the heat was so fierce that the markets breathed out jerky-scented air. The sailboats sitting at the wharf at the Ver-o-Peso market shook their pink blue black sails, fanning themselves lazily. We were met ceremonially on the wharf by two government automobiles all ready for a flower parade. A splendid bouquet for each of the poet's lady companions, and off we went. Then we reviewed all the flotsam and jetsam of the arrival. We reconvened only at night, for an excellent dinner. Belém had been inquiring about our tastes and kept a movie theater on the starboard corner of the hotel. We went to see William Fairbanks in 'Do It Now', an awful flick. The night slept sound.


And it is morningtime, a sublime morning. A few colorful sails, earth-colored water, some greens for a horizon. There's nothing to see! The mouth of the Amazon is only grand on the map; when you actually see it, everything is a size that you can't see. A few sails, earth-colored water, and some skimpy greens for a horizon. That's it. Arrival in Belém with official reception, Dionísio Bentes, mayor, etc., official automobiles, flowers for the women, and absolutely nothing of interest. Drowsy after lunch. Afternoon, "after the rain," we tried açaí. After dinner, once un- officialized, with nothing to do, we all went to the theater to see the important movie that all the papers and people were talking about, William Fairbanks in 'Do It Now'—garbage.


Outings all day long, and I've already befriended everything. I'm gleaming with happiness.

Belém is the greatest city in Polynesia. They called in a wave of Malaysians, and in a cranny between the mango trees, Belém do Pará was born. Funny, you always imagine that you live in Brazil, but one gets a fantastic impression of being in Cairo. I can't make out why . . . Mango trees, Cairo doesn't have mango trees evaporating up from the streets . . . It doesn't have that fellow out for a walk with a peccary on a leash . . . Much less that individual who stepped across my eyes bright-and-early, be still my heart! with the tail of his frock coat wagging behind him . . . I jumped back and landed in the olden days. They say that when my grandfather Leite Morais went to university to teach law, he only ever dressed that way . . . Top hat and frock coat and "Gentlemen, soon-and-soforth, the defendant, upon opening the umbrella of mitigating circumstances . . ." On one occasion, getting a bit carried away, he famously shouted: "In the square dance of the Law, the offense dances vis-à-vis with the sentence!" I know who I took after . . .

At noon everyone went to lie down, and I only woke up for my afternoon bath. It is fantastically hot here, altho I heard from the locals that while Pará is really very hot, today is exceptionally so. Every five minutes I come out of the bath and dry myself off, seven handkerchiefs, seventeen handkerchiefs, twenty-seven handkerchiefs . . . Luckily I've brought three dozen and will beat the washerwoman yet.

MAY 20

Peruvian consul, forty-five mil-réis. Sublime jaunt through the market. We tasted so many things that, while each was only a taste, we wound up stuffed. All generally tasty, much of it delicious, but you're left with a feeling of wildness, not just in your mouth: in your being. I should have taken this trip when I was much younger and much less experienced . . . Official visit and intimate luncheon with the governor . . . did I say intimate? After the savories, the mayor got up with a coupe of champagne, a coupe! it'd been ages since I'd had champagne in a coupe, even with my rich pals in São Paulo . . . Well, he raised his coupe and made a speech welcoming Dona Olívia. And that's how it got started. From the minute that little man got up, I was on pins and needles, there was no way around it, I'd have to follow him! No sooner said than done: just as the mayor finished, Dona Olívia shot me a look with a little smile and with the tiniest gesture of expectation she conveyed that I was next. I'd never improvised anything in the world! A cloud darkened my eyes, I rose with a sense of doom, and then came an idea. Or something like it. I said that everything was so lovely, that we couldn't believe our eyes, and other identical bits of genuine nonsense, and then I let out the idea that we felt so at home (what hogwash!) that it seemed to us as if the state borders had been wiped away! I sat down as if I'd just been beaten with a stick. But the idea had . . . they'd liked it. That didn't change the fact that the champagne was sour, awful stuff. Then we visited the famous church of Nazaré and the splendid cathedral across from the archdiocese. And a spin around Souza in an automobile. I don't know, I take a voluptuous pleasure in nature, I luxuriate in it, but when I sit down to write a description it no longer holds any interest for me. There's something sexual in my enjoyment of landscapes and I don't know how to express it.

MAY 21

Morning: market, of course. Long visit to the Goeldi Museum, with a thorough tour. Library admirably well preserved by Dr. Rodolfo de Siqueira Rodrigues, one of those unsung heroes. I went to try on my linen clothes, and damned if I won't leave all of the clothes I brought from São Paulo at the hotel! At night, a ball at the Assembléia in honor of the travelers. I didn't go. It's amazing how worked up I've been, it's plain I still don't know how to travel, I enjoy myself altogether too much, I agree too much, I don't properly relish my own life. These notes in my diary are absurd summaries, only for personal use, jotted down in a little datebook given to me on the Lloyd Brasileiro, which has only five lines per day. The literary stuff gets jotted down in another blank notebook, on letter paper, on the backs of bills, in the margins of newspapers, anything'll do. Jottings. Slapdash. Will have to see what can be made of all this in São Paulo.


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