Just Merveilleux?

Life at № 42

Notes on The Time Before

That’s a dinner table in a private home in South America. They’re doing a test run. If my memory is correct, they normally use six waiters at that particular table.

I want to continue talking about that period because it’s oddly relevant to what’s going on in  the world today…

As a child with grandparents from three different countries and living in a fourth, I had no choice but to become a fast learner. In fact I have no memory of not speaking the languages I speak. I do however have memories of figuring out how systems worked.

By the end of my first month in Bahia I knew many things.  I knew men were more important than women; consequently sons more important than daughters. I knew whites were more important than browns, who in turn were more important than blacks. And no one called themselves black unless their skin was jet black. They were cafe-com-leite, pardo or any other range of adjectives which describe shades of brown. I knew people who owned casas de praia (beach houses) were better than people who didn’t, but owning a Fazenda (not living in one!) meant you were proper. Fazenda is the Portuguese equivalent to Hacienda. An agricultural property in the countryside. They look like this:

Image result for fazenda colonial brasil

In those days (in Bahia) people had much of what they consumed sent over from their Fazendas. How much you had sent over showed how important your Fazenda was. If all you got was fruit you were evidently less important than people who got beef. The exception were the Cocoa families. Back then, before Africa got into the game, they were mega-rich. Cocoa was gold. And instead of the concept of minimum wage Brazil went with the Cesta Basica (basic basket.) Why minimum wage when you can give them rice and beans instead? Also, when people wanted a maid, they sent to their Fazenda for one. That’s because there are little houses (huts) on your fazenda where your workers live. They reproduce and so you have an endless supply of people looking for work.

Exchanging stories on the “state of the girl” you had sent over from your Fazenda was a regular occurrence at social encounters. She was so covered in lice/fleas/ticks I had to spray her with common insecticide! She’s got the funniest accent! Can you believe she eats with her hands, I’ve told her she must at least use a spoon!

As a child, I didn’t know enough to make a judgement on the quality of that society, but my first reaction was that it suited me. It looked like everything was in my favour. Like it had all been designed for me to win. If life in America had been the equivalent to Ravel’s Bolero, Brazil was suddenly the Ride of the Valkyries. And yes, it did go straight to my head. A monster was about to be born. 

 

 

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26 comments on “Notes on The Time Before

  1. makagutu
    March 7, 2017

    How much have things changed from this?

    Like

    • It depends who you ask. My guess is that for a good number of people it hasn’t changed at all.

      Like

      • makagutu
        March 7, 2017

        You mention something about race in your post, how did it play in daily lives? Was their cruelty of one class against another?
        Were there landed blacks or browns or is this a reserve of the white folk?

        Liked by 1 person

      • It was a strange dynamic because we’re talking about a population where over 90% are brown/black. The middle class was very small. The wealthy people were all white. Blacks with money were either entertainers or footballers. In those days I never met in Bahia a black doctor or lawyer.

        Like

      • makagutu
        March 7, 2017

        Strange dynamics those were.

        Like

  2. metan
    March 7, 2017

    You have had a very interesting life, Pink. 🙂
    Glad you have shared this next bit. (Very relevant, waiting for more.)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Helen Devries
    March 7, 2017

    Apart from the colour factor, it sounds very like life in the U.K. between the wars – for a certain section of society.
    Post war we had hampers sent from the farm until it was sold when I was in my early teens…but the Army provided the household help – until my father retired, the which disruption provided a bit of shock to the maternal system.

    I can see why you happily took to the opportunities that life provided.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interestingly I think people have lost all memory and grasp of how life works without the ease and conveniences of life today.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Helen Devries
        March 7, 2017

        Just think of the process of washing clothes, for one thing!
        My grandmother was still in the era when clothes and laundry were put by for the monthly wash day which took three specialised laundrywomen plus the maids.
        When I moved to France elderly neighbours had not long moved on from using the communal lavoirs – or the river.
        In a generation those lavoirs had fallen into disuse and neglect.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You’re still talking about a world of luxury 😀
        You know how many Brazilians (who could afford it) got hot showers back then? It was called an “Electric Shower” and looked like this:

        Yes, no better idea than connecting electricity to your shower head!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Helen Devries
        March 7, 2017

        Still going strong in Costa Rica! Known to foreigners as the suicide shower.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. kjennings952
    March 7, 2017

    This is beautifully written, enhanced by the facts neutrally observed. I suspect the next part of the story will not be…I look forward to reading your insights on the experiences that shaped who you are today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fluctuating between such different sociocultural groups (from such a young age) made me look at the world sort of like an anthropologist does. I couldn’t make judgements then, but I do now 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      • kjennings952
        March 7, 2017

        I’m subtly trying to say I like that you’ve separated the 2 in this instance. Your opinions carry more weight when you do, IMHO.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. violetwisp
    March 7, 2017

    Context is everything. 🙂 I suppose you’ve come a long way in some respects.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. belasbrightideas
    March 8, 2017

    I am not a fan of the uber rich, though I’ve known them all my life. Grew up with a few – mostly new money – Southern California was very much like that. Beverly Hills and Belair so near UCLA. San Marino so near Pasadena. Still, I love how completely frank you are about your upbringing. Because worse than inequality, at least in my book, is ignorance of any kind. And the ignorance of many of the old money people (moving now to the East coast where I spent most of my life) is astounding. They are blatantly [fill in the adjective] and they don’t even know it. Or care. So kudos to you, Pink. At least you know you’re a monster 😉 Aloha.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Perspective bias is an amazing thing. Unless people experience different circumstances, they’ll mostly be inclined to see the world in a very specific, strict way.
      If you consider how difficult it was too stop segregation in the US or apartheid in S.A., then we see the issue goes much deeper than economics. Interestingly, in the case of Bahia back then, not all the people who lived “wealthy” lives were wealthy in US or European terms. The thing was the poor were so poor, and there were so many of them, that the socioeconomic dynamics were quite similar to Belle Epoque Europe.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. acflory
    March 8, 2017

    Despite arriving in Australia as a penniless refugee in 1957, all my memories are obstinately middle class – Catholic private school, ballet, piano and singing lessons, and, of course, university at the end of it all. But it’s never really what you have that sticks with you, is it? It’s what you don’t have. I suspect that what you didn’t have is what created dissonance in your young life, and led to the person you are /now/.

    I’m so glad you’re writing about this. Monsters are rarely boring. 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Linn
    March 9, 2017

    I try to remember that we’ve gotten a little better at this, at least some places, but I’m constantly reminded that the situation you’re describing isn’t far off and it may come back. One thing I notice is all the people claiming that discrimination is fine because we’re all different.
    It was the official day for women yesterday (8th of March) and whenever an article points out salary discrepancy or other forms of discrimination faced by women, there’s a whole bunch of men writing comments about how women are different and how it would be wrong to make the genders equal. We should instead celebrate the differences. ^_^
    The same is often repeated in response to discrimination against blacks. There is no racism, only the celebration of “supposed differences”. That way, the game remains rigged in the favour of white males, any discrimination is because blacks and women supposedly don’t want an education, a good job or success.
    It drives me nuts.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. boyslikeme
    March 12, 2017

    This is delicious! I love the insight in to your life and mind, thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. theoccasionalman
    March 16, 2017

    I’m always fascinated by just how different our experiences in Brazil have been. I also find it a little sad that you don’t remember discovering a new language. For me, there’s a lot of joy in the learning process.

    Liked by 1 person

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