The Carioca hinterlands

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A resident of Jacarepaguá, Magalhães Corrêa wanted to call attention to the problems of the sertão, and show it wasn’t just some far away place in Brazil’s northeast.


Rio de Janeiro, 1930. Capital of Brazil. Getúlio Vargas, having recently came to power after the coup, reflects and nurtures the nationalist spirit that dominates the country. While the capital thrives with political, structural and social transformations, not far from there life is quiet, limited to a few inhabitants who live with luxuriant fauna and flora. It’s the Sertão Carioca, in the words of the illustrator and self-taught naturalist Armando Magalhães Corrêa, conservator of the National Museum.

While roaming through this sertao – where, after numerous walks, he bought a small farm – Magalhães Corrêa wrote chronicles and composed beautiful illustrations with the tip of a feather. These were published between 1932 and 1933 in the newspaper Correio da Manhã. In 1936, after encouragement from newspaper editor, Ricardo Palma, and intellectual Roquette Pinto, the Imprensa Nacional gathered all the material in a book titled O Sertão Carioca. Although acclaimed at the time, Magalhães Corrêa did not come to be considered an important author, but from the 1990s he began to be object of academic articles. Still, the book is valued more for its details than its style. In one of the prefaces, Roquette Pinto himself states: “The picturesque with which the artist knew how to describe the different and individualized professional types of the Sertão Carioca, makes us forgive the sloppiness of the style.”

Today [2015], almost eighty years later, the Biblioteca Nacional is working on the reissue of the book as part of Rio’s 450th anniversary. It is currently waiting for funding from the Rio de Janeiro Research Foundation (Faperj). If it is published, the work will certainly be sold at prices lower than those practiced by the used bookstores on Estante Virtual, who charge between R$150 and R$300 for a copy [1].

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With descriptions of characters, places and trades that were erased from Jacarepaguá, Barra and Recreio, the “Sertão Carioca” of the 1930s today seems incongruous amid the construction sites and condominiums that occupy the region. After all, it was the West Zone’s very isolated character that attracted its first residents and enterprises. These now culminate in the housing boom and boost in construction, among other factors, for the 2016 Olympics.

What’s still seen a suburb by part of the city’s elite – still the same as in 1936 – has become its center: the Olympic Park, when completed, will be at the heart of Sertão Carioca. Although, in a way, the words of Ricardo Palma, publisher of the Diário Carioca, in the preface of the book are valid:

“Yes, even though Cariocas from the Avenida, from Posto 4, from the chic tea parties and cinemas are amazed, there is a “sertão” in this wonderful land, like in the Amazon, Matto Grosso, Goyaz, Minas, Bahia. Although less wild …”

It’s this “tame” (ex) sertão – in the words of anthropologist Candice Vidal, from the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais – that we will pass through on this trip through old Rio. We will visit some places mentioned by Magalhães Corrêa in search of vestiges of the Sertanejos that lived there and of the names that today resound like lost places – restinga de Itapeba, ilha do Marinho, represa dos Ciganos —; trades supplanted by ‘progress’ – clog-makers, weavers, ax-makers, wire-makers, potters, fertilizer-makers; And  now-obsolete artifacts – tipiti, biquilha, leira, alforge, bitola. If to us they sound almost foreign, these words were also not well known by readers in the 1930s: no wonder Magalhães Corrêa inserted a “Vocabulary employed and spoken in the backwoods of Rio” at the end of the book, which contains about five hundred terms.

The article continues with several ‘then vs now’ examples. Source (PT)

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