Sunday, September 19, 2010

Cam sees the president, is puzzled by modern art

Despite its frustrations, there is an entertaing element of being out of the "loop." Since I usually only hear about big events or parties the day before, it always feels like we're all being really spontaneous together despite all the planning that has taken place without my notice. For example, on Thursday a friend asked me if I was going to see the President the following day during his visit to the University.

"The president of what?"

"Ummm, the country."

"I guess so, yeah." What a nice surprise for him to drop by so unexpectedly....

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is kind of a big deal. In the final months of his eight-year tenure, "Lula" currently enjoys approval ratings around the mid-eighties; not bad for a guy who dropped out of school before the fifth grade and didn't learn to read until age ten. He's typically contrasted with his Venezuelan counterpart as an example of the "good" left in Latin America, as his administration has been marked by sharp decreases in poverty and inequality and impressive economic expansion. He has quite the story; working his way up through organized labor in Brazil's automobile industry (he lost his pinky finger in a factory accident), before becoming one of the nation's most powerful syndicalists and founding the country's Worker's Party. Though elected in 2002, his presidential ambitions had previously resulted in several failed bids dating back to 1989. As a result, his image often emphasizes his tenacity and ascension from the ranks of the Brazilian poor.

Lula came to tour some new buildings on campus and gave a speech afterwards that was open to the public. The lead-up to the appearance had most the aspects I've come to expect of any sort of event here: everything started an hour late and there was a band that played Beatles' covers. Since I got there thirty minutes early, which was almost an hour and half early in actuality, I got a pretty good spot to see him. It was super interesting to hear about higher education from a man who had never had the opportunity to go to college. Like some past American presidents we know, his speech is famous for its mistakes and "unpolished" nature, and he jokingly began by commenting on how his university audience was going to "analyze" all of the errors he was going to make in Portuguese. Well, no need to worry about this audience member providing any such analysis.

Yet any lack of refinement did not keep Lula from effectively working up the crowd. He's very easy to understand and is a passionate speaker, making it quite the experience to witness. We're currently in the throws of picking his successor, so the speech was dedicated to talking not only about the contributions of his party to education, but to all aspects of the country. I lucked out with the timing of his visit, this is the first time he's come to Juiz de Fora during his presidency. All in all, it was an excellent way to spend my Friday afternoon and I'm looking forward to seeing who or what will "randomly" appear next. Here is a picture of me looking foolish with Lula behind me and a close up of him speaking

The rest of my weekend was spent in the state capital, Belo Horizonte. I was invited by some friends who study architecture to go with their class to a huge modern art museum on Saturday. This "museum" is actually a 90-acre park filled with crazy structures, buildings and galleries, some of which I've put up pictures on Picasa. My favorite building was a round pavilion on top of a hill that offered an excelent view of the surrounding park and city. Inside, visitors sat on a bench that ran around the structure and listened to the magnified rumbling sounds that came out of a narrow hole that ran 600 feet into the ground. The exhibit was called, "Sounds of the Earth." I think it was my favorite because it's the only piece of modern art I'm moderately sure I understood.

While super nice, the professor leading the trip was also quite the character. He would often stop conversation to loudly declare that "we need to smoke a cigarette!" while taking a Marlboro out of his bag. He would not, however, lite said cigarette. He still took long, dramatic drags and would blow out imaginary smoke, often while chatting up a group of people who were smoking the more traditional way. After a while, he would decide that he had had "enough!", and would replace the cigarette in his bag. During one of his "smoking" session I asked him what exactly he was doing, to which he matter-of-factly responded that he stopped smoking lit cigarettes when he was thirty-five. Like I said, "Sounds of the Earth" was about the only part of the modern art trip I really felt I had a handle on.

Hope all is well,


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