Brazil on the Move

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Book: Brazil on the Move by John Dos Passos Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Dos Passos
Tags: History, Travel, South America, Latin America, Brazil
“but at least I can show them on the map.”
    The construction camp has an uptodate thrifty look. The living quarters are on trailers. The repairshop looks neat and businesslike. New lathes and Manley presses. Plenty of tools. The portable generators are humming. Everything is screened, there is electric light, a twoway radio.
    In part of a shack fitted up as an office Sayão strides up to a map on the wall. He points with his forefinger to the mouths of the Amazon. “The object is to open up communications with Pará, our northern port will be the city of Belém. From São Paulo to Belém we have around twentyfour hundredkilometers to go. There are roads from São Paulo to Anápolis. On the new road from Anápolis we’ve come three hundred and forty.”
    He turns from the map to look us in the face with his hard level gaze. “Eventually we must have a road clear through to Belém. While we are waiting we’ll carry the trucks by water on the Rio Tocantins. We are planning to use American landing barges, war surplus … we are negotiating for them in the States.”
    When he slams the car into the gravel again, Sayão hesitates at the turn as if he had half a mind to drive north anyway. “Now, Papa,” says the pretty daughter. Obediently he points the car back the way we came. He twists his head around from the driver’s seat and gives his guests a rueful smile. “You come back in a couple of years,” he says, “and I’ll drive you clear to Belém.”
    Bernardo Sayão had the greatest quality of leadership of any man I ever met. Building roads was his hobby and his obsession. According to his sisters even when he was small he showed a passion for outdoor life. He was born in Rio about the turn of the century of a welltodo family. He was raised in an atmosphere of achievement. His father went to work for the Central Railroad of Brazil when still a schoolboy and ended up as a director of the line. “A simple and straight career,” Sayão said of his father one day with a proud smile. “He never lost his taste for the back country and neither did I.”
    Sayão’s people lived on a sizable patch of hillside in the beautifully forested region of Tijuca that overlooks Rio and the bay and the great ocean beaches that stretch south from Copacabana. As soon as young Bernardo could walk he started roaming about the property with a sack of toys on his back looking for campsites. He’d play hooky from school to climb the conical basalt peaks that abound in the mountainranges behind Rio. He was a firstrate soccerplayer and pulled a famous oar as an occasional member of the Botofogo Club rowing crews.
    After graduating from the agricultural college at Piracicaba in the state of São Paulo he took a job under the Ministry of Agriculture. He married. His first wife died young, leaving him with two little girls to bring up. Already the Ministry of Agriculture was making plans, mostly on paper, for agricultural colonies to form centers of settlement for the back country people whose habit of life the officials in Rio considered distressingly nomadic. Sayão took them at their word. He worked to resettle the nomads, but his idea was that agricultural colonies would do no good without roads to bring their products to market.
    Sayão became obsessed with the need for good roads to open up the hinterland. He went to work with such vim that he got in wrong with the agricultural bureaucrats who warmed chairs in Rio offices. His struggle with governmental red tape turned out to be as strenuous as his struggle to clear rights of way through the forest.
    When Getúlio Vargas took over the national government in 1930 he too had ideas about colonizing the West. Friends told him of the candor and drive of the young athlete from Rio. The President sent word he wanted to see him.
    Sayão’s brotherinlaw, who arranged the details of the appointment, used to tell a story on him. Never much of a dresser, Bernardo had only one white suit.

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