Friday, January 18, 2008

the samba-bingo connection

Little did I know that the stereotypical refuge of elementary school classes and senior community centers - bingo - would have anything to do with the sultry, sexy samba. It wasn't until last nights meanderings into the city center of Manaus that I first witnessed this unlikely union.

Manaus is not a beautiful city. It is standard Latin America - with rutted streets and unfinished cement buildings, feral dogs and cats, and smiling people playing futbol. It is a city that is isolated from the rest of Brazil - the only road goes to Caracas, Venezuela. Otherwise, you're left with boats and planes. However, in defiance of its isolated location, the Brazilian government had the marvelous idea of making a Free Trade zone. So there's a set of electronics/manufacturing companies with plants in the city. They use materials imported from other countries, and then export the products out of Brazil - so aside from a few jobs in Manaus, the system benefits very few Brazilians. I have to admit that seeing the bureaucracy and red tape that our equipment suffered through for temporary importation, I can only wonder about the logic of the system.

But the main plaza of Manaus is beautiful. The city once fancied itself a satellite Paris - in the late 1800's, I think. There is little left of that but rotting facades of once-painted buildings with decrepit ironwork balconies. The notable exception is the plaza. Surrounded by well maintained and brightly painted buildings, the plaza has tile work and a fountain. And a French opera house, with all the trimmings. The Teatro Amazonas was designed in France, and all the materials were imported. It almost looks out of place, but is painted like a bright peach, which makes it fit in.

Better than that, next to the Teatro Amazonas on the plaza was the location of last night's entertainment. A stage was set up, with plastic tables and chairs in front - filled with a cross-section of the community. We arrived during the 15mins of Binghuino (bingo) - you buy cards, and the announcer calls out numbers. Once that round is over, the band - who came all the way in on the river from a distant part of the Amazon - came on and played music. After their set, bingo restarted, and then some more samba...

It somehow worked - all ages were entertained, the band was pretty good (they even had a few adoring fans get autographs on some homemade cd's), and I finally got to sit down and enjoy a chopp (beer) and some music...