The heat had come quickly and the sugar planters here in the south were frequently glancing at the sky to see when it would rain.
Our lunch was red beans and rice and something good made with okra. The tablecloth was white and textured, like the starched cover on the bed where I had lain the evening before, listening in the hot darkness to the buzz and whistle and bullfrog scrape of the Brazilian summer night.
A maid cleared the dishes and replaced them with dessert plates. She was black and wore her hair in a pale scarf and did not speak. She made a separate trip for each plate change. Our host, a young industrialist, stood, in his aviator glasses and yellow Lacoste shirt, and poured more tamarind juice from a slender glass pitcher into our crystal glasses. The air was damp in the still afternoon. On the veranda, beyond the open wood shutters, a green parrot poked at its wings.
The house was rose-colored, and from the dining room we could see some of the palm, mango and eucalyptus trees that stood on the grounds. There was a Grecian statue of a woman, one shoulder bared, and a tennis court and tall Brazilian walnut trees marking to border of the sugar cane field.
The cane is light green before the harvest, and in vast quantity it undulates. We might have been seated at the shore of a great, wind-ruffled lake with the smoking dark outline of the sugar mill at the opposite bank. The men and women who cut the cane, who come to the fields after the burning and use long knives to chop down the bare stalks, are paid about 80 cents for every 2,000 pounds they cut. They earn, according to the employers' calculations, an average of $4 a day.
The maid brought fried bananas and thick caramel in silver bowls. The industrialist was speaking in soft Portuguese to the rancher from the north. The rancher wished to send his chicken to Sao Paulo for school. There was nothing suitable in the town where they lived. The industrialist believed children should be educated in their own area -- at 18 they could travel to Europe and the United States, the industrialist said, and then they would see how to improve their own community.
The industrialist spoke of the school his company had built. The school takes children at 12, the industrialist explained. History is taught there, as well as basic skills, goegraphy and the importance of hard work and thrift.
The industrialist's grandfather had immigrated from Italy and made bricks at the big coffee plantations. Now the family owned sugar cane, mills, alcohol distilleries, factories that produce alcohol distilleries. c
The young industrialist lived in the house of an old coffee baron and liked to walk his guests over the just-laid patio where the bricks were new and every one contained an impression of his initials.
YOU CAN GET from Ribeirao Preto to Sao Paulo by evening commuter plane, and for that you must go out the Little airport and listen to the night crickets. There are no lights outside the airport. Even in the darkness the heat comes off the ground. I bought an ice cream for the boy shining shoes. A propeller plane whined in and took us aboard, depositing us one hour later in the city that makes the people on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro shudder.
If you have ever walked in Manhattan on A Saturday in July, straight down Broadway as the air goes sour and the city hits the streets, then you have some sense of the pace downtown in the largest city in South America.
Your eyes sting, a rawness comes to your throat, samba and disco shimmer and thump onto the sidewalk, and the faces carry in them the color and shape of the Portuguese, the African, the German and Italian and Lebanese. In the park, dodging roller skaters, we watched a scout troop, all of Japanese descent, rehearsing a skit in loud Portuguese interrupted by giggles.
Under a morning haze Sao Paulo champed and chafed: pinball arcades, erotic movie houses, open sidewalk snackbars with pine-apples and blackening bunches of fragrant bananas hanging from the rafters, skyscrapers smooth and huge next to sagging colonial houses we were told are the coffee barons' leftovers. A golden church dome gleamed on a hillside full of factories. The streets reeked with cooking grease, auto exhaust, roasting popcorn, hunks of barbecued beef and the faint pall of factories, hundreds of tangled industrial plants that poured white smoke straight up into the city sky.
ALCOHOL POWERED the Volkswagen that took us around Sao Paulo. It might have been the industrialist's alcohol; the state monopoly, Petrobras, buys everybody's, so you cannot be sure. The Volkswagen belonged to our friend Roberto, who laughed a little maniacally when we reached the freeway. "Now we will run," he cried, "regardless the cops." He jammed into second gear and roared away from the truck stop where he had insisted we stop for coffee. The Brazilians make it dark, and very sweet, and they pour it into tiny cups.
It was early, before 7. The truck stop was full of murmuring people, faces still creased from sleep. They wore bluejeans and stood as they drank. On the four-lane highway north out of Sao Paulo, the concrete already groaned with Traffic: Fiats, Volkswagens, tractor-trailers, red and yellow buses filled to standing room with workers being shuttled from their concrete houses to their factories, flatbeds carrying insulators, long slabs of mahogany, toilet bowls, industrial parts. Many of the trucks are painted with designs like Pennsylvania Dutch symbols, so that all down the highway, a 50-mile stretch of concrete and industry that makes the New Jersey Turnpike look faintly bucolic by comparison, we could glance over and see the pink-and-orange patterns of a handpainted truck bouncing alongside.
Roberto said the trucks sometimes paint on mottoes as well. He quoted a favorite: "Snakes and the mother of my wife I just pass over." He laughed uproariously and tamped tobaco into his pipe. "The engines of some automobile now run on the same fuel I am drinking for years."