“They say the city is like an aeroplane,” said Joao, gesturing with one camp, aloof hand. “One neighbourhood here, one there and this road is like the body.” I’m in Brasilia on day nine of my trip. It’s quite a change of pace from Rio, where I have just spent the last week at Carnaval getting drunk on caipirinha and, as a result, confronted by ‘favelados’ – residents of the notorious slums in the mountain valleys.
I am in the second part of my holiday, visiting my friends Nayara and Pedro on the weekend of their wedding ceremony. Much as I have become used to as a solitary traveller in far-flung countries, I have been passed on to friends of friends and am spending the day meandering around shopping malls and plush lobbies in Brasilia’s hotel sector. Joao and his fiancé Vinny, along with the vivacious Barbara, are very accommodating and enjoy teaching me Portuguese phrases which they believe will help me to succeed romantically at tomorrow’s reception.
Brasilia has a reputation amongst the country’s youth as a corporate city, with not much to offer in terms of fun and frolics. Designed by famed communist architect Oscar Niemeyer, the city is beautifully mapped out and divided neatly into sections for banking, politics, shopping, etc. But, it is lacking a certain urban flavour for a national capital – especially a nation so reputed for its party lifestyle.
Nayara referred to it as an ‘artificial’ city before my arrival, and this certainly rings true of the residential areas. It seems everyone who lives in Brasilia does so in gated communities and compounds, guarded by electric fences and security personnel. Inside each one, I am reminded of the Truman Show; all modern housing and perfectly kempt gardens. Artifice is definitely the word. Nonetheless, the people here are still Brazilian, and I am not disappointed as the wedding celebrations commence.
A Brazilian wedding is very similar to those in the UK, with lengthy speeches; overzealous family members who drink too much; inappropriate posturing from youthful groomsmen. What made this ceremony particularly special was the combination of military tradition and Star Wars paraphernalia. Having met at Brasilia’s military academy as teenagers, Nay and Pepe fell in love over their mutual sci-fi fanaticism.
“That’s what I was saying in my speech.” Nayara explained to me the next day, “I was saying that the rebel alliance was a symbol of our personal beliefs, and that we fight prejudice together as a team.” This was quite a beautiful analogy. Lost on me, of course, because of the language barrier, and not least because of the open bar.
The day was held at a luxury hotel on the outskirts of the capital. Among those in attendance were civil servants, lawyers, senior army officers, and one staffer from the Brazilian embassy in London. “Last night you met, like, the 1% of Brazil.” One of the groomsmen told me the next morning. “They are not, like, millionaires but they have a lot of money. It was a very fancy wedding.” This seemed in line with the rest of my experiences in Brasilia.
The gated communities so typical in this part of the country appear, not so much as a deterrent for criminals, but in bated anticipation of incoming crime. On my last day, Nayara and I discuss the lack of public transport in the city. “Every mayor promises to build more. But I think if they do finally do it, then they will have nothing more to campaign about. So nothing gets done.”
I have many own theory; in Rio, public transport is plagued by muggers and gangs. Even so, I feel that if it had more social diversity, perhaps the artificial city would be less so.