Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “Queen Elizabeth”

Lost Samba – Chapter 01/02 – A distinguished guest.

Breakfast taken, uniform checked and impeccable, Mum, Dad and sister dressed elegantly, we were all ready to leave. While the rest of the family set off by car, taking the fast route skirting the city’s beautiful beaches, I had to catch the school bus because I was the only actual student.

In order to pick up the other children, the old red and yellow vehicle took the side streets zig-zagging along Copacabana’s two main arteries, Avenida Nossa Senhora de Copacabana and Avenida Barata Ribeiro. Long branches of lush trees offered shade to both avenues. Beneath them, trolley buses emitted loud and bright sparks as they passed under the web of electric wires held aloft by rusty posts. By eight o’clock, a mass of crowded public buses and bulky 1950s-style cars already jammed the avenues and the adjoining streets. Impatient drivers hooted for no reason and barefoot moleques – or street boys from the favelas – darted between the gridlocked traffic, pushing wooden carts so low they almost scraped the asphalt.

In our condition of posh little gringos, we stared at these boys from the bus windows with a mixture of envy and fear. Although those moleques were about our age, if given the opportunity they could easily – and would – beat up any of us. They worked at the feiras, or open-air markets, where the stand owners hired them to fill their carts with produce and deliver them to the porters of the customers’ homes and offices. These makeshift markets changed neighbourhoods every day, and wherever they landed, they combined pungent smells of fruit, meat and fish exposed to the hot sun.  Their odour and their unmistakable noise advertised their presence from many blocks away. From beside the fruit stands, powerful black men in torn shirts shouted out songs and rhymes to attract the madames: “Only today! Pretty women get a discount if they buy a half kilo!” – “Look at the fresh bananas, only 10 Cruzeiros a dozen!”.

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The bus progressed slowly through the streets and at the various intersections, it met with smartly uniformed mulato policemen who controlled and directed the traffic through an artful mix of whistles, glances and hand movements resembling a rare bird’s mating ritual.
*
On that special morning of November 1968 there were to be no classes. In honour of the occasion, Union Jacks and Brazilian flags were everywhere and excitement filled the air. The cleaners had unbelievably wiped away the normal carpet of leaves and rotting fruit from the school’s huge playground. While a small crowd of guests gathered outside in the patio, a nervous buzz was building all around. We settled in our usual classroom and waited for the other classes to leave for the assembly hall where the event that the entire school had been anticipating for months was going to take place.  Our teacher, Mrs Feitosa, was an assertive blonde-haired woman from Manchester in her mid-forties who had married a Brazilian. Her make-up and her elegant dress did not diminish her authority as she closed our classroom’s door and stood in front of the blackboard.

“I want everyone to sit down and to listen carefully!”

We stopped whatever we were doing, fell silent and she continued.

“Good. Can you all hear me? Today everyone must be on their best behaviour. Am I clear?”

Mrs Feitosa gave us “the look” from behind her glasses and twisted her thin lips. As if by magic, each pupil thought our teacher was directing her evil eye at him or her so we were relieved when someone opened the door to say it was our turn to leave the building.

“Now, I want all of you to hold hands and come with me.”

Back out on the patio, there were now more parents and other adults were waiting, all dressed in their best clothes. As we passed by, they proudly waved and smiled at us, while at the same time they kept turning their heads to see if the distinguished guest had arrived.

When we had almost reached the entrance, we heard sirens and Mrs Feitosa looked back. We followed her gaze and saw the great moment happening: accompanied by her entourage, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, was entering the British School of Rio de Janeiro.

In full regal resplendence, the Queen, wearing a plain white dress and matching hat, was standing in an open-top Rolls Royce, waving and smiling at the crowd now gathered alongside the row of palm trees extending all the way from the school’s entrance gate to the playground. Moving slowly alongside were the most impressive motorcycles any of us had ever seen. As in a film, they were huge with roaring engines, enormous radio antennae and glitzy transparent protective shields. The sun was shining on the riders’ dark glasses and they looked like Hollywood stars in their leather jackets displaying the official emblem of the military police.

Mrs Feitosa broke our trance by telling us to enter the assembly hall and to climb onto the stage before the security staff allowed the grown-ups into the room. We were lucky because this was the best viewing spot. When the Queen entered, all chatter stopped and as silence filled the room, it was as though the power and aura of the British Empire had transformed the entire building into an outlandish place carrying the Kingdom’s importance and pomp. Prince Phillip followed behind the Queen and he stopped to chat with, of all people, my sister Sarah, who was standing amidst the section of the hall reserved for ex-students. Sarah was amazing: confident and polite.

The two students who had been chosen to take the leading roles in welcoming the Queen were English “thoroughbreds”, as everyone called that clique. Dressed in the style of traditional British aristocrats, the boy walked up to Her Majesty and in a chivalrous manner threw his  cape  across the floor, while the girl stood facing him. The girl then curtsied and the boy bowed, and when he rose he shouted out something or other that I did not catch. Whatever it was that he said, the Queen acknowledged her approval before turning towards my class.

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Mrs Feitosa lifted her hand and we began to sing. Well-rehearsed as we were, much to everyone’s relief we sounded good. After the applause, there were presentations and speeches, the Queen spoke a bit, and at the end of the ceremony the school’s staff handed out royal teacups to the guests as presents. The festivities continued long after she left. If there ever was a golden day for the British community in Rio, this was it.

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Queen Elizabeth II in Rio

As I saw her pass in her beautiful boat in the Diamond Jubilee pageant under the London rain I could not help to remember her visit of  to my school, the British School of Rio de Janeiro, in 1968.  The picture above is of her with the head master, I am the third one above his head. Bellow is the description of the day in my book Lost Samba:

There were no classes and excitement filled the air; the school had been covered with Union Jack and Brazilian flags and after they had cleaned up the leaves and rotting fruit the patio looked immaculate. We settled in and waited for the other classes to leave for the assembly hall across the crowded playground. Mrs. Feitosa, our teacher, was a strong blond in her mid forties from Manchester and married to a Brazilian. Her make-up and her fancy dress did not take away her authority as she closed the door and stood in front of the blackboard.

“I want everyone to sit down and listen carefully.”

We stopped whatever we were doing, fell silent, and she continued.

“Good… Can you all hear me? Today everybody must be on their best behavior, was I clear?”

 She gave us “the look” from behind her glasses and twisted her thin lips. As by magic, each one of us thought that she was addressing it to him and we were relieved when someone opened the door to say that it was our turn.

“Now I want all of you to hold hands and come with me.”

 The grown-ups outside were dressed in their best clothes and were proud of us as we passed. They waved and smiled but at the same time they kept turning their heads around to see if the distinguished guest had already arrived.

When we were about to reach the Hall’s entrance, we heard sirens and Mrs Feitosa stopped to look back. We followed her gaze and saw it happen: no one less than Queen Elizabeth the second, her Majesty, head of the British Crown, was entering the British School of Rio de Janeiro accompanied by her entourage.

She was standing in the open Rolls Royce in a white dress, waving and smiling at the crowd under the rows of palm trees that went from the entrance gate to the playground. Her car was escorted by the most impressive motorbikes that any of us had ever seen. They were huge and loud; enormous radio antennae swayed behind their riders in leather jackets and with dark glasses protected by transparent shields with the emblem of the military police.

Mrs. Feitosa took us out of our trance and told us to get into the hall and climb onto the stage before the grown-ups came in. We were lucky to have the best spot in the hall. When the Queen came in silence fell and the place assumed a dimension that we had never realized it could have. Prince Phillip followed right behind and stopped to talk, out of all people to Sarah, my sister, who was standing in the ex-students’ section. She was amazing: confident and polite.

The pupils selected to perform the leading acts were part of the English thoroughbred clique. The main couple was dressed up in traditional costumes. The boy walked up to Her Majesty and threw his cape on the floor in a chivalrous fashion, then bowed down and shouted out something that I didn’t get but that sounded very appropriate. After the royal approval, she turned to us.

Mrs Feitosa lifted her hand and we sang our part; it was well rehearsed and sounded good to every one’s relief. After the applause there were other presentations and speeches and in the end royal tea cups were handed out. The festivities continued long after she had left. If there ever was a golden day for the British community in Rio, that was it.

The pomp and the festivities were a bit out of tone with what was happening in the country. Political unrest was at its peak, violent confrontations between the police and students escalated to a point where the regime resorted to a massive clamp down imprisoning hundreds of opposition people who would be tortured and killed. In a way the dictatorship used the British royalty’s presence to mask the situation internally and to appear credible externally. It may be no coincidence that a few months later a British company was awarded the contract to construct the Rio-Niteroi bridge across the Guanabara Bay

The video bellow shows the varnished and somewhat uncomfortable stay:

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