Middle-class Brazilian homes are graceful and gracious. Welcomed
in from the hot sun into the cool, soothingly uncluttered interior, the
visitor is o√ered refreshment, and later enjoined to dine with the family.
If the stay is an extended one, the guest returns after a morning out to
smells rising from this and neighboring kitchens of beans cooking and of
fresh fruit being squeezed for the midday meal. The solicitous hostess has
arranged for the cook to prepare three main dishes: a beef in tomato
sauce, a pasta dish, and garlic chicken, or on a special day, seafood in palm
oil and coconut sauce. The hostess’s arrival, after her morning’s work as
volunteer director of an orphanage school, and a quick stop downtown
to deliver fabric to the tailor, coincides with that of her husband, a
doctor, whose light honk summons the maid to open the back gate. The
two daughters arrive from their law- and medical-school studies; the son,
in business school, will have lunch as usual with his fiancée. After lunch,
one finds upstairs that the bedroom has been straightened, and one’s
freshly hand-laundered, perfectly ironed clothes lay carefully folded or
hanging from the wardrobe. The austere white walls and dark wood
furniture, the cool parquet floors constantly swept, mopped, or waxed by
a softly moving domestic worker, the long, laterally opening, wooden
shuttered windows, the shaded tiled terrace, the distinctive, predictable
sounds of each street vendor, the back garden with its scent of jasmine,
the night breeze gently moving the mosquito netting. Tropical, postco-
lonial luxury, intimacy, and formality present themselves with mesmeriz-
ing calm to the fortunate visitor at an upper-middle-class Brazilian home.
Backtracking, the visitor might note that privately contracted guards
watch neighborhood streets or individual houses, whose high walls and
barred windows further discourage intrusion. If the home is in an apart-
ment building, tall gates and twenty-four-hour doormen control en-
trances from guard stations. Inside, two elevators separate residents and
their guests from service workers, a (now notorious) system that segre-
gates by color as well as by class or occupation. In this society, such
Previous Page Next Page