this book begins at the Hotel Trpico. There, as hundreds of thou-
sands of Portuguese colonists fled Luanda during the months preceding
Angola’s independence in November 1975, the Brazilian diplomat Ovdio
de Melo unpacked his bags. Sensing the tension and uncertainty, he asked
the Brazilian foreign ministry (commonly known as Itamaraty) to let him
buy a cistern, a power generator, and a car. Itamaraty only approved the
car. In the months before independence, de Melo and his wife Ivony sur-
vived a city exploding in civil war and acted as brokers between a South
American military dictatorship and a fragile African Marxist movement.
During his months in Luanda the Hotel Trpico’s Portuguese staff fled.
Ovdio de Melo told me that the bartender was the last to leave, riding
in the cockpit of a packed Varig dc-10 carrying one of the last loads of
refugees to Rio de Janeiro: “Bartenders are generally patient. They deal
with drunks. This guy stayed until he couldn’t take it any more.”1
In an act
of sabotage, someone had thrown onions into the hotel’s elevator shafts.
Their rot saturated the building. Ovdio and Ivony de Melo’s presence was
so quixotic that the hotel’s staff thought they were ghosts.2
Ovdio and Ivony de Melo completed a circle of Brazilian encounters
with Africa that began when the Brazilian writer Gilberto Freyre, who trav-
eled to Angola in 1951 as a guest of Portuguese colonial ofﬁcials, raised his
glass in celebration of the “future Brazils” he believed Portuguese colo-
nists were creating. This book is called Hotel Trpico because the hotel was
the site of one of the most incongruous acts of Brazilian foreign policy,