Tuesday, May 31, 2011

in Modigliani's footsteps

Modigliani and ? outside la Ruche - the hive - an octagonal building of ateliers

Foujita's atelier and Kiki de Montparnasse's stomping ground

la Ruche - the hive

I'm snatching WIFI from the air somewhere below Montparnasse. It could evaporate any moment so I'm doing this very quickly and will ask Leighton to post if I go off into the ether again
This weekend several districts had open artist studios. Words fail me trying to describe the photographer's photos of Chernobyl 25 years after...but that's another story. Today Naftali, remember the Jewish Resistant who's father was imprisoned and murdered by the Germans? Today he took me on another memory trip and we were in the 'footsteps of Modigliani' along with Picasso, Soutine, Matisse all regulars in these ateliers at one time. Just imagine the warm soft wind on those leaves...

Cara - Tuesday

Monday, May 30, 2011

Murder in Pará

On this map, the area delineated in red is the State of Pará.
As you can see, it's in the far Northeastern part of the country.

Pará, and the state to the west of it, (Amazonas) are Brazil's two largest.
And they have long been a battleground...

between those attempting to preserve the Amazon rainforest...

...and a consortium of greedy ranchers and loggers set upon destroying it.

They make Pará a very dangerous place for anyone who "stands in the way of progress". 

Chico Mendes, a rubber tapper, tried it.

So did Dorothy Stang, an American nun.
Both were murdered.

Last week, it was the turn of Zé Claudio and Maria da Silva, a husband and wife team of environmental activists.
Ambushed near the little town of  Nova Ipixuna, in the southeastern part of the state, they were forcibly removed from their vehicle and shot.
And then one of José Claudio’s ears was cut off – the calling card of a hired gunman.

There is no one better to tell his story than Zé Claudio himself:
The recording was made just six months ago.
In it, he predicts his own murder.

What he doesn’t say is that he’d sought police protection, but was never able to get it.

Now that Zé Claudio and Maria are gone, the question activists in the Amazon are asking themselves is:
Which one of us is it going to be the next time?

Because none doubt there will be a next time.
A report compiled by Brazil’s Catholic Land Commission lists 154 people who’ve been killed between 2006 and 2010.
And 250 more still living under the threat of murder.

All because they’re trying to prevent activities which are illegal under Brazilian law.
But which the government, by and large, is either unable or unwilling to put a stop to.

You thought the gun-toting frontier of song and legend was dead?
Think again.
It's alive and kicking in Pará.

Leighton - Monday

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bits and Pieces

I'm at the rag end of a very exciting project that Cara, Jeff, and I will be able to talk about in a week or two.  It's incredibly rewarding, but it's also eating me alive, so I'm going to give you short value today in order to finish it on schedule.

There's a piece of the project on the left.

When I read, which is all the time, I underline, and if I really like whatever it was, I use a little Post-It flag.  Books I really enjoyed bristle at me from the shelves.  And I NEVER get any use out of the things I flag.  

So today, I'm passing a few onto you.

"A great art critic is the last thing any civilization gets.  You start with a house, then you get a streetlight, a gas station, a supermarket, a performing arts center, a museum.  The very last thing you get is an art critic."  

That's Peter Schjeldahl, the chief art critic for The New Yorker.  I love the quote.  It says something very positive to me.  If a civilization likes instrumental music it'll start with a drum and a plucked string and, eventually, wind up with a grand piano.  Grand pianos and art critics -- they point to areas in which a civilization has achieved something important to it, something that has nothing to do with the grunt mechanics of daily life.

"I have always found it difficult to feel resentment when industry comes running toward culture, check in hand."  It may be hard to believe, but that's Ingmar Bergman, not normally noted for his proficiency with a punch line.  

It's another line I like, having been at several times in my life on the check-holding end and having little sympathy for the disdain with which some artists and institutions take it.  Public television (I know, they've got enough problems already) is a perfect example.  They accept money while looking in the opposite direction so they won't be corrupted and then go and program as though popular culture were the highway to hell.  But the moment they need to raise money again, PBS becomes The Yanni Channel, relieved by Lord of the Dance and the All-Star Doo-Wop Reunion.  Give me a good, venal, profit-oriented corporation.  At least they don't buy cartons of Odor of Sanctity Cologne.

In an interview, Akira Kurosawa said, "Balzac says that the most important thing for novelists is to put up with the boring labor of writing line after line of the letters of the alphabet."  

This means an enormous amount to me.  Some people seem to think that art is lightning caught in a bottle, a bolt of passion in amber. I blame Beethoven's appearance for a lot of this -- he looked like he could have burped a symphony,

In fact, art is one bloody musical note, or brush stroke, or adjective, or click of the shutter, or frame of film after another.  Art is work, is all, and there are times when it's no more fun than doing one's taxes, but you do it because otherwise you'll never get the lightning into the bottle.

One letter at a time.

Tim -- Sunday

Saturday, May 28, 2011

How to Survive a Tourist Summer.

Just wanted to get your attention.  Belly dancing has absolutely nothing to do with today’s blog—though the lady in the photo is a true friend of mine.

I was intending to write a piece on the beauty of Greece’s Cycladic islands, but after Leighton’s captivating pictorial essay earlier this week on Brazil’s pristine Baia da Ilha Grande I decided to wait for another day before attempting to convince anyone that “virginal” and “Greek islands” belong together in the same sentence.   A task not attempted with a straight face in many, many years.

Which brings me around to the subject I’ve chosen to address instead: straight faces.
He wants us to go back to where?

Now, I’m not talking about the kind put on by TV talking heads pontificating on subjects of which they know little and care about even less, or politicians whenever their lips are moving, I mean the faces of everyday common folk doing what they must to make their living off of tourism.

Singer-Artist Ken Richards
Imagine the stress of dealing face-to-face, 24/7, six months a year, with the many ilk, shapes, and demands of international tourism when virtually 100% of your income is dependant on making people happy.  Add to that mix the occasional thorny visitors who act as if they walked on water to get to the island and insist on being venerated as such even when their fly (or gender equivalent) is down.  Make that especially so on such occasions.  It is enough to drive one mad.

As proof I submit the following two photographs, one of a Mykonian at the beginning of the season, another at the end.

I rest my case.  Sort of, for I have more exhibits to present.  I want to show you the variety of expressions relied upon by Mykonians to make it through nearly twenty-hour days, seven times each week.

Some are pretty good at hiding their thoughts.

Others are not.

Some see life through rosé-colored glasses.

Others chose to view it from another planet.

Some grin at it all.

Others do just the opposite.

There are those who tune out and those who tune in, both to the same end.

There are the sophisticated who seem to remain above it all.  And those who lose it to laughter.

There are some who can legitimately claim not to understand.

And others in blinders making them oblivious to what’s going on about them.

But of all the faces, the ones I enjoy the most are found on those who cope the best and remain above it all.

Yes, the young children of the island, for in their innocence they have no need for guile.  Or work.  Ahhhhhh, to memories of days long gone.


Friday, May 27, 2011

Lots and lots of Moneypennies

There was much hoopla and brouhaha this week in London. Not because of the visit from Prez Obama - though he went down a storm as he always does in the UK, because we're pathetically, obediently grateful he's urbane, intelligent and articulate and not a knuckle-dragging oaf like Dubya. The other big event was the launch of the new Bond novel, Carte Blanche, at the newly refurbished St Pancras, complete with Bond girls, flash cars and abseiling soldiers. The whole of Hodders' launch budget splurged in one tacky orgy of publicity. It'll be warm white wine and twiglets for everyone else from here on in.
Jeffery Deaver was the chosen author for this gig. I tried to read the first one, written by Sebastian Faulks, I writer I enjoy, but found it an act of literary ventriloquism too far. It didn't work as a Bond book, nor as a Faulks book, and I barely made it halfway through. While I like some of Deaver's work, I thought him an odd choice. But then I find the whole idea of exhuming Bond unappealing and pointless. Though the point is, obviously, to make great stacks of cash, which the Faulks one did, and I'm sure Deaver's will too. 
I doubt bad reviews will make a difference. Yet this morning I came across this spectacularly bitchy one by Steven Poole of The Guardian. Poole is a weird choice to review a thriller, being the sort of pseud who likes to extol the virtue of Schopenhauer's Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason rather than meet a thriller on its own terms, but it appears from other reviews as if his opinions will be shared by other, less self-conscious reviewers. Anyway, make your mind up.

What kind of sunglasses would James Bond wear today? Such is one of the important branding questions addressed by this literary reboot, which is "© Ian FlemingPublications Limited", though composed by a writer of serial-killer thrillers. Bond in 2011 still drives a Bentley, wears a Rolex, and waves a Walther, but his shades are hip and technical: he sports Oakleys.

The plot sees Bond running around Serbia, London and Cape Town, trying to prevent an explosion going off somewhere and killing people. He investigates a rum villain called Severan Hydt, who has long, "yellowing" fingernails and an obsession with corpses and decay. Hydt runs an international waste-disposal company: in his crazy headquarters complex, he delivers an interminable speech to Bond about, appropriately enough, rubbish. Even the "deafening" noise of his machines doesn't diminish his lust for exposition: "'Recycling's a curious business,' Hydt yelled."This new Bond is "a man of serious face", which probably does not mean that he has a really massive face and needs oversized Oakleys. Bond is in his 30s, a former navy officer who saw frontline action in Afghanistan and was then recruited – not to MI6, but to a black-ops outfit called the "Overseas Development Group". Bond is still run by M and furnished with gadgets by "Q Branch". (Bond's mobile phone, in an excitingly modern way, has lots of espionage "apps".)
Hydt's main enforcer is a taciturn Irishman named Niall Dunne, who at one point "stood still as a Japanese fighting fish". (You know, one of those fish that stand very still, on their little fishy legs?) Other henchmen are made the more threatening by the scary versatility of their eye muscles: "The assailant glanced up and, scowling, stared at the intruder."
Bond is a more sensitive fellow than he used to be, even when he is being pursued by enemies: "Bond saw no reason to kill the young man so he shot him near the elbow." Fleming's hero in Casino Royale considers women fit to be "softly wooed or brutally ravaged", but nu-Bond declines to go to bed with a hot colleague (owner of an "insulated leather jumpsuit"), because she's on the rebound. Understandably, he is less able to resist the cratylically named food-aid entrepreneur Felicity Willing. "Her face was intense, striking. Expertly made up, it exuded a feline quality." She had, I am guessing, drawn cat's whiskers on her cheeks with eyeliner.
Our modern-day Bond is healthier, too: a "former smoker" (no more Balkan Sobranies, alas) who still likes the odd cocktail but also spends "at least an hour a day exercising and running". This helps him in the novel's action scenes – a train derailment, a building being demolished, a gun battle in an exotic garden – where he sprints about a lot and does things, in a fascinatingly inert action-movie shorthand: "Bond ran to the warehouse and used a lock pick to open a side door." In one scene, an ally is tied to a conveyor belt trundling towards the gnashing jaws of a garbage compactor, very much as Adam West's Batman always was. The total lack of suspense is palpable, despite the staccato paragraphing. Still, the last 80 or so pages of Carte Blanche do sputter into a kind of mindlessly diverting life. For example, Bond does something satisfyingly clever with a door.
Fleming's Bond was not much of a comedian, and Deaver's isn't either. The difference is that he tries to be. "Upscale pubs were more 'ghastly' than 'gastro', he'd once quipped." Perhaps it's the nicotine withdrawal. Bond does have a usefully named secretary to whom he can say "Good morning, Goodnight", but the best comic effects derive from the style's fanatical commitment to elegant variation. When Bond thoughtfully studies a bullet, subsequent reference to the bullet cannot call it a bullet again; it must be "the solid piece of ammunition". If Bond "whisks" a woman's dress off, subsequent reference to the dress cannot call it a dress again; it must be "the insubstantial blue cloth". And if Bond scrambles some eggs, subsequent reference to the eggs cannot call them eggs again; they must be "steaming curds". That image is a poetic, almost alchemical transformation, and in a way Deaver has accomplished the same feat with his novel as a whole: taking the nutritious egg of the Bond mythos and turning it into one giant steaming curd.
Dan - Friday

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A male that really does get pregnant

The Knysna Heads and estuary

My home town in South Africa is Knysa, pronounced NIGH – ZNUH.  Apparently the name comes from the Khoi-San language for ‘hard-to-get-to”, probably because of the dense forests that covered the region.  These are the forests of the legendary Knysna elephants, of which conservationists now believe only about 12 survive.
Almost equally rare is the Knysna seahorse (Hippocampus capensis), which makes its home in only three estuaries in the world – the Knysna, Swartvlie, and Keurbooms.  Because of this minute habitat it is regarded as an endangered species.  Fortunately, despite the widespread use of traditional medicines in South Africa, this seahorse is not used for any, unlike seahorses in other parts of the world.
A pregnant male - only 5 - 12 cms long
The Knysna seahorse is between 5 and 12 cms long, and surprisingly they are fish, with gills, backbone, swim bladder and fins.  Over millions of years, its scales have come together to form an insect-like outer protective layer that looks like a horse.  It swims very slowly, usually upright.

Seahorses have no teeth or stomachs, so eating needs to happen frequently because they cannot store food.  Typically they will hang onto the reed with their tail and change color so as to be camouflaged.  As shrimp or zooplankton float by, they suck them in through their tubular mouth.
A most peculiar aspect of these strange creatures is that the young, sometimes up to 200, are born from the male!  The female produces the eggs, and when ripe passes them to a special pouch the male has, where they are fertilized.  Gestation is about 2 – 3 weeks.  Then the cycle repeats itself.  The seahorse is the only fish species where the male actually becomes pregnant.

During the mating season, a pair of seahorses is monogamous, with the ‘pregnant’ male moving very little (only a few centimeters, hanging onto its piece of grass or reed), while the female can wander around in search of food.  When the female returns, there is a ritualistic flirting to strengthen their bonding.  Of course, this makes interlopers unsuccessful if they try to take over another seahorse’s mate.
Very little is known about the Knysna Seahorse, but recently a few research projects have started through Rhodes University in Grahamstown.  We all hope that the management of the three estuaries allows Hippocampus capensis to survive.

Stan - Thursday (rushing to get to our fourth book event)

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why are there no volcanoes named Anna?

In the past 12months Iceland has experienced 3 volcanic eruptions (Fimmvörðuháls, Eyjafjallajökull and Grímsvötn). This frequency surpasses the average value of approximately one eruption every 5th year. Needless to say this development is to no one‘s liking.
The latest eruption is that of the volcano in Grímsvötn and is believed to have been 10 times as powerful as the one in Eyjafjallajökull last spring. Thankfully it did not last long and air traffic was not as negatively influenced as when Eyjafjallajökull erupted, although flights were delayed in the northernmost countries of Europe and in Siberia (if I am not mistaken). Of all the stranded passengers I would assume the most pissed off were those trying to leave Siberia.

Personally I was stranded in London and got to spend 2 days in a hotel at Heathrow watching Sky news. However, although these days were not exactly thrilling I cannot complain when faced with reports of those living on the south coast of Iceland where the ash cloud basically engulfed existence for extended periods. Interviews with farmers from the area were heart wrenching, the description of their complete helplessness when forced to sit inside and listen to their animals screaming from the yard - with no possibility of going out to help them. Visibility was so bad that if you stuck your hand out you could not see your fingers and beams from flashlights were simply swallowed up. Some of the animals in the most affected areas died, others were blinded and many ewes bore their lambs into a day utterly lacking mercy. You may think that my use of the word screaming when describing the sounds from the farm animals can be chalked up to my foreigner’s English but this is not the case. Apparently the noises the animals made while hopelessly trying to evade the thick suffocating atmosphere were screams, not brays, mews, bellows or bleats but screams. Horrible.

Iceland is also going through a cold period with snowstorms still occurring although spring has been scheduled for some time now. One farmer said that it was as if they had been cast into hell. Except it was cold.

And the good news? Ah, sadly there is no good news. According to scientists Iceland may be entering a volcanically active period that might last for 60 years. During this time I guess “less is more” will not apply to Europeans packing for trips or holidays involving airplanes. It is not as if I personally go by this phrase when travelling, be there an eruption or not. On my recent trip to London/Bristol I unluckily had 12 chairs as part of my luggage, furniture that I bought in the UK to take home, not knowing that my flight would end up stranded. I do not recommend standing in a line trying to get on a plane during periods of flight havoc with 12 chairs.

So I leave you now to go sit in a chair. I have 12 to choose from as I managed to get them on the plane, no small feat all things considered. And oh yes, there is actually some good news. Grímsvötn is not hard to pronounce (although a bit more so than Anna) and does not end with jökull (glacier) – a word that when pronounced by non-native Icelanders sounds like yogurt. Who ever heard of a volcano called something/something yogurt?

Yrsa - Wednesday

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Day of the Jackal 40th anniversary

This interview with Frederick Forsyth comes from the Telegraph on the 40th anniversary and re-issue of Day of the Jackal - often called the assassin's manual.
I love this book, re-read it every year and watch the great black and white film made in the 70's.
Every time I pass the Gare Montparnasse I watch for the window where the Jackal made his shots at de Gaulle and once I even attempted to get in the building a la the Jackal but alas couldn't crack the door code. No assassin with a prosthesis containing a rife of my own design, me.
Day of the Jackal influenced so many; mercenaries, writers and the way the world looked at politics. Here's part of the article. I hope you enjoy it, read the Day of the Jackal again or for the first time. I was thrilled to learn more how Forsyth wrote the novel. From the Telegraph interview with Frederick Forsyth:

There’s a bullet mark on the case of the typewriter that Frederick Forsyth used to write The Day of the Jackal.The damage was done during the Nigerian Civil War in the late Sixties, which Forsyth covered first for the BBC and then as a freelance reporter.

But when he got back to London, Forsyth was flat broke, kipping on a friend’s sofa and tired of the hand-to-mouth slog of freelance life. So in the bitterly cold January of 1970, he sat down at the rickety fold-out table in his friend’s kitchen with his battle-scarred Empire Aristocrat typewriter and, in just 35 days, wrote the thriller that broke the mould.

The idea for The Jackal first dawned on him years earlier, while he was working for Reuters in Paris. Between 1961 and 1963 there was a series of assassination attempts on Charles de Gaulle by a French terrorist group, the Organisation de l’Armée Secrète (OAS), fighting to prevent Algerian independence. “It was just a question of watching the concentric rings of security around de Gaulle,” he says, “and coming to the conclusion that the OAS were not going to kill him. Most of the OAS were ex-army – which meant they were on file. Or they were white colonists from Algeria – neo-fascists.” If the terrorists really wanted the job done, Forsyth figured, they should hire an outsider: a professional hit man with no ties to them and no file with the French police.

The thought simmered away. “I would come back to it in airport lounges,” he says, “but I never thought I’d do anything with it.” Then, in Biafra, he met hired guns for the first time. “Some of the mercenaries were psychopaths, sociopaths, sadists and the cruelties they perpetrated have been recorded and are very unpalatable indeed. Others were just ex-soldiers, down on their luck. Well, I would tag along behind them on raids behind Nigerian lines because that was the story. The other half of the story – of course – was the camps where the children were dying.”

Why would such men allow Forsyth to “tag along”? He offers me a grim smile. “There was one man, a German called Steiner,” he explains. “He’d been in the Hitler Youth, missed the Second World War by a few months, joined the Foreign Legion, took a bullet in the lung in China and been invalided out. He was nutty as a fruitcake – styled himself 'Colonel’ Steiner. He only spoke German and French and as so many of the other mercenaries only spoke English he needed an interpreter. That got me in. So I was sitting around campfires in the jungle doing my best to look non-threatening and listening to the scuttlebutt and the gossip. I heard some pretty miserable life stories, out of which came how to get a false passport, how to get a gun, how to break a neck.” All the tricks that Forysth’s fictional assassin would need to get to de Gaulle.

Back at the typewriter in London, Forsyth had almost all the material he needed. “I went to the British Library and read copies of Le Monde and Figaro from the period. And I bought a street map of Paris.” He didn’t have high literary or commercial expectations. “I’d never wanted to be a writer. I devoured H Rider Haggard and John Buchan as a boy, and as a young man I admired the ingenuity of John le Carré, especially The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, but I never thought of imitating him. Growing up, all I wanted to be was a pilot [at 19, he became one of the youngest-ever RAF pilots by lying about his age] and when I left the RAF in my early twenties all I wanted to do was travel, which is what motivated me to go into journalism. I just saw writing a novel – stupidly – as a way of making a bit of money. A means to get me out of a jam.”

He hawked his book around from February to September 1970, when it was finally accepted by a publisher, who told Forsyth he could see why The Jackal had been so roundly rejected. “They told me I’d broken all the rules,” he says. For starters, de Gaulle was still alive (he died in November 1970) so readers knew a fictional assassination plot (set in 1963) couldn’t succeed. Forsyth had even told readers, early in the novel, that de Gaulle would die in his bed. The publishers were also wary of a book whose central character has no name. The Jackal slips out of alias after alias, eventually being buried anonymously.

A small print run was planned. Then, to the surprise of both Forsyth and his publishers, buyers at bookshops began reordering copies before publication. “The run went up to 8,000 copies,” he says, “and that was felt to be one hell of a risk. There were no reviews. The book slithered out through the summer of ’71. Slowly, the orders began to move faster. It was all word of mouth. Then my publisher phoned me at 4am in my bedsit. He’d sold the book to an American publisher for $365,000, which was roughly £100,000. And I got half of that. I’d never seen money like it and never thought I would. My family were disbelieving. They read it. My mother, God bless her, never quite understood the reference to fellatio.”

When the young Forsyth was working for Reuters in Czechoslovakia, he was regularly tailed by the secret police. One night he locked eyes with a beautiful woman in a bar. They went for dinner and a swim in a local lake, then spread out a blanket on the shore. Driving home, Forsyth noticed the usual set of headlights weren’t bobbing in his rear-view mirror. “I wonder where my STB escort is tonight?” he wondered. “You just made love to it,” replied the woman sitting next to him.

“The gay pickup in The Jackal shocked some people in the Seventies,” he says. “Not everybody knew about that side of life.” What shocked Forsyth was the public admiration for his fictional hitman. “I thought Lebel [the assiduous French detective] was the hero. Jackal was the villain. I was very surprised when readers said they loved him. He was the ruddy killer.”

But surely we all envy somebody who can move that cleanly and untouchably through the world? He’s quite cool. Also, he spends most of the book enjoying expensive meals and fine wines in European hotels. “Hmm… maybe. I had expected women to hate him. He used, then executed, his mistress. But no, he had a lot of female admirers.” The author shakes a baffled head.

There are those whose fascination with the book went beyond escapist pleasure. It has been described as “an assassin’s manual”. A copy of the Hebrew translation was found in possession of Yigal Amir, the extreme-Right militant who shot and killed Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, the Venezuelan bomber, was nicknamed “Carlos the Jackal” after a copy of the book was found in a London flat he had occupied, although the novel turned out to belong to a later tenant.

Forsyth tells me his second novel, The Odessa File, helped identify Eduard Roschmann, the runaway Nazi concentration camp commander it described. “They made it into a film, which was screened in a little fleapit cinema south of Buenos Aires, where a man stood up and said, 'I know that man, he lives down the street from me,’ and denounced him. He decided to make a run for it to Paraguay and died of a heart attack on the river crossing. They buried him in an unmarked gravel pit. I hope they tossed a copy of the book in on top of him.”

He also claims one of his later books, The Dogs of War, was used as a guide to the invasion of the Comoros Islands by the French mercenary Bob Denard in 1978: “The mercenaries all had a copy of Les Chiens de Guerre in their back pocket. They were coming up the beach thinking, 'What do we do next?’” – he mimes taking a copy of the book from a pocket and flipping the pages. “Ah yes, we take the radio station.”

So his pride in his work is essentially journalistic? It’s still about digging for the truth? “Yep,” nods Forysth. “There’s a moment in research where you start to think, 'I’m pretty certain that happened.’ Then you write it. Then you find out it’s true. Gotcha!”

I finally mention the tall, slim gun leaning against his patio door. “Are you sure you’re going to try and keep out of trouble now? It doesn’t look like it.” He laughs. “That’s just an air rifle. For the grey squirrels.” He squints out at the swaying trees, momentarily Jackalesque as he seeks a bushy-tailed target. Are you a good shot? I ask. “Reasonably good,” he smiles, “yes.”

Cara - Tuesday
The whole interview is http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/authorinterviews/8524091/Frederick-Forsyth-I-had-expected-women-to-hate-him.-But-no....html

in NYC and hoping Yrsa will contain the Icelandic volcano

Monday, May 23, 2011

Baia da Ilha Grande

Georges Moustaki, the great Jewish/Greek/Egyptian/French chanssonier,  once wrote a haunting song called Alexandrie. If you understand French (or even if you just love music) you might like to listen to it here:

He sings, as you might have guessed, about Alexandria, his coin de paradis perdu, son petit jardin defendu (lost corner of paradise, his little forbidden garden).

I can never hear that song without thinking about mine.
The Baia da Ilha Grande.

It is much-changed now from the paradise it was twenty years ago, or even ten years ago, and it will, alas, never be the same for me.
But it’s still a pretty wonderful place.

The change has come about because the good and wealthy citizens of São Paulo and Rio have taken to boating in a big way, and they have infested the place with motor yachts.

It has been transformed from one of the nicest places you could be if you had a boat to one of the nicest places you can be if you, and all of your friends and neighbors, have boats.
And that, of course, has gone a long way toward ruining it for us early pioneers.

Baia means bay, Ilha, island, and Grande, big. But there is actually an island named Ilha Grande.

And that island has given its name to a bay on the Brazilian coast between Rio de Janeiro and Santos.

You can’t see them on the scale of the map, but the island is filled with almost 400 islands, large and small, many with sandy beaches.

Many have springs and streams with fresh water.
One of them even has a private clinic with its own airstrip.

The clinic is run by the great Brazilian plastic surgeon, Ivo Pitanguy, the man who invented the buttock lift.
Wealthy women, and some very famous ones, fly-in from all over the world.
After their procedures, many of them stay on, recovering, until they’re willing to show themselves in public again.

Another island is owned by Caras, the Brazilian equivalent of People Magazine. They lure celebrities there to wine and dine, interview and photograph . And they hold parties, the invitations to which are highly-prized amongst the social set. You can fly in-and-out by helicopter. 
And many do. (Brazil has the largest fleet of private helicopters of any country in the world except the United States.)

Other islands are inhabited by simple fishermen.  They'll cook you a meal of something they’ve pulled out of the water. And charge you a pittance to do it.

Most of the islands, though, remain uninhabited; pristine bits of rainforest set like emeralds in an aquamarine sea.

The whole is encircled by a good deal of coastline, flanked by high mountains and thick jungle, largely inaccessible by road, rife with sandy beaches, springs and waterfalls.

Approaching the bay from seaward, with Ilha Grande to starboard, is Juatinga Point, a promontory capped by a lighthouse. 
The lighthouse is visible from many miles at sea and the channel is wide and deep, making it easy to approach at night. Navigation, in darkness, only becomes difficult within the bay.
Because there are lots of pesky little islands.
And lots of rocks just below the surface.
It doesn’t help, either, that there are few lights or other navigational aids.

In the days before GPS, I’d often anchor off a beach on the landward side of the Juatinga Point to wait out the night. 
There’s a little village of fisherman there. No running water, no electricity. They even turn off their kerosene lamps, shortly after dark, to conserve fuel.

Parati is a lovely village going back to colonial times.
It was the principal port for getting gold out of the State of Minas Gerais – and one of the principal ones for bringing in slaves.
There’s a wonderful literary festival held there each year.
I show some pictures of the place and write about it here:

Ilha Grade is a marvel in itself. Praia de Castellanos, Spanish Beach, situated on the ocean side, is long, unspoiled and almost always deserted. 

And Saco do Céu is a spectacular lagoon, accessible only by a sinuous channel that curves between high mountains on either hand. It is so sheltered from the wind that the water is usually dead calm.
On moonless nights, it reflects the stars like a mirror.
So you can look down and see them by their thousands.

Unfortunately, the people who own those motor yachts are buying the land encircling the water.
They've begun building houses, installing generators, and the ambient light, at night, is beginning to make it difficult to see the stars reflected off the surface of the water.
And the utter isolation of the place is a thing of the past.

Years ago, we anchored there with some friends, ladies who were members of the choir at the University of São Paulo. 
After dinner, and in the stillness of the night, they sat on deck and sang to us.
No instruments.
A capella.
With their ethereal voices, the stars twinkling above and below, the dark mountains between, and a full moon in the sky, it was an experience of transcendent beauty.

Elsewhere, in little coves around the island, there are buildings and ruins that go back to the 16th Century, beautiful to see and interesting to meditate upon.

But the island has its dark side, too.

During the time of Brazil’s most recent military dictatorship, it was the site of a notorious prison.
All sorts of nasty stuff went on behind the walls, but the main building, like the regime that bred it, has since been demolished.
A monument to the tortured and murdered political prisoners who suffered there has been erected in its place. It's the obelisk you see above.

And the fauna on the island is well-worth seeing as well. Howler monkeys, tree sloths and parrots abound in the rainforest.

Ilha Grande is one of the few places in the bay you can get to by ferryboat, but you won't need your own vessel to visit the other islands. From Rio or São Paulo, all you have to do is to rent a car, or take a bus, to Parati, or Angra dos Reis.

There you'll find many fishermen, who are familiar with every square meter of the bay.
And most of them will be happy to take you anywhere you want to go.

Leighton - Monday