I arrived in Sao Paolo on Monday morning. It is 6 hours later than in Los Angeles and it is summer down here (although not as hot as I had expected). The purpose of the trip was two-fold: to give the keynote speech at the annual Longevity Forum and to promote my book, “Prime Time” which was just translated into Portuguese by the publishing house Comanhia das Letras. The book is already a best seller in France and I feel it will also do well here, judging by the response of those who’ve already read it.
I stayed at the very nice Grand Hyatt Sao Paolo.
Here is my suite and views from my room.
This is the front of the hotel.
It is evident that the city has grown and prospered since I was last here in 1988. It is also a lot safer than it was under the dictatorship which was just ending back then. When I jogged in the big park in ‘88, I had an armored car with machine-gun wielding men following me to provide protection. That would not be the case today.
After a short nap, Matthew (who came with me to do my hair) and I were taken to lunch by the 2 men representing Groupe TV One, the company that produces the Longevity Forum every year for Bradesco Seguros, one of the two biggest banks in Sao Paolo. The bank has within it a very large insurance company and, although it was not pushed overtly at the forum, the company has an interest in improving the health and well being of older people. One of our escorts was Cassio Motta Mello, the son of the founder of Groupe TV One. He is a tall gregarious man who speaks excellent English. His father, Sergio Mello, has been a prominent TV journalist– in New York as well as Brazil–and Cassio went to boarding school in New England and the American University in Paris. Cassio is executive director of events for TV One, very smart, and fascinating to talk to about the history and culture of Brazil in general and Sao Paolo in particular. The other escort was Fred Pereira. This is the first time that Fred has been asked to accompany a visiting celebrity for the bank’s event. More often Fred is the event. He studied opera at the Julliard School of Music with the great opera singer, Leontyne Price. While he no longer sings opera per se, he performs in many of the cultural events that the bank and TV One produces in and around the city. He sings in childrens’ hospitals, was the tenor in the play, “Master Class,” and was recently the Phantom in “Phantom of the Opera.” We got lucky, Matthew and I, to have such interesting companions for our visit.
Below are some sites we passed along the way to Lunch.
The restaurant, The Fig Tree (Figueira Rubayatt), is most unusual. It is built around a gigantic tree whose branches spread throughout the restaurant.
I had asked for a good Brazilian eatery and we weren’t disappointed. Along with the appetizers they brought corn bread which was held between wooden pinchers, like a pin wheel.
I’ve never seen such a display. But it wasn’t just unusual to look at, it was the best corn bread I’ve had (outside of Dolly Parton’s home!)
The main course was a delicious steak, puffed up potatoes
and, for dessert, a sort of custard made from pureed papaya, vanilla ice cream with a touch of cassis. Totally yummy! A typical Brazilian dish.
After our late lunch, I managed to work out in the hotel gym for an hour and then collapsed into bed. Jet lag didn’t use to be an issue for me but as I’ve gotten older it hits me hard and I try to be vigilant about getting enough sleep, especially when I have to perform—not always easy.
The next day I went to give my keynote at the Longevity Forum.
It was pouring rain, a real tropical downpour that, they say, usually happens in March. Clearly global warming is causing changes in Brazil as well as the rest of the world. I see on CNN that much of Briton is badly flooded. (By the way, I only stay in hotels that have CNN International. I feel totally cut off without it).
It’s quite a challenging experience giving a speech to a conference room full of people all listening on head sets to a translator. I had a few good jokes but laughter, if they got the joke at all, would come in the middle of the next sentence. That said, my sponsors were very pleased at the end and everyone seemed to have enjoyed it and understood my main thrust.
After the speech I was interviewed on stage by Dr. Alexandre Kalache who is Senior Advisor to the President (of Brazil) on Global Aging. He has also worked with the World Health Organization on aging and knows most of the experts I interviewed for my book.
Then Bibi Ferreira, 90 year old former film star and singer was brought on stage. I’m not sure what was said but it was fun having her there, full of life and vigor.
By the time I left the Forum, the rain had stopped and it was a beautiful day.
That night, Cassio invited Matthew and me to join him, his wife Maria, and parents, Sergio and Selma Motto Mello at a fabulous sushi restaurant, Shin Zushi.
Here is Cassio, Maria, me and Matthew outside the restaurant.
It’s always a good sign when everyone in the Japanese restaurant is Japanese, and the food was amazing. Cassio had lived in Japan for awhile and knew where to go.
How the Saki was served.
Best baked Eggplant.
Conversation with the Mello family is a lively affair. They are all very informed about many cultures. They also live in Paris and have traveled widely.
I learned many things: Brazil has the largest population of Japanese outside of Japan. Initially they came to the country as farmers. The area around Sao Paolo is extremely fertile. Sugar cane has long been a staple and coffee became a profitable crop since the 1800s.
The entire Portuguese royal family came to Brazil in 1808 fleeing Napoleon whose army was literally at Lisbon’s gates. The indigenous people who lived here did not resist and there was no blood shed when Brazil became a Portugese colony. They brought slaves from Africa, as we did in North America, to work the diamond mines among other things. Eventually the king went back to Portugal but his son, Peter, remained and granted independence to the country.
Many Dutch migrated mostly to northern Brazil, Germans to the south; Africans concentrated to the east in the costal area of Bahia. Yet there are no hyphenates here as there are in North America—no African-Brazilians or Japanese-Brazilians. Everyone is just Brazilian. There is a nice feeling of national unity as a result and I’m sure many visitors are surprised that there really is no one “Brazilian” look. Some are dark, some very light and European looking.
Brazil has a woman president, Dilma Rousseff.
Like the former president of Chile, Michelle Bachelet, Dilma was a revolutionary earlier in her life, was imprisoned and tortured during the dictatorship. Here is her mug shot taken in 1970, the same year as mine! She is very popular and Brazil has one of the most thriving economies in the world right now. Go Dilma!
My last event in Sao Paolo was a book signing.
I was struck by the diversity of people, all speaking Portuguese, all considering themselves Portuguese, but looking very international.
As you may know, Sao Paolo is the industrial and corporate center of Brazil, Brazilia is where the government is located and Rio is the “vacation capitol.” After 2 days in Sao Paolo I’m off to Rio where, for the first time, I will have a day to sight see. I’ve been to Rio several times but always to work, so this will be a treat.Tags: Book, Cassio Motta Mello, Dr. Alexandre Kalache, Fred Pereira, Prime Time, Sao Paolo, Signing