Oscar Niemeyer, the best known Brazilian architect, would have been 105 on December 15, 2012. He didn’t make it, dying on Dec 5th. It’s about the only deadline he didn’t meet. I have personally sought out most of his buildings in Rio, Brasília and elsewhere, and have been mightily impressed by his vision and style.
You can read about his life in Wikipedia, The Guardian obits or the New York Times. Mine is a small and respectful contribution, one that was not included in my book Brazil: Life, Blood, Soul , because of space reasons. It talks about one of Niemeyer’s architectural masterpieces: the church of São Francisco in Pampulha, outside Belo Horizonte. The whole chapter in the book is devoted to ghosts which explains the tone of the piece.
I hopped on the 2004 bus that took me straight to the city’s main monument: the audacious modernist church of São Francisco on the shores of the lake Pampulha, universally acclaimed as the best example of Niemeyer’s style. In this, he abandoned the gigantesque favouring the intimate, although he was criticised for the lack of meditative atmosphere. Blue faience tiles adorn its multiply parabolic front and the sparse space inside is composed of a discrete mosaic motif of alternating fishes and doves on a brown and blue colour arrangement. Another parabolic Picasso-inspired mural focuses the attention in the absence of an altarpiece whereas the pulpit is set on copper panels depicting the Fall, with a very naked Adam and Eve, curvy buttocks on the wrong side of decency.
But this is Minas after all: it’s cursed.
It may have been Adam’s buttocks or it may have been the mural of St Francis with a mongrel dog on his right – which some took as symbolising Satan – but the Archbishop of Minas refused to consecrate this church for more than a decade, so it remained on the shores of the lake unblessed and unvisited. Even after the authorities’ volte face – the second liberal and liberating Vatican council had intervened – and the church’s inauguration, it still has the air of a museum than a place of worship; the locals never took it wholly to their bosom. And yes, folk superstition gained credibility in the early 1980s when a murder occurred. One guest killed his cousin because of a financial dispute during what can only be described as a veritable blood wedding.
Some things never change in Minas Gerais..
The 2012 edition of Brazil: Life, Blood, Soul by John Malathronas is now available on Kindle.