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  • Writer's pictureMiguel Fernández

Objectivity in the US (New York, 1971)

Updated: May 17, 2023

It was in 1971 that I discovered the United States (*). It was not on the wings of PanAir, as Fernando Brant and Milton Nascimento would say, but of Braniff, which no longer exists. While discovering the USA, some things remained in my memory: a_ english lessons no matter how many English courses you take, nothing is worth a week on your own in an English-speaking country: _ on the first day in Miami (and in the US), suddenly you talk to the hotel operator and finish with “thank you” and she replies “you are welcome” _ Caramba, how polite.... “you are welcome” ”. The next day you start noticing that everybody says that. I didn't remember that any course or class had taught this greeting-response to the thank you “thank you”: “you are welcomecome”. _ and the word strawberry (strawberry) that did not enter the memory? Had to read to remember. And the waffle that wasn't ueifle was uaffle really? What a surprise.


b_ standardization “Hot dog-with-sauce” is “hot-dog-with-sauce” period. There's no such thing as a hot dog without sauce if it's not on the menu. And it's no use insisting. It goes for ham-and-eggs and for hot mix. Just the eggs or just an egg or just ham no way. And if you want to argue with the attendant, he/she simply says “next” (the next one), ignores you and starts to serve whoever is in line after you. These things are cultural but also have their raison d'être. At the end of the day, the number of slices of bread needs to close approximately with the number of eggs and ham and the time spent to customize the sale for that price is not worth it or the seller thinks it is not worth it. And the argument is very direct: if you think that what's right is your way, that it doesn't cost anything not to put the sauce on your hot dog, open a snack bar your way and compete with him (her).


c_ next please


the famous photography supply store (47’st photo) where the employees are all or almost all Jews? it wasn't open on saturdays and it was open on sundays, which for us was just as amazing as having benches for blacks and benches for whites on buses and cafeterias, yes I still got that. Returning to 47’photo, at one of the service counters there was a queue to ask questions, see and touch the product and decide on the purchase. At another counter, another queue, to buy: pay and receive the package. If you hesitated at the time of purchase with an additional question, you would go back to the end of the line with the famous “next”. The queues were long because the prices were good, they had a huge assortment, they knew how to explain the technical part calmly. To get back in line was to waste two hours. And the Brazilians did not conform. There were some who wanted to fight and not go back to the end of the line, which was just a little question, which removed the question... it was no use.


d_ urban cleaning walking down the street, I saw a pedestrian throw an ice cream carton or something similar to the ground. Another passer-by, who was walking behind this one, saw it, picked up the package, quickened his pace and slipped the package into the pocket of the first. I froze. I pretended I didn't see it, kept walking, but curious about the outcome, I slowed down and paid attention: the first wanted to argue and heard back something like that if everyone did it that way, the cost of urban cleaning would be much more expensive.... The two, more or less the same size, got a little aggressive with each other, but the first one tuned in and kept the trash in his pocket....


e_ pickpockets in Manhattan I witnessed two pickpocket robberies, in broad daylight, carried out by older people, like 40 to 50 years old. Bump into the exit of the bank and run away. At that time, this did not exist in Brazil. We need to be proud of how we've evolved since then.


f_ Pele and robbery on the subway, between Brooklyn and Greenwich Village, on the stretch under the Hudson River, about 10:30 pm, me in an empty train car. In the next car a policeman was reading something. When the group of black people got into my carriage at a station and showed me a revolver and penknives, I looked at the policeman through the door between the carriages, he saw it, looked down, pretending he wasn't looking, and continued reading... I lost about 100 dollars and a cheap watch. I asked them to leave my passport. The leader of the group looked at the passport, called me Pílí (an allusion to Pelé, the only famous Brazilian) and threw the passport on the ground for me to bend down and pick it up, thus making them feel superior with the little humiliation. I understood and obeyed. I'm glad that was it.... I thought that Pelé helped and I owe him that one. It was my first robberya mão armada.


g_ apartheid


It was the time of BlackPower and the affirmation of blacks as people. There were many conflicts, aggressions and a latent resentment. The release of the issue of “apartheid” with places for blacks and whites on buses and in cafeterias was recent and was not uniform in all states. It was a huge surprise for us and we didn't quite know how to deal with it in practice. They classified us as “Latinos” and that meant that both whites and blacks looked at us as allies and at the same time with suspicion: we weren't from the other group, but we didn't belong to theirs. I felt segregated. As a matter of fact most were very friendly including the whites and the blacks with each other and with me. Due to race riots, in Hartford (Conecticut state), we experienced a “curfew” at 6 pm for two days. No one was allowed to walk on the street after 6 pm. We don't believe much in the accuracy of the subject and time. We were walking back down the street to the hotel. We were collected by the police and taken to the hotel under a huge scolding.


h_ objectivity After two months traveling around the USA on a scholarship (*), I stayed in Manhattan at the house of an acquaintance named Arnaldo who, along with other friends of his, ended up becoming my guides around New York. In this group, besides Philip, one person who liked to go out at night was the beautiful and independent Augusta, Brazilian and Arnaldo's coworker, about 10 to 15 years older than my then 24 years old. We liked to go to the same places almost always with more friends and her friends and one of our favorite places was the “nightclub” called “wednesday”, then in fashion. After we got together I met Gabriel, her “boy friend”, another Brazilian and engineer, my age who was doing a master's degree at Columbia and also lived in the Village. He told me that she was of an "American objectivity". Either he came to meet us or stopped by to pick us up in the Village or asked him to stop by her apartment and then leave. She lived very well on the east side and had a nice car. When she asked him to stop by her apartment it was because she wanted to have sex before going out. Her thesis was that at the end of the night partners are more tired and have worse sex.

Gabriel told me that it was a little mechanical for his style but that it was very good! At that age, hormones exploding, that was just what was needed, besides that luck still wanting a little romanticism.... She was the “alpha-female”, decided when, how many, how and so on. Things of the time. A time of woodstok, hippies, the “pill”, the joint, the miniskirt, the topless, the war on “bras”. A time of liberalization of customs and acceptance of differences and differences. There were people who didn't quite understand how far it was supposed to go. Or didn't make it. Or he didn't want to stop and reversed the signs: now some of the prejudiced are the ones who were “prejudiced”.


i_ plane hijacking Included in the group selected for the USIS “scholarship” were two colleagues from Porto Alegre and one from Brasília, the three recently graduated in architecture and in the infant-left phase of life. They dressed in “Che-Guevarian” clothing bought in specialized boutiques in New York and performed the ritual of expressing or at least insinuating the opinion that the ills of the world were due to the USA.

On the New York - Detroit flight, the plane had just taken off at the beginning of the night and we realized that it had returned to the airport (was it La Guardia?) and when we landed we were surrounded by fire engines and police. As soon as the plane stopped, in the middle of the runway, some soldiers entered through a door at the back of the plane and went directly to the seat of their colleague from Brasilia who was removed from the plane with his backpack without being able to even express himself, such was the surprise and speed of the response. action. The colleague left horizontally, suspended by two strong ones, as if he were on a stretcher, when he wasn't. At the time it seemed like a training we weren't warned about. Along with the Brazilian, he was one of the two Brazilians who accompanied us through the USIS as interpreters. The flight resumed with the captain ordering passengers to serve champagne. Two days later they joined us in Detroit. The story that the man from Brasilia told us was: when we boarded, we sat all over the plane, and the colleague found it difficult to place his guerrilla backpack under the front seat, as it should be done. As soon as the plane took off, a stewardess went to try to help with the backpack and her colleague, in his broken English, or kidding, we'll never know, decided to refer to the backpack as “it's a bomb”. a bomb", "a nuisance"). The stewardess kept smiling and went to tell the commander that she decided not to risk it.... The brasiliense continued the “scholarship” program, but, at the end of the program, he was the only one not authorized to remain in the USA. They didn't find it funny.

It should be noted that, at that time, all over the world, it was when episodes of hijacking and planes for political reasons began.


j) rise and fall of empires they said that the USA would be the first nation in history to pass from barbarism to decadence without going through civilization. I left there thinking that it could be yes and it could be no. After 49 years, after more than 20 trips to the USA, I'm still in doubt. Much to praise and much to criticize. Lovely things and pitiful things. Like everywhere, and like everyone else. (*) see chronicle “he treats you well”, in this book

Miguel Fernandez y Fernandez Consultant engineer and chronicler, May 2016


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