São Luís and an addendum on museum guides

2022-07-31 @Travel

São Luís, the Maranhão capital. My five days, or six or however insufficiently little for the ethno-culturo-historical hotspot. Still preferable to that one to two day stopover I abducted across a handsome sampling of tourist movement mainly directed at the Lenções Maranhenses, the massive sand dune conglomeration to the eastern part of the state and beyond the scope of reflection.

São Luis, the impoverished and deteriorated state capital in the spirit of Belém or Manaus. And more so in each of those respects. So far, mere sentence fragments. Appropriate in describing a fragmentary sampling of what was probably never integral. Setting low literary expectations. Moving on.

Take heed, potential travellers:

The bus journey from Belém felt not strictly exhausting, but rather inefficient and appropriately (over)priced. Road traffic must effectively circumnavigate a deep river delta - the Rio Mearim delta distancing the Alcântara (small collonial village) part of the state from the São Luis main.

Far more efficient had I conceived - had there even been divulged the option of travelling only as far as Alcântara (a potential experience in itself of historical and architectural significance) to then cross into São Luis by boat - the latter part definitely tangible. Alas, alas.

São Luis, in contrast to Belém or Manaus, separates the old, colonial center from the newer, posher section (São Francisco) by a couple of km-long bridges across Rio Anil. Further segregation across waters. Zero curiosity for that excursion, limiting myself to the old city.

Which brings me to the overall impression not heavily divergent from the introductory prose of Aluizio Azevedo’s O Mulato written 150 years prior:

A pobre cidade de São Luis do Maranhão parecia entorpecida pelo calor. Quase que se não podia sair à rua: as pedras escaldavam; as vidraças e os lampiões faiscavam ao sol como enormes diamantes; as paredes tinham reverberações de prata polida; as folhas das árvores nem se mexiam;

And on and on in such hot dry spirit. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Though I rummaged aplenty even in the peak afternoon sun.

Gruesomely wicked architecture. More ceramic tile edifice than I recall in the phase of my seasonal appetite for ceramic tiles. Everywhere encountered traditional Portuguese ceramic tiles, of plenty color variation and pattern.

Even fortunate to arrive in the moment of inauguration of the ceramic tile exhibition in the Museu Histórico e Artisistico. Though humbler than it sounds: a sampling of ceramic tile patterns dispersed across the main courtyard, annotated with date, material and origin, mainly Portuguese with the exception of one German.

Across the seven-eight museums I visited (sigh), the tiles most drew my attention: aside the clay statues of Minerva, Diana and Mercury, aside the narrow fissures traditionally projecting from the fortress wall for artillery purposes yet remodeled into suffocating housing for the slaves (all this part of the same museum compound).

Never visited so many museums in such a short time-frame: in this case, over a two-day period. Not characteristic in the slightest:

Some of those, ie the Raggae museum (of Raggae São Luis imparts heavy influence), the Tambor museum, or the railway museum, are small, rapidly traversed spaces, density notwithstanding; all free entry.

More curiously, all but one museum provide or even compel a museum guide, though always free of charge. Again, sigh. My general aversion to guided anything requires no further commentary. But beyond. Come the dense expositions I genuinely wish to peruse, these guides did nothing but frustrate my effort, the case the severest in the museums of Sacred or the Visual Arts.

Now when solo (and usually solo), the guides never strictly compelled anyone (or at least me) to hear their spiel or follow the prescribed rhythm, though still felt the inner-pressure to proceed swifter than otherwise. Annoying.

They only accompany, mute, deactivated, immersed in the cell phone. At any point, however, you can opt to switch the knob: the guide awakens and embellishes any part of the expo with well-crafted delivery. I guess this made it tolerable.

In a couple of cases - the folkloric Casa de Maranhão and the aforementioned Historic-Artistic museum in the repurposed house of old nobility, I even felt genuinely entertained by that spiel. The guides reciprocated appropriately. Just sublime.

But don’t misinterpret my conservative, left-wing stance on human or even computerized museum guides.

That’s that. And this is this. Charming. Broken. Bewitching. Ceaseless ceramic tiles. And strangely many used book stores. Amusing to observe complete reversals of dichotomies between towns.

Questions, comments? Connect.