thu 30/03/2017

Brazil with Michael Palin, BBC One | reviews, news & interviews

Brazil with Michael Palin, BBC One

Brazil with Michael Palin, BBC One

The nice Python hastens round the world's fifth largest country in four hours

'Like having a great orgasm': Michael Palin is catered for in Brazil

We got to the beach around the 10-minute mark. Or “semi-naked suburbia”, as Michael Palin called it. And started patrolling the sands for rounded Brazilian rumps (female). Apparently only adolescent boys do this sort of thing, and television cameramen. A local scholar explained the terms deployed to describe the various body types. The melon, the guitar, the ... you don’t want to know. Palin certainly didn’t look as if he did.

You sort of know where you are with Brazil. It’s one of those countries you can feel you’ve visited without ever having actually got round to going. Indeed, until he was commissioned to visit it, Palin hadn’t got round to it either. This despite schlepping around the planet in various directions for any number of decades - round the world in 80 days or between the Poles or doing the Pacific rim or trekking after Hemingway, up hill, down dale and so on and so forth (for the full travelogue check his website).

Palin plays the nodding British tourist with absolute conviction

He’s got four hours to sum up the fifth largest country in the world in its considerable entirety. Luckily most of it consists of trees. Plus beach, not all of it by the seaside. Last night we visited a sand dune that’s advancing inland at a rate of 200 metres a year. Amazing, said Palin, not for the last time. His beat in this first episode was the north-east of the country whither Europeans were blown off course in 1500 and made an accidental landing. Hence the somewhat phallic statues raised in their memory on the shore half a millennium later. The settlers subsequently imported four times as many African slaves as were ever trafficked to the North American continent. These in turn brought an intoxicating blend of dance and music, which Palin did his Anglo-Saxon best to enjoy, drumming, jiving but most of all bumbling.

Palin plays the nodding British tourist with absolute conviction. The shooting schedule allows little opportunity for chinstroking and deep cultural engagement in the style practised when on tour by, for example, readers of theartsdesk. “They’ve taken over the streets without telling anyone,” Palin said of a group of kid drummers. “But that’s Brazil for you.” That’s Brazil with Michael Palin for you.

These programmes being pre-researched by a production team and shot at lightning pace, the quondam Python is mostly employed to smile and point. At one point he dashed inland for 500 miles to watch some leathery cowboys (Palin with one such, pictured right) catch a bull somewhere off camera in the undergrowth, and not a very big one either, and within one swift edit was back at the coast. It is perhaps from this structural necessity that Palin derives the reputation he himself detests for niceness.

That said, he is very nice. Everyone seems in Brazil to think so as they lead him through religious shrines, pagan rituals and other brief stop-offs. “Michael, you’re a very famous man,” said a DJ interviewing him live on air. “Have you ever thought of going into politics?” He soon had Palin singing along to “It’s Now or Never.” Probably never. But then everyone in Brazil seems very nice too. The nicest Brazilian was a top Bahia chef (female), who needless to say explained that cooking is like sex. “Like having a great orgasm,” she elucidated, akin to some cackling Brazilian Wyf of Bath. She then served him a juicy fish dish. They show this stuff after the watershed for a reason.

Follow Jasper Rees on Twitter

It’s one of those countries you can feel you’ve visited without ever having actually got round to going

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