04/12/2007 05:24 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Traffic is Terrible in Brazil

The traffic is terrible, worse every day. It was always bad, L.A.-style--this is a modern city just like L.A. is, and the place grew with the car so there is no real center, just endless sprawl. What kept it under control till the 90s was the simple fact that there was no real financing and the poor didn't have cars.

But now there is, and they do, and now even the outlying suburbs where the rich used to live in "luxe, calme and volupté," whizzing in and out to the various business centers, shops, galleries, and restaurants in town, are becoming less attractive. It turns out that even the back seat of a chauffeured limousine can get to be a bore in choking traffic for two hours at a hit, twice a day.

So the rich do what they usually do when the going gets tough--they get going. In this case, my friend has informed me that she is moving back to the states. She has waited till the end of my visit to tell me; she is in her mid-eighties. She is an American, with American parents and an American education, but she has lived in Brazil all her life.

"It's for the best," she put her chin up and assured me. Her husband, whom she'd met on a boat going up to Vassar [he was on his way to Yale], has died. Her house and garden, still heavenly, are suddenly too far from everything. She still drives, but it's hard. She has a driver, but doesn't like to impose.

She's going to one of those places in Long Island, "quite attractive," she says, where she will have more time to paint. She is a botanical artist. But paint what? I feel like crying. Her subject is Brazilian flora, both flowering trees and orchids, and her work has been urgent, since she was the only one painting the trees. What will she do in Long Island? What hasn't been done?

We are sitting, logico, in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It's terribly hot, but our windows are closed, lest some young, fleet-footed robber run by and grab a watch. A man with one leg and a stick for a crutch comes hopping through the cars, begging. He is dressed in rags, as bad as it gets. We risk assault and roll down the window.

I hand him some money. He takes it with a smile that would impossible for anyone but a Brazilian, then reminds us that there's an important soccer match that night. "Don't forget to root for Brazil!" he calls, as he makes his way on through the infinite traffic.