Tuesday, 13 April 2010

the mecca of the world's harlotry

This was the Amazonian city of Belem in the early twentieth century, according to a writer you've never heard of who's quoted by Greg Grandin in Fordlandia, a book you can expect to hear more about from me in the coming days (oh yes, be still your beating heart).

Fordlandia was a Connecticut-sized territory in the Amazon that Henry Ford won a concession to run in order to grow rubber and break the British cartel. The cartel didn't really hold anyway, because of the Dutch. The Brazilians wanted to get back into the rubber that made its fortune before some British adventurer nicked a load of seedlings and took them to East. Ford wanted to build an industrial Utopia in the jungle.

So far, the book is magic. I read a lot of this stuff, so the quiet rubber-paved streets around the huge opera house in Manaus weren't news to me. But I didn't know about Belem, and I certainly didn't know about the chancers and loonies doing Ford's bidding. My favourite so far is William Long Reeves Blakely, who was one of the negotiators who set up the concession. He spent his time in Belem getting drunk and having sex with his wife in front of the uncurtained floor-to-ceiling windows of his hotel room, which was on the corner of a building poking into the city's central plaza. Were there complaints? Indeed there were.

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