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All the Bases of Brazil

July 31, 1994|COLMAN ANDREWS

IN THE CITIES AND JUNGLES OF BRAZIL by Paul Rambali (Henry Holt & Co., $23 hardcover).

As much an anti-travel as a travel book--in the sense that it will probably put more people off Brazil than it will attract--this nonetheless is a colorful, energetically anecdotal, often riveting portrait of South America's largest and most varied nation.

Rambali, a former magazine editor who now makes TV documentaries in Paris, has been traveling to Brazil for half a dozen years, often staying months at a time, prowling its streets and forest paths. In researching his book, he interviews since-impeached Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello and the children's television superstar known only as Xuxa (which means "caress" in Portuguese, he reminds us twice in one page) and becomes involved with a Brazilian woman named Marly, whom he meets on the beach buying frozen green coconuts.

In crisp, colorful prose, he covers all the bases--soccer, samba, favelas (shantytowns) and telenovelas (the cartoonish TV soap operas that seems to rivet the entire country), race car drivers, popular criminals, transvestite prostitutes, "dental floss" bikinis, the African-inspired Macumba cult. Rambali's view of Brazil, ultimately, is vivid, entertaining and not a little terrifying. Better he did and saw some of these things, some readers are liable to think, than they.

MAIDEN VOYAGES; WRITINGS OF WOMEN TRAVELERS, edited and with an introduction by Mary Morris in collaboration with Larry O'Connor (Vintage, $14 paper).

In her introduction to this rich collection of travelers' impressions, Mary Morris cites John Gardner's contention that there are only two plots in literature: You go on a journey or a stranger comes to town. Though women have traditionally been denied the former option--denied the right to travel independently by law, by social custom, by practical concerns--continues Morris, "It is our hope that this volume will make it clear that both plots are available to women."

If there remains any doubt in anybody's mind that this is true, these varied excerpts from the writings of 52 well-traveled females--starting with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's report on fashions and mores in Adrianople in 1771, and including selections by such luminaries as Mary Wollstonecraft, Edith Wharton, Willa Cather and Margaret Mead--should make the case.

AMERICA'S MOST CHARMING TOWNS & VILLAGES by Larry Brown (Open Road Publishing, $14.95 paper).

The cover of this minor masterpiece of small-town boosterism shows a fly-fisherman in waders standing in dark blue water. Above him, overhanging the river, is a barn-red, wood-slat structure that appears to be a covered bridge. In the background is a white frame church, a cluster of tall trees, a greenery-covered hill and a clear blue sky. Talk about charm!

About 200 American municipalities, in which scenes not dissimilar in tone to this one may presumably be enjoyed, are included here--each with a bit of general description and notes on special attractions and places to stay. A warning, though: The author compiled his list of charmers from the recommendations of state tourism offices, regional magazines, state historical societies, travel guides and bed and breakfast directories. The final decision, he writes in his introduction, "was . . . made on the basis of information from travel guides, personal visits and/or recommendations by people familiar with the communities." How many personal visits he made is not specified. His assessment, then, may be second-hand.


Travel humor is a difficult genre. It's hard to be funny about our frustrations on the road without seeming arrogant, spoiled, even racist (not to mention simply banal). Some of the most successful travel humor avoids the problem by taking a detour into self-satire, laughing not at the inefficient natives and their curious customs but at the author's own inability to deftly deal with same. "Hey Dad!" is that sort of book, in which the butt of the jokes isn't the strangeness of Korean cuisine or the dangers of trekking the Badlands but rather the engaging frailty, and dogged resilience, of the human spirit. It is worth noting that the publisher is a religious press. The jokes are pretty funny anyway.

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