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Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the anthologies: FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

Rio Sweet Rio / September 2016

LEJ's Louisiana
Yours Truly in a Swamp

Monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
and on paper at
~ Les Amis de Marigny ~ 
publication of New Orleans
Leonard Earl Johnson,
of Lafayette and New Orleans
Archives: www.LEJ.org
September 2016
* *

Rio Sweet Rio
by Leonard Earl Johnson

www.LEJ.org  ~ ✍️

Ryan Held
Twenty-one years old, middle-western wholesome 
~ hell, his hometown is Springfield, 
"Land of Lincoln" Illinois ~ 
and handsome as a speckled pup.
left the 2016 Rio Olympics wearing Gold. 
It was his very first international competition.

* * *

I lived in Rio de Janeiro when I wore a younger sailor's clothes. 
Three years aboard a U.S. flagged research ship,
ported out of Rio, and in a little apartment on Rua Peru
a few blocks off Copacabana Beach. 

I stayed glued to the tv during the Olympics, 

as cyclists careened down mountains and cameras panned the statue of

Christ the Redeemer on Mount Corcovado,  
 where often in yesteryear we tippled with friends at the bar under the big toe of Jesus. 

 Ah sigh ~ to be again in that beautiful city, so 

spirited, so broken, and so like New Orleans.

It was there I met Chilean dictator and torturer-n-chief, Augusto Pinochet 

~ more about that in a minute.

Back to Ryan Held and the U. S. victors.
They made us one with them.
 Gotts off Mount Olympus who healed our old worn heart.

Held won his Gold swimming relay 
with Caeleb Dressel, Nathan Adrian, and Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian ever!

Standing on the Medals Podium they were sculpted, 

with lines trim as sailing ships. 

Michael Phelps, 
most recent Olympian Gott to touch Earth, 
patted Held's arm and embraced him in his human moment 
of joy and tears. 

Our anthem was playing and these glorious powerful young men shed tears. 
Humans touching The Mountain,
as we watched. 

Even if you lived on Olympus yourself you would have been moved. 

Might it have been thus in ancient Greece? Love? Achievement? Joy? I know the first Olympians wrapped leather dried hard in the Sun around their fists and proceeded to pound each other to the death. 

"That must have brought up some tears," 
L. A. Norma says.

Rio sweet Rio

thank you for the political boondoggle and shameful profiteering 
that brought us the Olympic Games of 2016.

Maybe the Games have always been organized 

by corrupted men ~ feigning greatness, with hearts beating
 far, far below Olympus.

This year we forgot about them, 
while our hearts hang-glided with tried and true human Gotts in Ipanema, and the Mount Olympus of the mind.

* * *

Back to Earthly profiteering and boondoggling.
Here is the story I wrote about Brazil and Pinochet in 2013.

The Day I Met Augusto Pinochet
by Leonard Earl Johnson

It was January, 1991 (Summer south of the bulge) when I met Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet. We met in Brazil. 

Seven years later he would be arrested while on a medical visit to Europe and placed under house-arrest by order of the World Court, for his presidential practice of throwing Chileans out of airplanes over the open Sea, and other undiplomatic acts. 

I had arrived at Hotel Sol Ipanema two weeks earlier, with a belly full of whisky and a bleary eye.

Our plane came down through the clouds over the city of Bras
ília ~ Viewed from above the new capital resembled a butterfly, some say. Others say it looks more like an air-craft carrier. 

L. A. Norma says, "One might deduce your political inclinations from which you see." 

Brasília is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Planned and developed in 1956. Lúcio Costa was principal urban planner; Roberto Burle Marx landscape designer, and the great Oscar Niemeyer the principal architect. 

Oscar Niemeyer was one of the 20th Century's soaring young architects. Brasília gave him wings. He died in 2012, at 104. He had been blocked from entering the United States to teach at Harvard because of Communist Party membership. (After fighting World War Two to save the U. S. S. R., the U. S. A.'s state religion became anti-Communism, and its zealots greatly feared Commies going to Harvard).

* * *

On April 22, 1960, Brasília became Brazil's new national capital, wrestling the honor away from its ancestral home in coastal Rio de Janeiro ~ a city with much kinship in music, dance and doom to New Orleans. This move into the Amazon, (722 miles by road) greatly chagrined the world's diplomatic corps and their attendant camp followers.

Greeting me at Rio's Aeroporto Galeao was an aide to the United States Cultural Attache.  He carried a small, white box with a red silk ribbon that I presumed was for me. But let us face it, I was drunk. He placed me and the box in the rear seat of a large, white Chevrolet, where the box remained when we parted.

It was early morning when my plane reached Rio. The Ambassador and the rest of his staff still slept in their jungle apartments in 
Brasília.  The Cultural Attache was doing likewise somewhere in giant Rio. I stood beside his aide, with my eyes twirling before the front desk of the Sol Ipanema

The aide explained to the desk clerk, "Mr. Johnson is more important than he looks."

Casa de Cultura Laura Alvim, on the beach at Impanema
And so I was. I was traveling at the expense of the United States government and American Airlines, exhibiting photographs and teaching a workshop at nearby Casa de Cultura Laura Alvim ~ on the beach at Ipanema. 

The exhibition was titled "Bourbon Street and The Sea." It was inspired by New Orleans photographer, John Ernest Joseph Bellocq (1873 ~ 1949), who immortalized the ladies of Storyville. My exhibition consisted of portraits of male street hustlers in the French Quarter of New Orleans, and merchant sailors around the world. 

"America's foreign policy is a baffling beast," Norma says, when this story comes up in conversation.

The exhibition went well, and at the reception afterwards I asked American Airlines' South American Manager if he might bump me up to first class on my return flight.  

The aide to the cultural attache said later, "They don't even do that for us."

The South American manager suggested I come see him the next week at his downtown offices near the Old Opera House. 

I had already asked the embassy for an advance on my State Department stipend. With it I paid for an extended stay at the Sol.

View from the Sol
The Sol is a fine, small hotel popular with several of the world's diplomatic corps and uniformed military. The thought "CIA hotel" crossed my mind but not my lips. (Had we not read Graham Greene in our college daze?)

Next morning, Ipanema's beaches drew the song-praised "young and sweet / pure and gentle," dressed so revealingly! As young and sweet should dress. 

Me?  I was amply hungover and of a girth not given to bodily revelations. Like the song says, I walked on with a sigh. (Cloaked in what Brazilians would have seen as more like a burka-on-the-beach than proper Seaside attire.  

I was at ground zero for 

Bossa Nova, and the Girl from Ipanema: the Veloso Bar, sipping Wild Turkey, while wearing snowflake-looking, tie-dyed navy and gray boxer-baggy trunks with a matching hip length beach jacket. 

This outfit had been sewn for me especially for the trip by Shirley Jensen, a late New Orleans matron with needlework famous in her day.  

On the day I met Pinochet I was so dressed.

I had walked from my hotel along the beach to a large neighboring resort, the Caesar Park, to take coffee and the afternoon newspapers from Miami.

In front of Caesar Park this afternoon were several large German cars and one large, lone, white Chevrolet. I glanced in the Chevrolet half expecting to see my lost red-ribboned white box, and met the glare of several large men wearing dark suits and glasses. No white box was seen.

Inside the hotel,

the lobby rumbled with similarly dark-suited men, assorted reporters, and cameras with portable lights. I caught the eye of a woman who had earlier interviewed me for Brazil's O Globo TV

I wore that beach coat for her interview, over a white shirt and tie.  It looked rather like an Armani design, I thought. My coat looked "terrific," she had told me. Head swelling, I agreed telling her I had bought it in Lisbon (always a good lily-gilder in Brazil).

I asked her, "What is going on?"

"We are following Augusto Pinochet on a jewelry buying stopover before flying to South Africa for arms shopping."

Lights and cameras came alive in front of me and by my side stood Augusto Pinochet wearing a double-breasted pin striped suit. He looked neither large nor menacing.  He looked like any Latin businessman. He looked at me, and neither smiled nor spoke. 

Augusto Pinochet
 I said,"Good Afternoon, Generalissimo" ~ perhaps not exactly correct. Pinochet was a president retired "upstairs," to run Chile's military. I should have called him el Presidente.

Generalissimo, spoken by itself being known throughout the post World War Two world of that day as the title for Spain's military dictator, Francisco Franco.  I had read it was a comparison Pinochet liked.

He smiled and moved on. The lights and crowed followed him. 

A waiter in starched whites brought over a cup of black coffee and the Miami Herald.

Late the next morning I went to see the manager of American Airlines' South American interests. His secretary led me into his office and brought us black coffee and a bottle of Wild Turkey.

On a large Amazon-mahogany desk sat a small television with a built-in Video Cassette player. On the screen was Pinochet looking at me in the lobby of the Caesar Park. A voice-over, roughly translated, was saying, "Pinochet in civilian clothing and visiting North American photographer, Leonardo Arl Johnson, wearing a 'Lisbon coat,' meet in the lobby of ..."

On the flight home I sat in first class flanked by deluxe food carts, wine, whiskey and a white box wrapped in a red silk ribbon. Inside were expensive chocolates molded like propellers and other airplane parts.

* * *

Lagniappe du Jour:

Hang Gliding, Rio

Adenddum Wikipeddum

Pinochet was arrested in London on 10 October 1998 in connection with numerous human rights allegations, but following a legal battle was released and returned to Chile in March 2000. In 2004, Chilean Judge Juan Guzmán Tapia ruled that Pinochet was medically fit to stand trial and again placed him under house arrest. By the time of his death on 10 December 2006, about 300 criminal charges were still pending against him in Chile for numerous human rights violations, tax evasion, and embezzlement during his 17-year rule and afterwards. Pinochet was accused of having corruptly amassed a wealth of US$28 million or more.
* *
Copyright, 2016, 
Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

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