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National Geographic publishes around the world, so who better to point you to the most unusual, unique, and sometimes irreverent cultural traditions in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five favorites in this monthly series.
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Global Getaways Editor

 Who runs the show: Matt Shirts, Chief Editor

Name of the game: National Geographic Brazil

When it all started: May 2000

Where it all happens: São Paulo, Brazil

Who makes it happen: three editorial staff, one layout editor, and one art director

What goes out: 71,370 issues a month

Business as usual: "Since this is Brazil, I won't even try to guess the amount of coffee we consume at work—it might scare people! Our greatest motivation is simply the fact that everyone who works here loves what they do."

Best stress reliever: "Enjoying São Paulo. Luckily, dancing, music, and sports are a way of life here."

Best office perk: "We work for a wonderful publishing company that produces about 70 percent of Brazil's magazines. Being able to interact with both the people who share our offices and the staff at National Geographic in Washington is wonderful."

What's great about the Brazilians: "There are a lot of problems in Brazil, but the people still manage to enjoy life and all it has to offer—especially when we win the World Cup."

What's great about Brazil: "The beaches, no question. We have some of the most incredible beaches in the world."

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FlagFive Cultural Bests

Cultural Bests

Music, sports, and the art of celebration are a way of life in Brazil, as shown in Shirts's five favorite cultural events:

1. The Samba School Parade in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival

Every year during Carnival the top samba schools—neighborhood groups that get together to rehearse and perform—parade through Rio's Sambodrome in an exotic walking opera. For about 18 hours costumed dancers, musicians, and elaborate floats make their way past stands filled with revelers. For those who aren't satisfied just to watch the event, tourist agencies can arrange for you to dance with a school. I don't know anyone who has ever seen the parade who doesn't consider it one of the most incredible experiences of their lives. This is Carnival.

2. New Year's Eve in Salvador, Bahia
Bahia is home to the Afro-Brazilian religion known as Candomblé. On both New Year's and February 2 (her own special day), Iemanjá, the Goddess of Water, is the central figure in the state of Bahia. People gather on the local beaches, where some launch small boats filled with offerings while others sing and dance to drum music. Although this is a religious ceremony, it's also a celebration. Brazil is where you'll find the most festive people on Earth; when people congregate on the beach in the middle of summer, it makes for a great New Year's Eve party. [See our feature on Bahia in the August 2002 NGM.]

3. Any big soccer game between rival teams from the same town
It's no secret that soccer is the most popular sport in Brazil; getting my son to support my team was a big victory in my life. To watch the Flamengo play the Fluminense in Rio de Janeiro or Internacional and Grêmio play in Porto Alegre is to witness the spirit of the country. Don't expect to find lots of concession stands or slick marketing, though; in Brazil it's all about the game. Still, unless you don't mind sitting next to passionate fans who spend the game cheering and lighting fireworks, pay a little extra for the more expensive seats.

4. A popular music concert
Popular Brazilian music includes rhythms from samba, bossa-nova, and even rock and roll. Some of the most famous performers include Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, João Gilberto, Marisa Monte, Chico Buarque de Holanda, and Djavan. Outdoor concerts are wonderful but rare. Most performances are indoors in nightclubs, where patrons sit at tables to eat and drink while they enjoy the music—very much like the old jazz clubs. It's amazing how easy music comes to Brazilians, and music is everywhere.

5. The Baroque art and sculpture of Minas Gerais
In the 18th century the southeastern state of Minas Gerais was at the heart of the Brazilian gold rush. Towns such as Ouro Prêto, Diamantina, Mariana, Congonhas, and Tiradentes were built to accommodate mining activities and house workers. These towns also became important cultural centers, home to artists like Aleijadinho, Brazil's greatest Baroque sculptor. Part of Minas Gerais has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, showcasing beautifully preserved churches, art, and an ornate architectural landscape adorned with the gold that was once so plentiful.

—Bronwyn Barnes


Photographs by Stephanie Maze (CORBIS left), Firefly Productions (CORBIS center), and Sergio Moraes (CORBIS right)


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