When Pablo Neruda visited Brasília

He wrote of Brasília the way some write of Paris or New York. With reverence and adoration. Three exclamation points and an all caps shout-out? That’s love right there.

Up into the sky! To the broad heavens! High above the earth: the white city, the Venus city: BRASÍLIA!

Representative Marco opens every door to me. But Brasília has no doors: it is bright space, an extension of the mind, radiance become architecture. The public areas throb with children, the palaces lend implicit dignity to their institutions. The architect Italo, a friend of Niemayer’s, has been ten years in Brasília, and takes us on a tour of the new Itamaraty, the Congress, the still-unfinished theater, and the Cathedral, a rose of iron whose great petals open toward infinity.

Brasília, isolated in its human miracle, in the midst of Brazilian space, testimony to man’s supreme creative will. From this city one would feel worthy of flying to the stars. Niemayer is the terminus of a parabola that begins with Leonardo: the utility of constructive thought; creation as social obligation; spatial satisfaction of intelligence.

Neruda, Pablo. Passions and Impressions. Trans. Margaret Sayers Peden. Ed. Matilde Neruda and Miguel Otero Silva. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1983. (see pages 193,194)

But why Neruda’s adoration of Brasília? Over Sao Palo? Over Rio? Timing I suspect.

When Passions and Impressions was printed in 1978, Brasília was a bebê. An infant city of eighteen years. The Cathedral of Brasília had only been completed eight years previously. And the intent of Brasília’s creation was to be a global city of progress. The E.P.C.O.T. or World City of South America.

Brasília was an ambitious project. Not only in design and scope, but in time. A city built from scratch in only five years? It deserves a spot on Patrick Collision’s “Fast” list.

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