About this blog
Thrill of Brazil is a travel blog all about Brazil written by Moon Brazil author Michael Sommers. Michael blogs about Brazil travel, culture, and more. He welcomes questions, comments, and story ideas.
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- Brazil’s Homegrown Tourism Boom
- Brazil's Best and Write-est
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part II)
- Making House Calls in Rio (Part I)
- The Dawning of Brazil's B&B Age
- Rio's Alternative Points of View
- Taxi Trouble in Santa Teresa
- Obamas Take to the Campaign Trail in Brazil
- Plans and Punctuality
- Reliving Tropicalismo - On and Off Screen
- Food and Lodging that Make the Grade
- The Making of Moon Living Abroad in Brazil
- U.S. is Number One Source of Immigrants to Brazil
- Best English-Language Blogs about Brazil
Curious George's Curious Brazilian Connection
When my sister and I were little (and not so little) we loved the Curious George books. Our parents happily plied us with them, and to this day, I can’t conjure up the mischievous little monkey and his pal, the Man in the Yellow Hat, without cracking a nostalgic smile. As such, when my sister told me to make sure to see an exhibit at New York’s Jewish Museum, entitled “Curious George Saves the Day: The Art of Margret and H.A. Rey”, I happily set off to the Upper East Side.
I was surprisingly moved to rediscover George in all his impish charm, and shocked at how vividly I was able to re-experience the childhood sensations evoked by illustrator H.A. Rey’s buoyant watercolor vignettes: The multi-colored bouquet of balloons that lifts George high up above a city traffic jam; The emerald-green, jigsaw puzzle piece he swallows, which earns him a trip to the hospital; The stack of newspapers that, instead of being delivered, are folded into a fleet of paper ships and sent down a brilliantly blue river cluttered with yellow ducks. At the same time, I was also a little wistful, lamenting that kids these days probably spend more time playing computer games or talking on (toy) cellphones than experiencing the simple joys of a little monkey going fishing with a gigantic piece of cake (when George fails to land any fish, he discovers the cake to be so delicious that he eats the rest himself).
Nostalgia and lamentations aside, one of the most unexpected discoveries I made at the exhibition was that Curious George was inspired by the monkeys of Brazil’s Amazon.
It turns out that H.A. Rey, a Hamburg Jew (né Hans Augusto Reyersbach) was having trouble eking out a living as an illustrator in a post-World War I Germany wracked by inflation. So, in 1924, Rey traveled to Rio de Janeiro, where his brother-in-law operated an import-export business. Before long, he found himself sailing up and down the Amazon River selling bathtubs and kitchen sinks to remote communities.
Already an avid animal lover, Rey offset his bouts of jungle boredom by sketching the parade of monkeys that swung through the lower canopies of the rain forest. To ward off the intense sun, he took to wearing hats with especially wide brims (they would later inspire the iconic headgear of the Man in the Yellow Hat – whose paternal, pipe-smoking presence was modeled after Rey himself).
Rey was never that fond of the life of a traveling salesman (even if, in his case, it was an endless Amazonian adventure). Upon returning to Rio in 1934, he had the pleasure of being reacquainted with a childhood friend from Hamburg named Margret Waldstein, who had fled Nazi Germany for Brazil. Waldstein, who had studied art at the Bauhaus school and was an accomplished photographer, had worked in advertising in Hamburg. It was she who encouraged Rey to trade in the sinks and bathtubs for a career in illustration.
Within months, the two expats had fallen in love and joined forces professionally – they opened Rio’s first advertising firm in 1935 – and personally; they were married that same year. (During this time, both acquired Brazilian citizenship and changed their name from Reyersbach to Rey, which proved easier to pronounce in Portuguese).
Margret loved monkeys just as much as H.R. did, and their Rio apartment was filled with the chattering of two tamed marmosets. In 1936, when the two set sail for Paris on a honeymoon that ultimately lasted four years, they brought their cherished pets along with them. Despite the care they took with the monkeys – Margret had knit them little sweaters for the trip – unlike George, who journeyed from Africa in the company of the Man in the Yellow Hat, the Rey’s monkeys perished during the sea voyage.
The Reys would return to Rio once more, in 1940. Having purchased bicycles, they pedaled out of Paris two days before the Nazis invaded the City of Light, and then made their way down to the Spanish border. Aside from bare necessities, the only baggage they carried was comprised of the sketches and watercolors depicting the adventures of a little monkey. When border officials combed through their luggage, these innocent sketches literally saved them, allowing the Reys to continue safely on to Lisbon, and then to Rio.
After two months in Brazil, the Reys settled permanently in the U.S., and America’s brash dynamism and modernism found their way into the Curious George books, which became international best-sellers. Meanwhile, it’s interesting to consider that one of the world’s most beloved and mischievous monkeys may not ever have come into being if it hadn’t been for Brazil,