Michele Hewitson: Charmed, I'm sure

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Michael Palin spreads his considerable British charm around Brazil in his latest travel series.
Michael Palin spreads his considerable British charm around Brazil in his latest travel series.

How can I say I've charmed my way around the world when I haven't charmed my way around Brazil?" said Michael Palin (no introduction needed) by way of introduction to Brazil (Prime, Monday, 8.35pm.) He didn't really of course. Substitute that "charmed my way" for "seen", but you know what I mean.

There is no point in sneering at Palin for his very British charm. You either are a charmer or you're not.

Still, funny to think that he was a satirist once upon a time. Perhaps he still is, in a charming, British way. If so, it's too subtle an in-joke for me to get.

Now he is a tourist, of sorts - a well-paid one, with a camera crew and a seemingly endless supply of beige chinos and blue shirts.

In his latest jaunt, to the Brazil of the title, he goes and has a look at another country: its weirdos and characters (a lady chef called Da Da who is certainly a character and has a laugh that could strip your oven of grease more efficiently than anything you can buy at the supermarket); its religions (more weirdos and characters); its geography (pretty spectacular in bits - well, you don't take a camera crew along to film the boring bits.)

Is Brazil interesting? Have you ever met anyone who has ever been there? That might be a reason for going. How very obliging and charming of Palin to do it for us.

It is rather interesting - if merely because nobody has ever been there and so nobody knows a thing about it other than its inhabitants like eating meat, dancing, festivals and weirdo religions. Everyone in Brazil dances, apparently. It must be exhausting to be a Brazilian.

Does everyone in Brazil indulge in that strange practice of depilation? Mr Palin has so far resisted asking. Thank goodness for British reserve.

Thank God he didn't ask Da Da about such matters. It was enough to learn that, for her, cooking is better than sex. We don't need to go into any more detail beyond noting that Palin said, faintly: "It must be exhausting."

On another matter, the religious one. Brazil is quite loopy: Catholicism, of course, is rife, but it is peculiarly Brazilian in nature. This means that instead of, say, Lourdes, where people leave their crutches and wheelchairs behind after the miracle, in Brazil there is a church where, from the ceiling, hang wax replicas - hands, feet, legs, hearts - of body parts healed from a visit here. "This is very, very strange," said Palin.

He went to see a cowrie shell thrower to have his fortune told. He was at pains to tell us that they had never met before. The fortune teller said: "You have made a living going around the world charming the socks off people which is really quite extraordinary. Also, could you please do the dead parrot skit for me?"

Not really. What a shame.

Palin asked the shell thrower a burning question: Would England ever win the World Cup again?

There was a lot of shell chucking about and then a lot of waiting for the translation. What tension.

Palin gave the fortune teller the most charming smile in the world. But you knew what the answer would be: "No."You can't win over the whole world, or the World Cup.

They don't need a Brazilian word for extrovert, he said: "Brazilian means extrovert."

They don't need an English word for charm; Palin means charm. This is his usual charming jaunt then.

I imagine that when the minister of tourism of a country learns that Palin is coming to visit, their response is about akin to Da Da's when she cooks up a fish stew. That's not a complaint. But sometimes you'd like a little less charm and a Palin travel show that is a little less predictable.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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