Further and Further South

This is a commented translation of Bohdan Pawlowicz’s original article in Polish (Pawlowicz, 1939) 1 done by Barbara Dieu and published on August 4th, 2015.

Context: The article describes Bohdan’s stop in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the end of August 1939.  Bohdan was then travelling on the first voyage of the Polish liner MS Chrobry.2 The article was published in a Polish newspaper on September 1st 1939, the day Poland was invaded by the Germans. It must have been sent to Poland on August 20th from Buenos Aires, the next stop southbound after the stop in Rio, which is the occasion described in the article. On September 1st, when the war had been declared, the ship was already headed northbound on her return voyage. She stopped in Recife on September 2nd to let the passengers disembark.

When after a 16-day sea journey, the ship sails into the Rio de Janeiro bay, one has the impression that all is unreal. One has become so used to the hum of the sea, the limitless and boundless freedom of the eye running to the horizon line, that these red-coloured mountains, dark green vegetation and multicoloured houses seem hugely unnatural.

“To see Naples and die”, the Italians say, infatuated by the beauty of the Neapolitan bay. For Rio de Janeiro one should say: “To see Rio de Janeiro and want to live forever”… Nowhere around the world have I seen such a colour orgy: blue, green, red, violet and golden sands of the long stretching beaches. Nowhere in the world do I know mountains that are so fantastically ragged, bays so profound, extraordinarily encroaching into the depths of the land and nowhere in the world does the sun create so many contrasts and the vegetation is so abundant and so deliciously royal.

Wherever they could, though, Brazilians disfigured the city itself. In addition to this, architecturally, it is a museum of abomination. A hideous secession (rift/cleavage) sits widely next to even nastier New York-like skyscrapers pumped up towards the clouds, one wonders why, up to 20 and 30 floors, which protrude above the city like asparagus above the greenery in a vegetable garden. However, nature repairs what man has spoiled. The rocks, the sea, the 60-meter palm trees, the flowers, the flowers and, once again the flowers, dwarf the ugliness of the pretentious people and contribute to make Rio de Janeiro the most blissful city under the sun.

Surely, from the top of this 3-million anthill there are also strangely ugly and foul neighborhoods but for the delighted eye of the tourists there are only the superb Copacabana promenades, magnificent beaches, panama hats and those endless, unique alleys between the sea, the beach, the villas, full of flowers, and the fantastic red rocks.

Unfortunately, “MS Batory”3 only stops for 6 hours in this fairy one hundred and one tale city. Although in my whole life I have been in Rio de Janeiro for a few days almost 50 times and although I lived in the city for 2 or three weeks, I have never had enough of Rio and will always miss it/long for it.

My wife’s sisters4 have both lived in Rio for many years and are true “cariocas”, which in the Brazilian Portuguese language means a local (citizen) of Rio de Janeiro. They were hospitably surprised when I begged them to spend the time to be consecrated to conversations to visits and to the Botanical Gardens.

– “Maybe we should go for some ice-cream”, suggested one. “Or it maybe be better to stay on the balcony of my apartment in Copacabana?”, promoted the other one, smoothly adding that from the terrace there would be a more panoramic view of the sea.

– “No, no my dears!”, I protested. “We’ll spend some of these 6 hours in the car, as I want to enjoy the city and see whether Rio has changed much, and also some time in the Botanical Gardens, the most interesting gardens in the New World.”

Conformed then and with a dedication worthy of recognition for Brazilian women, they drove me around town, which changed so much, that over here, there was something that had been brought down, and out there, lots of houses were built, crying for vengeance from heaven.

But the vegetation will cover it soon. There is no need to worry! I praised everything profusely, bringing my sisters in law to a frenzy of pride and joy. They no longer protested against the Botanical Gardens, the yellow-shaded alleys of which are heavy with flowery scents, and the eye is constantly amazed by the new and the new delicious specimens of flowers, trees, grasses and shrubs.

Moreover, I went to the garden with a sophisticated hope. I know that one prominent exotic Polish writer, who is enjoying a lot of of success, was hit in the head by a coconut the size of a big head, thrown by a monkey from a palm tree sixty meters tall. After this accident, the writer authored about forty books, which are published in ten thousands of copies.

So I thought to myself, “I understand! After all, I am an author as well. What if some monkey hit me on the head with a coconut? Success and wealth guaranteed”. 5

Unfortunately there was no monkey to effect the cure, nor any coconut that wanted to fall on my head of its own accord.

Life is not a novel and once we had the conversation going, it was time to hurry back to Praça Mauá to the ship. Chrobry was screaming already for the second time when I ran up the ladder.

“Director!”, worried the ship steward, “I was afraid you were staying in Rio de Janeiro and the line would have to pay a fine of five thousand mil réis”.

The brave man would not understand what struck me at that particular moment! I would have never imagined I was worth as much as five thousand mil réis. Gratifying!

A third scream from the siren. The moorings are brought to the deck. Chrobry slowly sets off. From the bank, the very pretty in-laws wave their handkerchiefs and wipe away their tears. The heart rises to the throat.

“Partir, c’est mourir un peu”, the French say. Indeed, I don’t like going away from anywhere, and yet it so happens in my life that I always must depart and say goodbye.

So I drowned my sorrow at the ship bar, which, I confess contritely, happened the first time since Gdynia. I drank to the health of all possible and impossible, but when my companion, a charming Brazilian bound for Santos, on learning that I had something to do with the radio, proposed we should drink to the health of each and every radio listener, I gave up on the bar. Some million glasses is far beyond my traveler’s strength.

When I returned to the deck, we were already on the open sea. The sun was flooding the decks with an abundance of light, the sea had turned a fierce azure, while the distant outline of the Rio de Janeiro mountains looked like shell beads arranged against the horizon.

A strong breeze blowing from the shore swept the remnants of earthly feelings from my shattered head. Onwards and still onwards south into the sun, the azure and the brilliance.

It was 1:00 am when I was woken by a violent rocking. I threw a raincoat over my shoulders and carefully slid out onto the deck. A mighty tilt threw me against the wall. I barely got hold of a rope stretched along the deck. The sea roared like all residents put together.

The wind howled and wailed in terrible whirls while the MS Chrobry dutifully wafted through the walls of water that gushed over its beak.

The sea signaled it was alive and that the love of the ocean is no less dangerous than human hatred.

However, I was driven to the deck somehow. Nestled against the rail, I absorbed slabs of moving air. I felt good and joyful.


  1. Pawlowicz, B. (1939, September 1). Dalej i Dalej na Poludnie (rozmowy morskie – IV). Gazeta Pomorska, p. 4. Toruń. (pdf attached) ↩︎
  2. Dieu, B. (2013a, January 18). Bohdan Pawłowicz. Retrieved 26 July 2015, from https://bohdanpawlowicz.org/biographies/bohdan/#world_war_ii ↩︎
  3. Although the author mentions the MS Batory here, this must have been a slip of the pen. He was on the MS Chrobry as mentioned later in the text ↩︎
  4. The two sisters-in-law were Jadwiga and Janina Salmonowicz. See W.P’s biography (Dieu, 2013b) ↩︎
  5. The allusion to coconuts and money comes from the Polish idiomatic expression “robić na czymś kokosy” , which means to make a lot of money/a fortune on something. ↩︎

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