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Soul mates #3 Lota de Macedo Soares

Lota de Macedo Soares

Outside her native country, the Brazilian Maria Carlota Costallat de Macedo Soares (1910 — 1967), better known as Lota de Macedo Soares, is best known for her intense, tragic love affair with one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, Elizabeth Bishop. In Brazil, Dona Lota, as she was known, however, primarily remembered as one of the country's important landscape architects.

Lota was born in Paris to an aristocratic family from Rio de Janeiro. When she was two years old, she moved to Rio de Janeiro and after high school, she found herself in the city's visual arts climate. She started working for the Brazilian modernist artist Candido Portinari, but she soon became more interested in architecture and landscape architecture.

Via Portinari, she came into contact with the architect Sérgio Bernardes and together they designed her own house. That became a difficult collaboration with constant arguments over every decision. Later, Macedo Soares would indicate that this was her real education. Bernardes immediately recognized her qualities and they were able to design a house that combined both technical innovations with a sleek modernist style situated in a lush tropical setting.

An important meeting followed in the late 1950s when Macedo Soares met conservative politician Carlos Lacerda. He became governor in 1960 and offered her a job. According to the myth, after being elected governor, Lacerda told Macedo, “Tell me what you want!” Lota pointed to some debris right outside the governor's apartment. “Give me this debris and I'll make it a Central Park!”

In New York, Macedo Soares had seen the city park and she thought Rio deserved the same park. There wasn't much space, so she decided to use the rubble to extract land compared to the water. For years, she worked on what would become Flamengo Park, the largest recreational area in Rio de Janeiro, 120 acres of ingeniously planned and planted parkland in a modernist style. The park's scale is enormous and includes the modern art museum and the local airport. Macedo Soares put together a team of eight architects, including her old sparring partner Bernardes. She also commissioned botanist Roberto Burle Marx to use the plant species he had discovered during his travels in the Amazon region in the new park.

At the same time, Macedo Soares had met the American poet and writer Elisabeth Bishop. Bishop came to Brazil to travel there for two weeks but “lingered” there for fifteen years. She wrote her masterpiece there Questions of Travel, the collection of poems that made her one of the greatest poets of her time. The encounter with Macedo Soares resulted in a love affair that slowly turned into a love-hate relationship, two lives of depression and alcohol. In 1967, it became too much for Soares and she committed suicide. Bishop returned to the United States. Macedo Soares died at the age of 57, as the great prima donna of Brazilian landscape architecture. Her legacy is the beautiful Flamengo Park city park in Rio.