When we met Giuseppe Pellegrini, his reputation preceded him as mountain climber and emeritus engineer of the Bondinho (Sugar Loaf mountain cable car) who had years ago imagined the adoption of the Claudio Coutinho trail by the Companhia Aérea do Pão de Açúcar. He’s an elegant man, vigorous in his jeans shirt, a cowboy of Southern mountains, and he received us in the conference room of the engineers offices on the Urca Mountain. What surprised us about this Renaissance man, aside from been neighbors on the same street in Urca, was his original invention of a means for transporting water and sewage for nearly 5000 visitors a day to Sugar Loaf mountain.
And Pellegrini’s life story? A generous conversation about his four marriages, a trip in a Volkswagen van to Alaska in the 60s, a man who does his shopping at the open-air farmer’s market in Urca on Sundays because “in the kitchen happens one of the most important aspects of my performance,” where he has a collection of more than 40 knives on display. Pellé was born in Bagni di Lucca, Italy, and arrived in Brazil in 1947, at 9 years of age, a war orphan.
You speak of using war rations to save to take that trip to Alaska, are we right to assume you spent your childhood in the war? “Yes, I was born in 38, the war began in 39 . . . So, that’s where I was born and spend the war period.
So I lived the war and the post-war era which at times was even worse than the war, depending on the period, hunger, etc. Our region was saved by chestnuts, those Christmas chestnuts, there was a lot of chestnut production, a chestnut forest. There was a notion that the chestnut that fell in the path, though it had an owner, you could collect; but aside from this, it was something relatively cheap, an energetic, so you ate chestnuts raw, cooked, or made chestnut flour, waffles from chestnut flour, cakes from chestnut flour, it was chestnut flour until you cried uncle.”
And what about Urca? “I’ve been living here for a considerable time, nearly 20 years maybe, not only because it’s close to work, but aside from this, it’s a very calm area in Rio de Janeiro, violent as it is today, we can say, it’s an island of privilege. My apartment isn’t large, it has no elevator, it’s 60m², but for me . . . And our creative space, we call it the advanced office, creation zone. We use two locations, one is Bar Belmonte, and also the one we call the bar of cabinet, which is the Urca Grill, the one in front of the policeman’s cabin. . .”
What about Pellegrini’s relationship with the Guanabara? “It’s friendly in the visual sense, and I think it’s a shame how polluted it is, a great shame. In reality, my sport isn’t very aquatic, I’ve always been about mountains, so I always went to the mountain, mountain, in Urca as luck would have it there’s one on one side . . . Sugar Loaf, I’ve scaled it more than 3.500 times, and working there, every day, but no longer, but during many years it was every day, at least once, I even scaled it 4 times in one day!”