Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the month “May, 2014”

Lost Samba – Chapter 30 – Running Away to São Paulo

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Photo by Carlos Cazalis

The pressure at home had become unbearable. I decided to leave for São Paulo earlier than I’d planned with the excuse of having to prepare for the vestibular, the university entrance examination. There was no drama, probably because my parents agreed that this was a good idea. As I packed my clothes and other essentials, I felt that I was entering a new and harder phase in life, that from then on nothing would be as it was.

São Paulo was only a six-hour bus journey from Rio and there was a departure every fifteen minutes. If I travelled at night, I would arrive in the morning and would then have the whole day to find the university’s student hostel. Friends had told me that getting a place would be easy, but no one could confirm this information that as it was impossible to get through by phone.

I got to the bus terminal at about 11pm. Although it was quiet, there was still a queue at the stand for São Paulo. I stood in line and out of the blue a well-dressed guy came over to ask me if I wanted a lift to São Paulo. I said no but he insisted, explaining that he had been driving for twelve hours from up north. He was exhausted but needed to reach São Paulo the following day to work in a hospital and he was looking for company to keep him awake. To reassure me, he showed me his credentials: he was a doctor. I still wasn’t convinced but he took me to the car and opened all the doors, the boot, lifted the carpets and the benches to prove that there was nothing strange. There wasn’t, he looked like a doctor, the story was plausible and, as the ride would save me the bus fare, I said, “What the hell…OK”.

In the middle of the journey, the doctor started to say that he was tired and that he had to stop. I responded by offering to drive and showed my driver’s license. He responded by giving me a strange look, grinned and with a gentle voice he explained that he wanted to pull off the highway and spend the rest of the night with me in a hotel. “No sir!” I said firmly, “Gay action was not in the contract!”. From then we engaged in a battle of nagging versus refusal. As this went on, I started to get worried when he refused to stop to let me out of the car. When dawn broke and we had reached the outskirts of São Paulo, he realized that he wasn’t getting anywhere with me. He dropped me off at a bus stop on the edge of the highway next to a place that looked like a favela.

The next twenty minutes were to be a crash course on Brazilian urban reality. I had always known that people struggled, but it was still a shock to actually see, first-hand, what life was like.

It was still dark and it was freezing cold but there was already a crowd gathered around the unsheltered bus stop. The ramshackle canteens by here were packed with people having breakfast, the aroma of coffee being the only comforting thing around. It was obvious that most, if not all, of the people here had migrated from the Northeast in search of a better life. Their faces were similar to the ones that I had seen in my trip but their complexions were greyer, the lack of sun, the cold and the effects of life in this huge metropolis grinding them down. Although I was tired, feeling dejected, cold and a bit hungry, as I looked at the people here I couldn’t help but believe that a Higher Force wanted to show me the flipside of my adventures in the Northeast.

When my bus arrived, my fellow passengers and I crammed in like sardines. Without being able to move a finger, we passed by the massive factories of Ford, Volkswagen, Gessy Lever and other multinational companies. As the bus passed these isolated complexes in the periferia of São Paulo, some passengers got off the bus, but most were bound for the city centre. The entire journey that took at least an hour and a half. I could only begin to imagine what life was like for those souls who had to do that same journey every single working day of their lives. At night, they returned home from work in the same bus, enduring the same conditions. All this effort was to gain a miserable wage, to be treated as second-class citizens at work without any prospect of improvement.

I got off at the last stop and after getting lost several times in the city centre’s web of streets and I managed to find a bus to take me to the campus. All I wanted to arrange was a place to spend the night and get some sleep. However, when things are somehow destined to go bad, they only get worse. A strike was on and there were clashes between the students and the police over the dormitory where I was planning to spend my next few months. It had been shut down. Not knowing what to do, I went to the university’s administrative offices to explain my situation and ask for help. Despite my predicament, perhaps put off by my playboy aura and my Carioca accent, I couldn’t convince anyone that I was indeed in trouble.

Lacking any other option, I went to the student’s union. Suddenly luck smiled at me. I bumped into Carlinhos, a friend from Canoa Quebrada, the remote dream-like fishing village that I’d visited in Ceará. I explained my situation and after a few phone calls, he invited me to stay at his parents’ place, a comfortable and spacious apartment looking out across São Paulo’s skyline. His family’s hospitality was overwhelming. They treated me as if I was one of their own: They gave me a room for myself, invited me to eat and to watch television with them. In addition, there was Carlinhos’ attractive older sister, Alice, who I’d met up north. She was glad to see me again, but the last thing I needed was to mess things up by risking making a move on her.

São Paulo was much more sophisticated than Rio. Paulistas were more polite and better dressed. Everything appeared clean and well organized with elevators, buses, traffic lights, the metro system and the shops all working as they should. People were more formal than I was used to and intellectual standards seemed to higher than in Rio. I felt as if I was in a first world country. The people of my age were urban, not like the beach bums of Rio who behaved as though they were the royalty of the Zona Sul. Their trendy British-like punk-rocker styles suited them. In São Paulo, the 1980s made sense.

After a week with Carlinhos, I phoned home and explained where I was and what was going on. As expected Mum panicked and minutes later a wealthy American friend who was living in São Paulo rang up to ask why I hadn’t already looked him up. I knew Johnny from Bar Mitzvah classes and we had studied together at the Escola Americana the main reason for not having called him was that our friendship only existed because when we were kids my mum kept on pushing me as his dad was the CEO of the Brazilian branch of an important American bank.

Johnny had recently returned from Miami. Although his two older brothers had successfully established themselves there, he hadn’t liked the place and now wanted to go to college in Brazil. He was desperate for me to stay with him because in his mind I represented Rio and, believe it or not, his parents saw my presence as positive because they considered me a good student. The invitation had to be accepted because I didn’t want to risk overstaying my welcome with Carlinhos’s family. Both  Johnny and I needed to prepare for the vestibular and with my parents’ help we ended up going to the same crammer, the Objetivo on Avenida Paulista, where most of the headquarters of banks and of the big corporations were located and where Johnny’s family lived in their huge apartment. My new situation was excellent. I didn’t have to lift a finger – there were two maids and a chauffeur, I had a room and free food and sometimes Johnny and I enjoyed hanging out together to chase Paulista girls impressing them with our carioca mannerisms.

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In São Paulo, even the vestibular was of a higher level than that of Rio. First, there was a general multiple-choice test and a week later, there was a paper specifically focusing on the candidate’s chosen course involving writing an essay. Included on the test were subjects that weren’t in Rio’s curriculum and when I was confronted with four or five questions on Portuguese literature, which I’d never studied before, I knew that was the end of the road for me.

This was my first defeat after a long run of achieving everything that I had set out to do. I considered staying on in São Paulo for another year to try again but, amidst the height of the economic depression, even I could recognise that this was not a viable option. Also, things had taken a turn for the worse at home. Dad had suffered another heart attack and I knew that it was time to go back to Rio to be a good son for once.

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Lost Sampa

Goal posts is Brazil

Goal posts is Brazil

The war against the World Cup and the Olympics


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It must be strange for people who are used to see Brazilians as a smiley and youthful nation, proud of its country’s sporting exploits, to learn that most of them are hating to host the Olympics and the World Cup. While the costs are astronomical and no one knows for sure who actually benefits from these soulless mega-events centred on big business, very few countries get the privilege of hosting them and doing so usually is a matter of big national pride. Brazil seems to be an exception, and the question that comes to mind is why.

Ask the average Brazilian and he will give you the standard answer: The anger is because the government decided to throw money on these useless events instead of investing in hospitals, schools and infrastructure. You will also hear accusations of corruption together with some strange complaints about the ruling Workers Party’s (PT) programs for instituting financial help packages for poor families who send their children to school and for allowing Cuban doctors in the country to work in areas where urban middle class doctors refuse to go. What also will strike as strange is that the discontent took years to surface and that the apparent lack of investment in infrastructure has been happening since the 1970’s and only now have Brazilians awakened to this fact.

However, whoever bothers to study the numbers closer will be surprised at what they reveal. The 8 Billion Reais ( 3.6 billion US dollars ) spent of the construction of stadiums is tiny when compared with the 825 Billion Reais spent in the health system since the works began while the investment in education only in 2014 is predicted to be 115 Billion Reais. This is without taking into consideration that there will be a return on the investment in the both mega events, not only with the selling of tickets and with tourism but also in jobs and in the construction of infrastructure related to the events and the rippling effect that economic activities always have.

Havinf got this out of the way, the question remais, where does this anger come from? Ask an angry Brazilian if he would be happy if the Olympics and the World Cup would happen under another government and he will most probably say yes. He will also say probably say that, as a matter of principal, he has nothing against these mega-events taking in his country; what he doesn’t like is the government that is handling it nor the way it is doing it. Which kind of government would he like instead? Not sure, but definitely not this hateful PT one.

Based on the above, we can say with a degree of certainty that the problem is with the Government and not with the events per se. If this is so, we have to ask ourselves what is so evil in the ruling party that makes people take the streets, and almost dedicate their lives on a political crusade against it? Corruption? Well… this has been a national institution for at least the past eight decades, and is due to the way the Brazilian economy works. The engineer of this mechanism was the dictator Getulio Vargas who started ruling Brazil in the 1930’s, and who stayed in power for more than twenty years. His strategy was to set up a strong interventionist government that would support the country’s development together with local capital. Simply put, this means that the government would come up with big projects such as setting up oil companies, constructing roads, building hydroelectric plants, ports etc… which would open opportunities for Brazilian and sometimes for international investors as well as generate jobs and stimulate the economy as a whole. In broad line this is similar to the American President Roosevelt’s New Deal and to the Marshall plan in post-war Europe. This all sounds great in paper, and Vargas set it up with the best of intentions, but the system would generate unlimited possibilities for corruption.

The reason for this is that the result is that the most important economic deals in Brazil are related to the government and who is heading it makes a huge difference in terms of which project will go ahead and who benefit from the, ultimately who will get rich and who will not. It is important to remember this and that although the PT is a left wing government and defends state intervention, this system was in place long before it ever ruled Brazil.

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Some people will also blame the police brutality, not only towards the protesters but also, and mainly, towards the poor population on a daily basis. The police is there to serve the state so, according to this way of thinking; the exaggerated use of force would reflect the willingness of the PT to transform itself in a left wing dictatorship. This is worthwhile examining; the brutality of the Brazilian police dates from before the PT’s ascension to power, actually of its older members experienced this brutality when they were in the opposition. The public security forces’ ethos is an inheritance of Brazil’s slavery past and has traditionally been brutal. Also, with the exception of the elite Federal Police, they are under the control of local governments. In this context, they are almost self-serving organizations with a history of protecting the local powerful, and that are very hard to control from the outside. In fact, their greatest fear is being supervised by outsiders who could make them respond for their excesses, or at least limit them. As a corporation, they are by no means immune from corruption and tackling them is a touchy business that any government is the world tries to avoid. In any case, it is very hard to sustain that the interests of the police and of the PT are the same, and it would be insane to suppose that the Brazilian police would collaborate in installing a Left Wing dictatorship in the country.

The strongest argument against the Government is that it is using both the Olympics and the World Cup as a political card. There is an undeniable truth in this, but we point out that any political party in the world would. If things go well the opposition will look stupid and Dilma’s popularity will be restored. We do not hear this accusation so much because the opposition is using these mega events as much as they can to do anti-PT propaganda. They are actually using all the weight they can to promote an anti-Government crusade that now resembles a public lynching. The attacks are constant in almost all the media, social media included, and are vicious.

There is a war going on against the World Cup and the Olympics. The opposition is frustrated in realizing that the Government has absorbed most of the punches and is still set to win the upcoming elections despite the economic downturn and all the PR efforts against it. This discontent has set a wide portion of the Brazilian society to want these two mega-events to fail. They prefer the country to look bad in the eyes of the world and investors to run away, rather than to give support to a government that may damage some of their private interests. This reminds us of the story of the genie who comes up to a man and says. “Tell me what you desire and it will be yours, but bear in mind that your enemy will have double”, the man responds “Take out one of my eyes”.

So what is it in this government that they dislike so much? It is our view that what angers the middle class is that after more than ten years in the government the ruling party has privileged the poor rather than business. This is serious, as it was the more instructed Brazilians who put the PT in power and not the lower classes. These voters feel entitled to policies in their favour. While there has been an undeniable improvement in the standards of living of the poorest segments, in many cases over-taxation has made the middle class see their standards of living lower. One issue that is emblematic of this anger is that now households must treat domestic workers as office workers and must pay regular taxes to employ them.

As in most countries under left wing governments, people are paying high taxes but are not seeing this money return to them in services or any other benefits. The construction of big stadiums and the hosting of big events has been an easy target to catalyze this anger.

For us there are deeper layers to this war on the Olympics and on the World Cup. Internationally this is a moment of great changes. We have seen the US and its allies fail to impress the world with their invasion of Iraq and their intervention in Afghanistan. Although they have moved away from their failed tactics of direct intervention, it seems obvious to us that they have tried to cling on to their receding supremacy by using indirect pressure. By this we mean that they have incited and made allegiances with locals to carry out their strategies. The recent examples are plenty, some with happy endings and others with tragic consequences: Libya, Tunisia, Turkey, Syria, Iran, Egypt, Ukraine, Venezuela… What all of these countries had in common was the threat of abandoning the American “mentoring” and ended up having “spontaneous” uprisings, which were supposed to be sympathetic to the Western dominance.

In a time when Brazil has abdicated its status of being one of the darlings of global investors to become closer to emerging Russia and China via the BRICS, it would be reasonable to expect that the West would react. Brazil is by no means an insignificant country and its success or its failure, the paths it chooses, will affect the world’s power brokerage and relevant on how the international economic machinery develops. It is reasonable to believe that it would not only be the Brazilian political opposition who would benefit from a possible failure in the two biggest sporting events in the World?

In its quest to “deliver the goods” Brazil has two unlikely allies FIFA and the IOC. Both of these organizations are aware that over-commercialization is turning their events dull and are making a great effort to maintain a business as usual approach for the events to be a success. The IOC has already threatened to make the next Olympics in London, which is highly improbable, but FIFA is the one who has more to lose, if a world cup in Brazil, the country of football, is a flop they will not be able to do much to keep the audiences for the next one.

All in all, the heated debate on the advantages of a state administered economy versus one ruled by “business” that will happen in Brazil during the interlude of FIFA’s World Cup and the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics promises to be more interesting than what will happen inside the stadiums.

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Lost Samba – Chapter 29 – The Circo Voador and Parque Laje: The birth of Rio’s cool.

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The Circo Voador in its first year – 1982

I arrived back in Rio absolutely exhausted. But rather than being simply pleased to be home, I now found wrong so many of the comforts  – a maid to tidy up for me, a room of my own and food available whenever I was hungry – that I’d always taken for granted. I felt like a wild animal caged in a zoo, my old cosseted lifestyle now feeling too limited. My parents might have thought that I’d gone through a rough time but preferred not to try to discuss it

I felt like Icarus who had fallen from the skies because he had flown too high or like Gulliver pinned down by Liliputions for being too big. I was swimming against a current of narrow-minded conformity and fear of the new decade. I felt out of touch, like a second-class citizen who no one wanted to approach both in and out of home. It seemed as if recess time at school had ended and that everyone else had returned to class apart from me. Anyway, it was obvious that they thought that my outlook needed to change and I that had to get my act together. The atmosphere was bad. Dad’s punishment was weeks without directing a word to me, a passive-aggressive manner that I had become used to.

Going back to university was tough. We were delving into micro- and macro-economic theories, calculus and other hard-core subjects. Completely out of synch with that environment, I didn’t have the concentration and the will to carry on. The experiences of my travels, my need to make sense of what was happening, my original dreams of being a film director, the lack of people similar to me around, the lack of understanding from family and friends, the lack of a girlfriend were altogether too difficult. I asked my parents to let me spend a year working on a Kibbutz in Israel to sort my head out, but the answer was a categorical no. For them, the time for fun (as they saw my choices) was over. Now was the time to pull myself together, to work hard to build a sensible future. Certainly times were economically harsh and their argument made sense but I wasn’t strong enough and was too self-absorbed to take on board such a rational position.

To complicate things further, one day Dad felt ill at work and was rushed to hospital. Although in hindsight this was predictable given the stress he was experiencing, the news came as a shock to all of us, including me. Dad was now in his eighties and his “tropical paradise” was becoming unrecognisable. Nothing seemed to be going as planned. With a monthly inflation rate of twenty percent, the country’s economy was in a state of crisis, while Dad’s business – like so many others – was only just staying afloat. Meanwhile, Dad’s family was crumbling. As far as he was concerned, I had gone mad, and although Sarah – still his great hope – was doing well in her dental career, she had got into a bad relationship and was no longer on speaking-terms with the family. The country house in Teresópolis that was to be my parents’ retirement place had become a never ending maintenance problem, yet another millstone round Dad’s neck .

Despite all the aggravation,s Dad could not allow himself to rest. He needed to continue working to sustain the family’s lifestyle. And despite the health scare, we all took him for granted. I was too self-centred to offer any practical help and, anyway, those suggestions that I made (such as selling the business and the house so that he could enjoy retirement) were dismissed out of hand. Following the 25-years of achievement for my father in Rio, Brazil now seemed to be devouring everything it had given him. At home, there was a general sense that somehow the end was approaching, and in this our condition was not very different to that which many other families were experiencing.

Although I thought a lot about it, leaving home and telling everyone to go to hell was not an option. Back then young people in Brazil lived at home with their families until they found a proper job or got married and the concept of sharing an apartment with friends was unheard of. In anycase, there were few jobs around and the ones available paid less than my pocket money. As the tensions at home became unbearable, we somehow reached a compromise. I abandoned the economics course in Rio in order to try to get a place at a film college in Sao Paulo. I reckoned that compared to making my way into the prestigious economics course in Rio, getting accepted to study film ought to be easy. In my mind this move would put me back on track with who I was.

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Beyond the realms of my family’s drama, there was the intensity of life in Rio. I was still able to appreciate some of the exciting things happening out there. The star of the moment and catching the public’s imagination was the alternative theatre group Asdrubal Trouxe o Trombone (Asdrubal Brought the Trombone). In several ways it was what my generation was waiting for: a voice of their own. By breaking away from the left-wing etiquette, this was a central player in bringing change to Rio’s – and consequently the Brazilian – cultural scene. Influenced by Monty Python, and by counter-culture in general, Asdrubal was a cultural version of the surfers and the rockers. This group of largely amateur actors and directors threw all their energy into a play called “Trate-me Leao” (Treat Me Lion). Because of their fresh approach to theatre and their humerous and easy to relate themes, the play was a tremendous success with the country’s youth and toured all over Brazil. The sketches concentrated on the everyday experiences of urban kids in search of friendship, love and adventure and who had no intention of following in Che Guevara’s steps.

All this was happening while my generation was dealing with the often painful process of reaching adulthood. A constant positive of living in Rio is that it is blessed by an array of the most beautiful beaches. No matter how stressful life might be, a calm day at the beach with friends and seeing beautiful people allows one to fleetingly forget one’s troubles. One typical glorious sunny Saturday, I was chatting with Dona Isabel in the kitchen, having my usual lunch of beef, fried onions, rice and black beans before going to the Nove. The television was on and I caught a glimpse of the Asdrubal actors announcing that they were offering acting classes. I was tempted but my beach-bum instinct won out, making me think that this was for effeminate thong-wearing fake revolutionaries of the kind that I’d do anything to avoid. This decision came to be one of my biggest ever mistakes. Many of the greatest Carioca actors and rock stars of my generation, such as the band Blitz, the singer Cazuza, comedians such as Luis Fernando Guimarães and the actress/presenter Regina Case and so many others either gave classes there or emerged from that course.

Bruno, a friend of mine, joined the classes and despite not being born to act he had a video camera and talent for filming and editing. For Asdrubal,  Bruno was a heaven-sent asset and they started to ask him to film their work. As Asdrubal grew, so  did Bruno. A decade later, Bruno went on to win several MTV-Brasil awards for best music video director and is he now one of Brazil’s leading video makers.

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Asdrubal

Asdrubal inherited the attention once given to the Novos Baianos, the hippy queen-bees, and to Fernando Gabeira, the revolutionary-chic former exile. Their latest initiative was a veue of their own an actual circus in Arpoador, the neighbourhood  linking Copacabana with Ipanema. They named their new venue the “Circo Voador” (Flying Circus), imitating one that the Rolling Stones had used for a performance in London in the 1960s.  It was here that the presentations of Asdrubal and their students took place. Jokingly the word went out that the only two musical genres that bands played under their canopy were “rock as well as roll”. They opened-up the space to local bands instead of featuring weird-looking longhaired artists from the Northeast or the soon to become outdated Brazilian music stars singing about social reform.

The musicians and lead singers were no longer the frightening, hard-core junkies of the type that led the rock scene of the 1970s. Instead, now they could easily have been (and sometimes were) fellow students, friends and neighbours merely enjoying themselves. What motivated these artists was the movement (if one could call it that) of a desire to break free from the weight of the country’s realities and to simply be part of the rock ’n roll ethos, that in their minds was a universal family. This initiative rippled throughout the country and set rock as the main 1980s cultural expression, at least for middle class youth. The Circo Voador would mark the last time that Rio would be Brazil’s musical trend setter. The centre would soon gravitate to the much larger São Paulo market, where the cultural scene was more sophisticated, in tune to innovation and more in touch with what was goung on abroad.

After going to a few Circo Voador gigs, I was convinced that I had the potential for playing to that kind of crowd.  With the little money that I had left from selling Blues Boy, I bought a cheap amplifier and an electric guitar. The shift from acoustic guitar to an electric one was like changing from a bicycle to a motorbike. Now I could shake the windows of my room with just a slight pluck of a string. Because no one was happy with me at home I had to turn the volume down, but on weekends, when my parents went up to Teresópolis, my sister was at her boyfriend’s place and Dona Isable went home, I had the apartment to myself. Feeling like a insane king in a wretched castle, the beast came out and the volume got turned right up, driving our poor neighbours crazy.

I started writing songs using ideas that had come up during my travels and in jam sessions. At the same time, new ideas surfaced and I felt certain that music was my destiny. My work tried to fuse aggresive rock with Brazilian rhythms. This kind of mixture had been a controversial novelty in the days of the Tropicália and continued being used by artists from the Northeast such as the Novos Baianos and Alceu Valenca. With the 1980s rock and Brazilian music diverged, becoming more “purist”. Until then artists often combined these genres, selling their “exotic” music as  developments of a more “authentic” style far removed from Rio or São Paulo. Now here was me, a guy from Ipanema with a rather odd Jewish and British background, working with traditional Brazilian music and trying to make it sound heavy with contemporary rock gear. This exoticism found no sympathy amongst the narrow-mindeded new audiences who could only appreciate either ”pure” rock or Brazilian popular music. Bands with a similar outlook to what I attempted would only establish themselves a generation later, with the likes of artists such as Chico Science and the Nação Zumbi .

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Pedro had also abandoned economics to do an art course in Rio’s Parque Lage, in an Italianate mansion set in the surreal surroundings of a tropical estate. The creation of a nineteenth century Brazilain millionaire, the grounds were so well preserved that behind the house they still had the slaves’ quarters, the senzala, a grotto with stone beds covered by limestone that gave you the creeps as one walked in.

The classes were in the mansion’s famous internal patio which had been featured in one of the most important 1960s Cinema Novo films, Glauber Rocha’s masterpiece “Terra em Transe”, and had been a busy musical venue in the 1970s where many memorable gigs took place. After a few years of silence, the beautiful location was re-opened as a concert hall and the place now competed with the Circo Voador to attract the coolest young hearts and minds in Rio.

The Parque Laje was consolidated onto Rio’s cultural map when the art course that Pedro was doing decided to get their students, along with budding artists from the Federal University’s faculty of fine arts, to paint the park’s concrete external walls. They came up with a lot of amazing and original creations and the result was going to define who was who in the “geração ‘80” (‘80s generation), the most important movement of that decade. Many of these artists went on to achieve public recognition, while other already established artists from elsewhere in the country placed themselves under their umbrella and adopted the new pop-like and youthful aesthetics, presenting themselves as the new expression of Brazilian art.

Being part of the “geração ‘80”, opened doors for Pedro, enabling him to circulate amongst the kind of “interesting people” he had always yearned to be like. Now that Pedro had been accepted, it was he who was introducing me into circles that I wanted to mingle in. In this way, I became a peripheral participant of the avant-garde of the 1980’s aesthetics that had spoiled the hippy feel of the places that had drawn me to the Northeast.

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Geracao 80 exibition at the Parque Laje

Beautiful Brazilian story

Brazilian reaction to the World Cup

Brazilian reaction to the World Cup

BRAZIL IN THE PRESS_BRAZIL WORLD CUP 2014: 25 TRAVEL HIGHLIGHTS | THE TELEGRAPH

Interesting info for travelers.

Lost Samba – Chapter 28/02 – Going crazy in Olinda.

Olinda

There were no mobile phones back then, so every Friday afternoon we would visit the local telephone company to call home and assure our worried parents that everything was fine. This time Pedro made two calls – one to his mum and one to his girlfriend in Canoa Quebrada. He came out saying that his big and tanned fake blonde woman, was coming down to stay with him over carnival. As it happened, the news that I was going to party alone turned out well. Pedro put me in contact with Dinah, a journalist friend of his from Rio, who was close with no less than the son of the mayor of Olinda. When I phoned Dinah she invited me to join in with the crowd that got together at his house every day.

We met outside and the VIP property and Dinah escorted me inside. Although there wasn’t any mutual attraction between us, we became good friends. Oddly out of place with the popular celebrations in the surrounding streets, the guests in the house were nevertheless partying at full strength. The table in the living room was covered with elegant and tasty canapés, and the hall was full of foreigners and trendy people from São Paulo, a lot of camp fashionistas and well-groomed guys engaged in refined small-talk. They were all having the time of their lives but, as far as I was concerned, for my taste the gathering was all way too tame. In terms of drugs, there was everything one could possibly wish for: lança-perfume (something like poppers), cocaine, excellent weed and I even heard rumours that someone was giving away little papers with acid droplets on them. I shyly kept to my trusted herb and helped myself to some of the generous supply of malt whiskey.

My routine after that party could not have been stranger. I’d wake up in the grim room that Pedro and I were renting and then I’d wander over to one of the best houses in Olinda where I’d have brunch and get high. In the afternoon I was ready to join one of the best carnivals of the world, stay out until dawn and then retreat back, as Cinderella would, into our miserable little hovel for a few hours of sleep.

On the last day of carnival I woke feeling utterly exhausted from over-partying and went for a walk around the old town to chill out. Everything was fine until I reached a street that ended at the side of the viaduct linking Olinda with Recife. There was no pedestrian passage but something compelled me not to turn back but on the contrary, I was determined to go for a mad cross on its unprotected edge.

Without having anything to hold on to, I walked along the narrow concrete path 20 meters above a busy highway. A slight stumble to any side would have been fatal. I don’t have a great sense of balance but it did not seem to matter. I looked straight ahead, as a tightrope walker does, and made it to the other side. I wasn’t on anything and never understood what had driven me do cross the viaduct in that way. Did I have a death wish? Was I trying to prove something to myself? Or did I simply not give a damn? Anyway, I ended on a peaceful street and in the first open window, oblivious to my antics, there was a mother helping her son with his school homework. We stared into each others eyes and then, in a state of confusion, I walked on.

I headed back to Olinda by bus and soon I was again in the midst of a dancing carnival crowd. I stopped by at the VIP house where people were getting ready to parade with a famous carnival “bloco”. I was persuaded join in and a temporary “tattoo” was applied to my face. Outside I grabbed by the waste a sexy-looking girl and took her to a park. When it grew dark we went to meet her friends in a bar. After she left I got chatting to some guys who invited me to travel for free by boat to Europe to smuggle drugs. The vibe was uncomfortable so I returned to the confusion in the streets and bumped into a friend from university. After following a bloco, at four in the morning we retreated to an empty bar where we stayed chatting until shortly before sunrise.

On my way home to my room, I came across the mayor’s son who was with his closest friends. They invited me to come with them to a park on a hilltop to watch the sun revealing itself in the horizon. We were the only people there and from a stone stairs we saw the bright orange ball rise and gradually illuminate the nature around. The colours were magnificent and the silence and the temperature made that moment perfect.

After so much life had passed through my senses, I was in a state close to nirvana. In that magical setting, a joint with probably the best weed I have ever tried – the famous manga rosa from the Cabrobró region in the interior of Pernambuco, which my new friend had reserved for this special occasion. The joint was as strong as the magic mushrooms that I’d experienced in Mauá and – as with any good marijuana –only two or three puffs were needed to be transported to a different reality.

While we were all in a state of trance, out of nowhere two complete strangers suddenly joined us. One was blonde with long hair and had an accent from the south of Brazil, while the other guy was a muscular American with a military-style cropped haircut. They said that they were high on acid. Completely unprompted, the American started telling us about his experiences in the Vietnam war while his friend kept saying that he was crazy and that we should just ignore him.

Those crazy early hours in a small colonial-era town lost in the northeast of Brazil were to be my farewell to a very special era, a period of my life that I still miss. Pedro, who I’d only bumped into once during the carnival, had arranged for himself a lift back to Rio with some buddies of his girlfriend. I hitchhiked alone, and was lucky to get very long rides. By the time I was close to Vitória, my money had completely run out. As I was desperate to get home in time for university, for the only time in my life I asked strangers for money to buy a bus ticket and get some food, a humbling lesson.

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Pedro Cavalcante

Olinda – Photo by Pedro Cavalcante

Julien Temple’s Rio 50 Degrees premieres in the UK on BBC 1

Rio on the BBC this Sunday!

Brazil the Guide

Julien_photo_b Julien Temple’s “Rio 50 Degrees” (AKA: Children of the Revolution) will premiere and screen in the UK as the first episode of Alan Yentob’s Imagine series at 22.30 on BBC One on Sunday, 18 May.

The film, produced by Mike Downey and Sam Taylor’s F&ME and Roberto Berliner and Rodrigo Letier’s TV Zero and based on an original idea by Critical Divide’s Christopher Pickard, paints a picture of a city under transformation as Rio de Janeiro prepares to host two of the world’s largest and most high-profile sporting events: the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.

Julien Temple had filmed previously in Rio with the Sex Pistols, Ronnie Biggs and Mick Jagger.

Rio 50

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Brazilian elite uses the World Cup to show their discomfort in being Brazilian

Great article!

A Brazilian Operating in This Area

ellusmatsukawa “Down with this underdeveloped Brazil.” That is how jeans-wear Ellus decided to engage with the World Cup — by putting that message in a shirt. I suppose they have a lame PR response, saying it is against the bottlenecks, not against the country. Still all Brazilians who understand our stray dog syndrome know what people who wear that shirt actually mean. After all, Ellus stores are attended mostly by folks who don’t use the public healthcare system. They don’t study at state schools. And they rarely set foot into public transportation in Brazil’s main cities (although they gladly do it abroad).

So what are they frustrated about? Are they as selfless as the activists who protest with an end in sight, whatever that end is? Or do wealthy Brazilians voice their criticism out of sheer boredom?

My answer is that rich Brazilians are frustrated for being Brazilian. And they poison the tone about…

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