Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “Fernando Gabeira”

Lost Samba – Chapter 18/02 – Adventures in South of Bahia’s paradise

Part25

The experience did not touch Edu as much as it did me. He was more sensible and I felt he was restricting himself by choosing to mix only with a boring university crowd. They were an important part of the conversations, but only marginally participant in the “secret society”. By not having a relationship with “the herb”, they missed out on an essential element, not because of the act of showing off that they were smoking weed, but because of the perceptual dimensions it seemed to open in conversations and in observations.

Edu was into conventional psychology, which was too intellectual for that time and place. Gabeira summed up the difference of perspectives with a catchphrase, “Without a hard-on [by which he meant desire], there is no solution.” This is what the people in the forefront of that quixotic revolution thought. It was about walking the walk, and not about talking the talk. We were seeking a world in which people lived according to their connection to the positive energy of the cosmos, and not a world ruled by patronizing dogmas. In this utopian summer interlude, who needed to rationalize things? Who needed the weight of history, of schools, of tradition and of science over their heads? Should that dictate what was right and what was wrong?

The drifting apart of my friendship with Edu reached a climax because of our house-sharers, three girls from Brasília he’d found by asking around. When I met the girls, I immediately found them unattractive and square, and therefore completely off my radar. Their feelings towards me were mutual: my exaggerated carioca attitude of being laid back and not giving a shit when it came to anything remotely practical contrasted with the girls’ efforts to be sociable and with their requests to share household chores. Perhaps they were correct in seeing me as a lazy, rich guy used to having a mum and a servant indulging my needs, but I was too immature to take this on board and simply dismissed them as being annoying and ugly bitches. After all I was only seventeen years old.

The girls ended up getting fed up with my laziness and one day after the beach, they demanded that I cook a meal. I warned them I didn’t know how, but they refused to listen and forced me to embark on my first-ever culinary adventure. The stove, such as it was, was a grill lying over some bricks in the field behind the house, and I had to search for some dry wood and paper to light a fire. The wind made this a hard task and when the flames started to go down I placed on the grill a battered pot, into which I threw some water, oil, salt and the spaghetti.

While waiting for the mixture to boil, I lit the roach in my pocket on the fire. Everything was going fine until I added the eggs: as I watched them drop into the boiling water, I noticed that the rest of the contents had become thick and gluey. Even to me it was obvious that pasta should not have that kind of consistency but the harder I tried; the more I struggled to stir my creation. What was going to be a pasta meal degenerated into an unedifying block of dough. To make matters worse, I noticed that the eggs had vanished from sight. I started digging into the “thing” in an attempt to save them, but then the fork got stuck, before vanishing into that amorphous blob.

When I got back to the house and tried to explain what had happened, I found that no one else saw the comic value. In addition to wasting their meagre groceries, I was forcing them to spend their precious money on a meal in the canteen next door. The mood turned sour, but for me there were better things to do than listen to those three girls yelling at me, especially because I had warned them about my culinary inability. That night came the final straw. After getting drunk, I walked the youngest, quietest, most receptive and prettiest one of the three back home. We kissed, and after we got into the house and I was close to finalizing things, the other two girls stormed in, coming close to physically attacking me. The following day they threw me out. Edu wasn’t happy either and sided with them.

Perhaps because of this event, Edu decided to return to Rio earlier than planned and I left for Trancoso, the next village down the coast, where I stayed for three more weeks. Despite carrying with me feelings of dejection, as soon as I set foot in Trancoso, I knew that I was onto something special. That tiny place was somehow even more magical and unspoiled than Ajuda, so isolated that the only way to get there was by boat or by trekking along the beach at low tide.

*

As Ajuda, Trancoso was also situated on a cliff top overlooking the ocean. It was tiny and consisted of an angular formation of huts bordering a sizeable green in the middle of the tropical forest. At the end of the field there was a simple-looking whitewashed colonial-era church, which closed the rectangle. I arrived there at the end of the afternoon and it was love at first site. The beauty of the place was mesmerizing; the long shadows of the golden sun created by the tiny houses were almost covering the field, The smell of the fresh grass in the shade was unbelievably refreshing in that hot and dry weather.

The purity of the air made the ocean in the background assume a marvellous dark turquoise tint as it reflected the deep blue of the sky. The combination of all of this made that small commune possess an scenic sophistication that hardly combined with its remoteness. Trancoso had the look and feel of some kind of special university campus for people in search of living life in the correct way. Here, the divide between locals and visitors was not so huge, as many of the outsiders had decided to drop out of city life and had chosen to make that place their home.

I headed straight to the only bar in the place, an open air one, where I stayed chatting and playing guitar until it got dark. As it grew late, someone asked me if I had anywhere to sleep. I said no and, after a lot of talking, it turned out that the only hut available was one that stood alone down by the beach. I could stay there for free, but the downside would be having to get there alone. Although moonless nights, like that particular one, were excellent for watching shooting stars, they were terrible for seeing even one meter ahead, and even worse for walking in the bush. My new friends explained how to find the hut, but the idea of having to wade through a river to get there didn’t sound good.

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The Trancoso Church

As the night advanced, the bar’s owner turned off his kerosene lamp but the music continued, breaking the silence of the rest of the village. Soon people started to wander off. Once everyone had gone his or her separate ways, I left my guitar in the bar and set off for my hut, guided by my sharp night vision and relying on my good hearing. When I reached the river and realised that the far bank was at least six meters distant, I considered giving up. Instead, I bit the bullet. The water was warm and the riverbed was muddy. As the river got deeper, croaking noises made my mind turn to snakes, strange animals and flesh-eating fish. At one point, the water came almost up to my chest and the current made it hard to balance the gear that I was carrying on my head. When I reached the other side of the river and spotted my new home, everything became easier as from then on I only needed to follow the sand-track until the hut’s door.

It was unlocked, and as I came in I saw a candle someone had left there and took out the box of matches I’d managed to keep dry. The flickering flame revealed a basic wooden shack stuck together with clay with a sand floor and a roughly thatched-roof, the only furniture was a rustic table and a chair. The wind blowing ashore was howling loudly, rattling the door and the windows in an eerie choreography. However, the candlelight made the hut feel surprisingly cosy. Still soaked, I opened my sleeping bag, stretched it on the floor and fell right asleep.

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noite

Night in Trancoso

Lost Samba – Chapter 17/02 – Posto Nove, Ipanema

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Ipanema beach in the 1970’s

The Hotel Sol de Ipanema faced the beach almost on the corner of Rua Montenegro (which has since been renamed Rua Vinicius de Moraes), and it was a convenient landmark where my friends and I could all meet up at the beach. One Saturday morning, Edu and I were sitting by the sea in front of the hotel when we saw a lanky but toned guy in his forties wearing a crochet thong and playing beach tennis. His presence and his scandalously minuscule bathing attire drew our attention and, after looking at him for some time, Edu turned to me and asked, “Hey, isn’t that Gabeira?”

Edu was referring to Fernando Gabeira, one of the former exiles who had been involved in the 1969 kidnapping in Rio of the American ambassador, Charles Elbrick. In his best-selling autobiography, O que é Isto, Companheiro?  (“What is this, Comrade?”), in addition to the insider’s revelations of the mythical world of a so-called “terrorist” organization, Gabeira declared in his book that during those “heroic” days he was actively bisexual, something scandalous for the left and for the right alike. Riding a wave of fame, Gabeira launched an alternative path for opposing the system that he termed the “politics of the body”. What he really meant by this is still debated, but a political statement that seemed to prescribe being true to yourself and engaging in a lot of sex as a path to revolution went down well in Ipanema.

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Fernando Gabeira in his thong.

Rio’s beaches had, and still have, an unofficial schedule and a territorial partition that allowed one to say, “Tell me when and where you sun bathe and I will tell you who you are.” At dawn, the fishermen from Copacabana now shared the coast with surfers, yoga and Tai Chi aficionados, while joggers and cyclists paraded on the promenade. Later in the morning, as when I was a child, the ownership of the beach shifted to families, encompassing children, mums, grandmas, nannies, dogs and all other sectors of Brazilian domestic life. Around midday, they went home and from then on the more interesting people who stayed on gave Rio’s beaches sub-divisions further definition.

In Ipanema, there were unofficial spots for bodybuilders, Jiu-Jitsu fighters and yuppies. Other stretches became known as an extension of the gay scene, there was a surfers’ point, an area for the favelados, one for white-collar workers, another for sex professionals (not coincidentally the same as that for tourists), and an area reserved for football players and their groupies. Then there was Posto Nove, the beach outpost attracting followers of 1960s and 70s lifestyles and ideologies.

After the Pier, the surfers point in the early 1970s, had lost its usefullness, trawlers and cranes had done the job of demolishing the structure. From then on the Nove inherited the status of being the beach’s permanent Woodstock, the prime meeting place for artists, musicians, actors and intellectuals – both those already established and also those who never would. With the recent political freedom, came the flags of the newly legalized leftist parties flapping above the beautiful people. Meanwhile the boys from Batista’s improvised bar ran back and forth to serve beer, snacks and the tastiest caiprinhas found on any of Rio’s beaches.

There was a tacit understanding between the police and the beach-goers that they didn’t trouble us as long as we didn’t create trouble for them elsewhere on the beach. However, during election campaigns things sometimes changed when traditionalist candidates would push the police to clampdown on pot smokers, but when raids occurred, the crowd would boo them away and arrests were rare.

A typical day at Posto Nove was like being at a club or at a laid-back rock concert. Whether or not we had met before, we would chat between us about women, football and politics, and when the sun grew too hot or if the conversation became boring there was always the sea enticing us. As the day wore on, we took long swims, did some body surfing and played beach tennis. When the sun started to go down people began leaving the beach. By five in the afternoon the oceanfront was much emptier and the atmosphere became more intimate and serene. The milder sun, the afternoon breeze, the peace that came after a day spent in the open air and the beauty of the place and of the people made the Nove a magical spot.

The beach sessions would end with everyone giving the sun a standing ovation as it slowly disappeared over the horizon. After that, we all went our separate ways, normally going home for a nap before heading out to one of the parties or gigs that we had talked about on the beach earlier in the day where our free-spirited, suntanned and youthful carioca tribe would reconvene.

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Cariocas thanking the Sun for another great beach day.

Lost Samba – Chapter 17/01 – The end of the dictatorship in Brazil

Part23

Protest for going topless in Ipanema 1980

I was heading home from a rock concert at one of the main venues in Rio at the time, the Teatro Tereza Rachel in Copacabana. It was around midnight and I heard someone in the crowd say that John Lennon had been shot dead. No one knew whether to take him seriously, although everyone went home thinking about that disturbing possibility. The following morning, the newspapers confirmed what we had heard. Everyone was in a state of shock. Television reporters interviewed ordinary members of the public in the streets and famous artists, all of whom had tears in their eyes. For me, this final breakup of the Beatles seemed to interconnect with the extreme situation that I had experienced at the Noites Cariocas and another news that had also shocked us – the imprisonment of a couple of school friends for cannabis possession. On top of this there was Sarah’s dramatic split with her long-time fiancé. It didn’t make much sense, but the ripples from a wave of changes seemed to be affecting everything.

In the wider context, the Brazilian middle class had started to wake up to the fact that the lack of an alternative to the military-led government was a problem. The imprisonment, torture and then murder under the guise of “suicide” in 1975 of the distinguished journalist Wladmir Herzog in São Paulo triggered an unprecedented wave of indignation and numerous well-known political, cultural and religious figures expressed their dismay in newspapers across the country. On the other hand, now that no one could reasonably fear there was a risk of Latin America’s largest country becoming a Soviet satellite, the status of the Brazilian generals abroad was changing. Political movers and shakers in Washington as well as key figures of multinational corporations with economic interests in the country began to see Brazil’s brutal and corrupt military dictatorship as an unnecessary embarrassment.

Sensing the changing mood of their former supporters both inside and outside the country, the military took measures for appeasement. The most significant gesture was to grant amnesty to most political prisoners and to permit exiles to return home. Even if this move helped the military to remain in power, the policy of abertura politica – or political opening – was a victory for the opposition.

Overnight, the political dissidents went from being a virtually taboo subject to being courted as celebrities and hailed as heroes. They were in the press, on chat shows and their memoirs became best-sellers. Reading them we found out that they were regular upper middle class guys like us who had got carried away by the political turmoil of the times. In their books, we learned that some of them had spent periods training as guerrillas in Cuba and elsewhere abroad, before discretely infiltrating Brazil, where they took up arms, robbed banks and kidnapped important people. After the successful clamp down of their organizations, the ones who survived and went into exile were obliged to re-think their positions and to consider their next moves.

In a similar way to the artists, after the festivities for their return died off, they settled back in Brazil with more practical agendas. Many of the former exiles, as well as militants who had managed to survive in Brazil, used their popularity to progress within mainstream politics. José Genoíno, Fernando Gabeira and Carlos Minc, for example, became senators or ministers, while eventually Dilma Rousseff would be elected as president. Other non-guerrilla exiles also returned to Brazil, taking centre-stage in the re-democratization process. These included the veteran politicians Leonel Brizola who would become the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro, the architect Oscar Niemeyer and the anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro as well as other more centrist politicians such as the sociologist president Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the future leader of the PSDB, José Serra.

Although we admired most of these people, for my generation their presence opened up issues of identity. If we had not been active in the organised resistance but shared similar views on the dictatoraship, recognised the social unfairness around us and also wanted a better and fairer world, should we conclude that we were useless ? Had everything already been done? It was clear, that for them the fight was over. However, it was disappointing to see the people who we considered as legends using their past unashamedly to reach career advancements. Without understanding how a democracy works, to us, it seemed that, as ambitious political figures, they were keen to join something that, at least ideologically, we were resisting. The big unanswered question was how could we make a difference, and how should we position ourselves?

Because the dictatorship had simplified attitudes, the abertura politica brought new challenges. Until that moment, being for or against the regime placed everyone within an uncomplicated framework: depending on which side of the fence you stood, you could blame all the evils of the world either on the generals or on the communists. With the end of the military government now on the horizon, people were no longer confident as to where they stood politically and it would take some time for the country to achieve a state of political maturity.

It seemed obvious that the military would cling to power for as long as they realistically could. Everybody knew that by the time they handed back the power to the civilians, the economy would be on the ropes. For Brazilians at large, there were two pressing questions: in what state would the military return the country to the civilians, and what would our lives be like once the mounting economic crisis kicked in?

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Wladimir Herzog, the “suicide” that woke Brazil up.

Fernando Gabeira

If there is a person who embodies the recent Brazilian history from the perspective of Rio de Janeiro’s middle class, this person is Fernando Gabeira. Reporter, political activist, terrorist, exiled, behavior guru, politician, Senator and currently political commentator.

His career began in Juiz de Fora a town between the states of Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro in the early sixties when the political turmoil generated by the military coup and the student demonstrations brought him to Rio de Janeiro. When the repression  intensified he and many of his friends went underground, trained as guerrillas and produced spectacular actions against the government.

Gabeira was part of the most dramatic one: the kidnapping of the American Ambassador Charles Elbrick. They hid with him in a house in Santa Tereza and ended up exchanging him for the freedom of companions and for the publishing texts in opposition to the regime in the media. The success of the operation meant that the secret police hunted him down with extra zeal; he exchanged fire with them when he was arrested, and was tortured while wounded.

He was in a group that the military swapped for the Swiss embassador during the 1970’s world cup. After passing through Chile he ended up in living France and in the early 80’s he received amnesty together with most political exiles. He then returned to Rio de Janeiro to begin his career as Brazil’s rock and roll politician.

As most ex-terrorists, outside Brazil he broke away from the organization he belonged to, the MR8, and embraced alternative politics. He published his memoirs in the best seller O Que e Isto Companheiro? Where he described his life as a guerrilheiro, and his “path to good sense” when he broke away from hard-core revolutionary Leninism. As the dictatorship faded away, in the early days of the “abertura poltica“, Brazil’s glasnost, everyone read his book where the points he lifted of doing a more personal and heart oriented revolution were embraced almost universally in the “inteligentzia” of Ipanema.

One detail of his book caused a big commotion in every quarter, he declared that he was bisexual at the time he had been a terrorist.

In Rio, The place he frequented the beach, the Posto Nove in Ipanema, became the hub of what Brazil was going to be in 20 or 30 years, a space of plurality and open-mindedness. Gabeira made it famous by appearing there in a crochet thong, the photos hit the media and caused a national stir; the gay pot-smoking terrorist, politically active with a liberation and green agenda.


His next step was mainstream politics, he was one of the founders of the Brazilian Green Party and run for several important posts, even President. As a politician he lifted controversial issues such as the legalization of marijuana, gay marriage and the regimentation of prostitution and is close to Marina Silva Brazil’s ecological champion.

Despite his alternative profile he is very popular and has been very close to be elected the Governor of Rio de Janeiro and its mayor in recent years and received the highest amount of votes a federal deputy has ever had in Rio, close to 900.000 votes.

Read more about him and this period in Brazil in Lost Samba.

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