Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

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Lost Samba – Chapter 14 – Binge gone bad in Teresópolis

Part20Teresópolis was an hour and a half away from Rio in the mountains and many of my parents’ friends had country houses there. When I was a toddler, we used to spend the summer in those hills and during one of our stays, an opportunity to buy an affordable plot of land in a remote place called Jardim Salaco came up. We went to see the empty empty terrain in a horse-driven chariot that took at least two hours to get there on dirt tracks. The trip was picturesque, we passed by farms and fields and went up hills covered with trees feeling the fresh country breeze under their shade and the hot sun while in the open. Meanwhile the driver kept whipping the poor smelly horse, which had vents on its eyes and sweat all over its body.

Dad could not resist the bargain and bought the land with a friend, a short, bald, lanky and slightly aggressive French ex-freedom fighter. After that, it took him more than a decade to decide what to do with that white elephant. However, in the meantime, his friend built a house there and, perhaps expecting that Dad would sell him his part, he invaded our side. By the time we woke up to what was going on, his family was using the entire plot as their own and this drew Dad’s attention to the situation.

We went up to evaluate how much the plot could sell for, but the result was the opposite. Despite the neighbour’s ugly house and his psychopathic German Shepard, Dayan, the beauty of the place convinced them to build a house and, who knew, retire there someday.

Sarah and I did not welcome that surprise decision, for us Teresópolis was a boring weekend destination where many Jewish people had houses. To make things worse the few houses that some friends had were miles away. To attract us, our parents went as far as putting in a pool, but we were past the stage of being content with splashing around in the water. In fact, things turned out quite differently: I was 14 and Sarah was 19, and when my parents went up on weekends, we would stay back at home unsupervised, with the dangerous freedom to do anything we chose.

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The country house in Teresopolis

Sarah and I did not welcome that surprise decision, for us Teresópolis was a boring weekend destination where many Jewish people had houses. To make things worse the few houses that some friends had were miles away. To attract us, our parents went as far as putting in a pool, but we were past the stage of being content with splashing around in the water. In fact, things turned out quite differently: I was 14 and Sarah was 19, and when my parents went up on weekends, we would stay back at home unsupervised, with the dangerous freedom to do anything we chose.

Bizarrely, it turned out that Fred, the leader of my pot-smoking ring at the Escola Americana, had a country house close by. My parents were terrified of his folks after they said that they themselves supplied him with weed in order to avoid his contacting drug dealers. Nevertheless, they tolerated the friendship, as he was a neighbour who could make me decide to go up to Teresópolis more often. Also as his dad was a famous architect, the boy may come to grow out of his habits and become a valuable contact for my future.

One weekend, I went up knowing that he and the rest of the gang would be there. On the Saturday afternoon, I visited them and ended up getting so drunk that they had to call my parents. Drinking was something unseen in the family and they had taken a lot of care not to expose us to this vice, to the extent that, in my entire life, I never saw Dad even slightly drunk. When they saw me there, 15 or 16 years old, absolutely paralytic, they were shocked. The blame fell on Fred, with the suspicion that he had put something in my drink.

For them, this was a serious incident that affected profoundly the image that they had of me. My parents were not only immigrants to a new country they were also foreign to modern life, especially Dad. The contrast between that incident and the stoic 19th century-like atmosphere at home could not have been greater.

Dinners, for example, seemed to jump out of a Bela Lugosi film. When we sat down in the large dining room, at its centre was a big, dark, handmade, wooden table where there was always a Chinese bowl waiting for us filled with, sometimes not so fresh, apples, bananas, oranges, grapes and mangoes. This was because we began meals with fruit, as it was healthier to fill oneself up with them before moving on to the heavier food. Right above that still life scene, was a macabre chandelier lighting the room while we ate on the uncomfortable, posh looking chairs. The dining cupboards around us were also made of dark wood and the free parts of the walls held large classical paintings of Biblical scenes, with heavy, fake antique, golden frames around them.

Once everyone had finished with the fruit, they would ask me to step on the buzzer under my foot that made an annoying and loud noise in the kitchen. Dona Isabel would then come in with her awkward walk carrying a tray to clear the table and would then return with the main course. While we were eating, nothing was supposed to disturb the pomp: there was no television, no radio and no answering of the phone. When we were finished, there would be another foot buzz for the desert. After that, Sarah and I returned to Planet Earth while Mum and Dad would go to the living room to spend the rest of the evening in silence reading and listening to classical music.

It was during one of these dinners that they told me that a cinema college in the US or in the UK would be unaffordable. Despite the disappointment, the news was predictable. There were questions about the seriousness of my career choice: the ideas of advertising and of cinema were too alien for them, and my attitude at large did not help much. Maybe it would be better if I chose a proper profession such as engineering, law or medicine. My sister had chosen dentistry and was doing well at her university course, so why shouldn’t I do the same, seeing that I was effortlessly a good student?

Who needed an expensive American School with drunk pot smoking punks if I was not going to study cinema anyway? They put me back in the Brazilian system, the fifth school change in my short academic career. They had to do this as soon as possible because in order to get into a good Brazilian university, I had to pass a tough entry examination, the vestibular, for which the EA did not prepare.

The outcome wasn’t that bad: I could subvert their plans and study cinema in São Paulo later on. Of course, the Brazilian film industry did not come close to the British and the American ones but the subjects were the same and, with some talent and some effort, I could make everything work out.

Their approach to the new situation differed: the sermons about the importance of financial success became more and more pressurized. The conversations were conflictual and came down to two mature people with an agenda against one who was struggling to structure his own. They were trying to convince me about things that they did not understand but, the more I tried to explain my views, the worse the situation got. They were right to be worried – after all, that’s what parents do – but were wrong in their assumptions, at least with relation to advertising: this was a booming profession that paid very well.

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Trancoso Church

Trancoso Church

If Brazil had a center to its soul perhaps this place would be it.

Trancoso is not very far from where the first Portuguese officially stepped on Brazilian soil and if one believes in destiny, this was for a reason…

The region remained remote until the late nineteen seventies and in the meanwhile the church above was built as a mission to convert the natives of the Region, the Pataxos (pronounced Patashohs). Usually churches were built over sacred sites to, in a way, respect the old rituals while telling the natives that the universal white European God was stronger, more widespread and better than theirs.

The church “closes” a square of houses around a huge green that used to constitute the village. The people who live there call it the “rectangle” and behind it lay the tropical forest, the almost extinct Mata Atlantica. The view from behind it is fantastic, one sees the entire coast of the Porto Seguro area from the top of a cliff .

There is no doubt that the Pataxos celebrated their beautiful world at this very spot in their festivals long before the arrival of the white people.

I had the privilege to discover Trancoso when it was just a fishing village with no electricity, populated by locals and by hippies some 25 years ago. Now it has become an international attraction and is visited by tourists from all around the world.

It still preserves its magic though.

Lost Samba, the book, will give you a better description of how it was back in the day, the link to is just besides the article.

Malandros and Otarios

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The painting above is of an idealized “malandro“, a popular/archetypal/folkloric figure from Rio de Janeiro that summarizes what most Cariocas try to be and how the rest of Brazil sees Cariocas.  He is the wise guy from the Favela who. despite the abject poverty he was born into, by his charm and by his wits lives the great life as Chico Buarque puts it beautifully “walking on his tip toes, as treading on hearts… ”

This mythical Jack Sparrow of Rio’s streets has his opposite, the despised otario, the guy who works honestly, is dim witted, monogamous, sleeps early and is boring. From childhood every Carioca, no matter which class or color, tries to be a malandro while his parents do everything to keep him an otario.

The struggle between malandros and otarios is an old one, the otarios are the descendants of the privileged immigrants who had money to open businesses and to educate their children while the malandros are the descendants of slaves without opportunities, discriminated by the mainstream (the otarios) and who could only fight back through their malice.

This war is universal and good and evil get lost in it, both sides are right and wrong depending on the angle and the occasion. The questions that they bring up are about life itself, what is just and what is unjust? the police or the exploited? the rich or the poor? the religious or the profane? both are  lovable and hateful at the same time, like all of us.

This very brief article will end with a sentence from the Brazilian tropicalist pop star Jorge Ben who presented a cure for malandragem: If the malandro knew how good it is to be honest, he would be honest just by “malandragem. A very good, but hard, path to follow. This could be a great learning for the malandros involved in Brazilian (and world) politics since its begginings; when otarios decide to become malandros, we have a big problem…

A bit about Lost Samba

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– I have dreamed of being in the business of creation since I decided to be a film director at age of 12. Circumstances that are described in Lost Samba determined that things did not turn out as wished and now I have been working in the Visual Effects industry for almost twenty years despite a degree in Economics.
 
The writing of this book began in 2008 when I was living, out of all places, in Jerusalem in a flat rented from a writer, a right-wing american christian Zionist one. With a view to the Old City I thought that if such a despicable guy (I understand Jewish Zionism to a degree but Christian Zionism??) could make it I also could. It was a long journey and despite the initial underestimation I believe to have learned how to write and to have come up with something good.
 
I also believe that I have a great and unusual story to tell – the one of a person with my background growing up in Rio de Janeiro and living as an authentic Brazilian; mixing to different worlds – and can only hope that you will agree.
 
Apart from the above I think that the only other facts worth while mentioning are my literary preferences/influences: Amos Oz, Cervantes, Jack Kerouack and Salman Rushdie; that I have lived in several places: Paris, Glasgow, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Kerala/India, Rio de Janeiro, Jerusalem, Sao Paulo and now London; and that I have 400.000 hits on YouTube as a musician.

Pedra do Arpoador

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If there is one place that can be pointed as the source of Rio’s cool, this is the Arpoador.

The huge rock is situated in the beginning of Ipanema and means harpoon thrower in Portuguese; it is named like this because fishermen actually hunted down the whales that roamed the coast of Rio de Janeiro from there.

In the late fifties and early sixties surfboards started arriving in Ipanema and the best waves were by the rock; it became the first hangout point for young people bearing looks that would be recognizable in this century; long hair, surfer trunks and bikinis.

In the mid seventies a Pier was constructed one kilometre away and stole the best waves and the coolness away.. Also, around the same time, buses started coming from the Northern Zone to the Southern Zone’s beaches and the final stop was close to the Arpoador. Slowly but surely it became the area where the “invaders” went and an uncool place to hang out.

The early eighties witnessed a revival of the Arpoador when the group Asdrubal Trouxe o Trombone (see my article about them) set up the Circo Voador (the Flying Circus); a venue that was to be the cradle of modern Brazilian rock.

Those days were short lived and the city council closed it down because of complaints about the noise at night.

In the nineties a skateboarding park was constructed next to it making it cool once again. The beach spot however remained a no-go area for the golden youth of the Southern Zone until recently when apparently it has revived as a trendy hang out point ( I haven’t lived in Rio for more than 20 years now so it’s just hear say,… can’t confirm it)

Lost Samba is available at: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00791OM34

Violao e guitarra magazine

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This magazine was part and parcel of my generation’s upbringing in Rio de Janeiro. Everyone bought it to learn how to play their favorite songs and then impress the girls in the parties or at school.

The number above featured Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa and Maria Bethania, pretty much the elite of the music from Bahia. At the time they had come together for a show and called themselves Doces Barbaros (Barbarian Sweets).

I remember buying it from a newsstand when I was sixteen. For this and much more: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00791OM34

A short story of Rio de Janeiro’s Organized Crime.

The characters interviewed in this video, a priest in Portugal and two elder gentlemen; one respectable-looking and the other a bit rougher looking one, have an extraordinary story in common. They were the unwilling founders of organized crime in Rio, personified in the Red Command, or the Commando Vermelho.

The preist is the renown Padre Alipio: a Portuguese who in the late 1950’s served as a missionary in the Maranhao state and who in the early 1960’s became so angry at the poverty of the simple people and the insensitivity of the rich that he joined the “Ligas Camponesas”. The Peasant Leagues was a far left organization, and through it he became part of the armed resistance against the military regime.

The other two do not have such an ideological past, they were dangerous common prisoners who met him at the top security Ilha Grande. This penitentiary had been the destination of many political prisoners during the Vargas dictatorship in the 1930’s and the 1940’s and the military reactivated it as a sort of a political Devil’s Island when they came to power.

While sharing the same cells Padre Alipio and his colleagues taught the common prisoners, some of the most dangerous in Brazil, about socialism as well as organizational skills and the interchange gave birth to the infamous criminal organization. This is an explained in Lost Samba:

“…Brazilian organized crime was born at this time In the Ilha Grande prison, the Brazilian version of Papillon’s Devil’s Island where political prisoners who had received paramilitary training shared their cells with the country’s most dangerous criminals. The militants still possessed the germ of catechizing the masses but went further and taught their fellow inmates about the importance of being soldier-like and organized as well as for bank robberies and kidnappings.

The political prisoners ended up being either exchanged for VIP’s or receiving amnesty while the ordinary prisoners stayed on and gave their own interpretation to the lessons received. They created the Red Command that first took over the prison’s informal world and then Rio’s entire penal system. From inside the prisons’ walls they managed to influence and then control the city’s criminal world. They relied on the fact that the destiny of every criminal is to land in jail. If they did not belong to the organization, or didn’t pay a contribution, once behind bars they would have serious questions to answer.”

Carmen Miranda – the Precussor

This is one of the greatest highlights of Brazilian music of all times, the legendary Carmen Miranda singing one of the most famous songs of one of Brazil’s best song writers ever: Dorival Caymmi.

Legend says that she went to the US as part of the “good neighbour” policy; a way to approach the two countries during the second world war and bring Brazil to the Allies’ side.

Regardless, Carmen Miranda, was a huge success in the US and world wide; as big as Madonna at her peak, so much so that her audiences kept Columbia pictures from going under for years.

Her smiles contributed for Brazil’s image as a happy country, blessed by beauty and peace, a view that precailed until the crisis of the eighties, when Brazil started being seen as a problematic country plagued by violence, adminitrative ineptitude and corruption.

Now after Brazil has left the economic nightmare of the 80′s behind, is dealing with its social problems, and is developing fast and as it enters the BRICS, hosts both the FIFA World cup and the Olimpics in 2016, the world view is changing once again into a more positive light.

The charm of Carmen Miranda, however, is eternal!

First Post

Hi to all,

This is a post that no one will read now but will refer to a lot in the future 🙂

This is a book about Brazil, more specifically the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro, and about the universality and adaptability of life. A story about myself, my existential luggage, and about the environment and the times it was immersed to grow up in.

Lost Samba is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00791OM34 for the time being as an e-book but very soon in a hard cover.

I am still very new to WordPress, expect better and more colourful posts as we progress.

Welcome!

Richard

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