After Germany’s ungentlemanly thrashing of Brazil, 7-1, during the World Cup, I thought I’d share in my adopted homeland’s grief with a little of my favorite melancholy music: seven songs for seven goals. Some of the songs are about love lost and found. One laments accusations of selling out, while another praises the magic of fairies (or lovers). Still others wax melodic about the Marvelous City or the beautiful country in its entirety. All embody, in one way or another, the bittersweet nostalgia Brazilians call saudade, the poignant yearning that comes with losses real, imagined, or inevitable. I mourn this loss with you, meu Brasil, with the intoxicating aural cocktail of happiness within sadness that you mix up so well.
São Paulo and I were together for two years. She was high-maintenance from the start; this, I knew going in. She would order the most expensive thing on the menu, sometimes flirt with other guys, and make me pay dearly whenever I didn’t call at the exact time I said I would. She knew her worth and she played with my heart, but I knew deep down, she loved me: when we were in sync, when our energies mixed and we danced and played and reveled in each others’ company, we knew we had a good thing going. I won’t lie; the sex was volcanic. And be it in her brand new Mustang or her little red Corvette, we rode fast and wild, and I would always end up broke, spent, and sprung – she was The One.
But I couldn’t afford her and, one day, she let me go. And I was bitter for a while, heartbroken and rejected.
The next time we saw each other, a few weeks later, she welcomed me back to dance and play and revel. Over a cafezinho at Bella Paulista one Sunday morning, she looked at me and admitted that every once in a while, she envied what Berlin and I have because we were marrying for love. But in the very next moment, when I asked her to marry me, she just stared out the window and said nothing.
I paid for our coffees and we walked out into the bright sun, our feet hurting from the previous night’s debauchery and still a little lightheaded from the party favors. She kissed me deeply and passionately before getting into her car with a tchau, disconnecting and leaving me with only three reais to catch the bus home.
I see her less frequently these days, though our rendezvous are no less intense. Neither one of us has brought up the m-word again, especially since we’re each married to someone else.
But what if…?
My friend and São Paulo-native Rodrigo Pitta loves that damn place so much, he’s filmed three music videos in his hometown. Here’s the newest. I’m already booking my flight back down to see her.
Once a standard-bearer of glamour and adventure during the Golden Age of jet travel, Brazil’s Varig brand will cease to exist by next April. That’s when Brazilian low-cost airline Gol, owner of the brand, will officially dispense with the iconic logo and name that it acquired when the original Varig stopped flying in 2006, repainting the remaining Varig-branded planes in Gol’s fluorescent orange livery.
Founded in Porto Alegre in 1927 as Viação Aérea Rio-Grandense, the airline known as Varig once connected Brazil with destinations as far-flung as Copenhagen, Tokyo, Maputo, and Toronto, carrying with it idealized exoticism, the promise of sun and sex south of the equator. Jet-setters, when not flying Pan Am, flew Varig down to Rio. Even the plucky Holly Golightly adorned the walls of her Manhattan apartment with Varig’s eye-catching posters as she dreamt of a new life in Brazil in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Sadly, as air travel became more accessible to the masses, Varig’s stellar service waned, as did its profits, and by the 2000s, the airline found it hard to compete against nimble competition in a stormy economic environment. After an embarrassing bankruptcy in 2006, with planes repossessed at JFK and soccer fans stranded in Germany during the World Cup, competitor Gol snapped up a few bits and pieces of the legacy carrier, hoping to bank on Varig’s international brand recognition and global image. Subsequently, as archrival TAM has taken up the mantle as Brazil’s de facto flag carrier and Gol has steadily built its own brand awareness through aggressive advertizing and solid service, Varig’s name proved irrelevant and, come next April, will be consigned to history, alongside Pan Am, TWA, Swissair, and a few other paragons of 20th century air travel.
I only flew Varig once, round-trip from Miami to Salvador da Bahia via São Paulo. It was my first trip to Brazil. The seats on the Boeing 777 were cramped, the flight attendants on the international legs mostly surly, middle-aged men. Our return domestic flight was late and an agent had to rush us through the concrete maze that is São Paulo’s airport to make our connection to Miami and as I approached the door, one flight attendant smiled at me and asked, “Baiano?” “Não,” I responded, flattered to have been mistaken for Brazilian, “americano.”
This ain’t no Carnival. People pissed! Image source: AP
Right now, Brazil convulses with the heady combination of indignation and optimism that characterizes popular movements. The People – that vast and oft-evoked abstraction made up of millions of students and truck drivers and dental hygienists and single mothers and retirees and first graders – have gotten so fed up with the economic and political oppression that has always plagued Brazil, Latin America as a whole, and, at many times in its history, the United States, that they’ve taken to the streets to voice their exasperation with the greed, corruption, official acts of violence, and woefully poor quality-of-life that have hampered the upward mobility of most Brazilians in the face of unprecedented “national prosperity” and vanity projects like the World Cup and the Olympics.
What that means, exactly, remains to be seen. Moneyed and political interests are too entrenched in the business of making money at all costs to really engage in the necessary paradigm shift even if they wanted to. And I’m just cynical enough to believe that nothing lasting is going to happen; after all, a columnist from Brazil’s largest daily reflected the general cluelessness of those in power: “From paradise, we have slipped…into limbo.”
Paradise for whom?
No, there will be no New Deal-style governmental investment in infrastructure, no nationwide jobs program, no major overhaul of the educational and health care systems. There’s too much unfettered greed infecting the country’s economical and political elite for that to ever happen. It’s a refrain in heavy rotation: “Brazil never moved away from the slave plantation.”
I have friends who were injured by police during last week’s protest in my beloved São Paulo. I have friends who live in the areas most heavily affected by teargas and rubber bullets in the center of the city. Some of the clashes between protesters and the police occurred on the street where I last lived not a full two years ago, where I last walked not a full two months ago, and where I spent several years becoming part of the city’s social fabric, another brown face popping in and out of lunch counters and convenience stores, hopping the bus to work during the week or home from the club on the weekend. That was my street and my neighborhood and my people and my city. It’s unnerving to know that I could just as easily have been shot with a rubber bullet outside my door or teargassed on my way home from work as any of my friends, neighbors, or coworkers.
It’s easy to change the channel when you have no direct connection to the events on the screen, but it’s something else when you are linked to the places and people being affected by strife. When the air clears, I’m still not sure what will have changed in terms of corruption, accountability, state-sanctioned violence, or quality-of-life. But I know that neither the powers that be, the media, nor Brazilians themselves will continue to blindly brush off indignities and injustices with a tudo bom (It’s all good) and an evocation of Brazil’s trademark deflectors: sun, sex, and soccer.
Maybe that refusal to accept indignities and injustices is the necessary spark. Hell, it only took 9 cents to finally piss enough people off. And that’s just my 2 cents.
In 2014, the FIFA World Cup soccer championship will be held in Brazil from June 12 to July 13. With Brazil being a continent-sized country geographically larger than the “Lower 48,” FIFA agreed to let the country host matches in a dozen cities, exceeding the usual number by two, and ensuring spectators from Copacabana to the Amazon get a chance to witness the ultimate expression of The Beautiful Game on its most fervent home turf. Ladies and gentlemen, today I present to you the promotional posters for Brazil’s 12 World Cup host cities:
In Brazil, “the delineation between black and white is blurred, with the overwhelming majority somewhere in the middle. But white remains the color of aspiration, and black the color of a history that some would prefer to forget.”
In continued recognition of Black Consciousness Month in Brazil, I’d like you to take a quick 45 minutes of your time to watch this eye-opening and well-produced BBC documentary released in 2000 called Brazil: An Inconvenient History. In it, the narrator and featured scholars discuss in painful detail the destruction of the indigenous population, the unmitigated brutality of Portuguese slave owners, the forced concubinage of indigenous and African women, the complicity of the Catholic church, and the reasons why African culture is much more palpable in Brazil than in other New World slave-based societies like the United States.
It’s well-known that Brazil was the last major slave-holding country to officially abolish the institution, granting its remaining slaves freedom in 1888 without any further assistance to become a productive part of society such as the Freedmen’s Bureau in the US. Keep in mind that my mother’s grandmother would have been born a slave in Brazil, and we’re talking a decade after Karl Benz (yes, that Benz) invented the damn modern automobile engine!
What does slavery have to do with modern Brazil, if it ended “so long ago?”
“The legacy of slavery to modern Brazil is huge: the racial inequality, the fact that the majority of blacks are poor, that they are not as well-educated as whites. But you also have positive results as well. Not of slavery itself but of the slaves, in terms of the music, in terms of the religion, made Brazilian culture much richer than it would have been without the presence of Africans in Brazil.”
“The heady mix of music, religion, dance, and sport can sometimes blur the less-appealing legacy of slavery: homelessness, street children, unemployment. A country built on sugar has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many…Brazil still looks like a colonial society…[it’s] the world leader in inequality.”
Starting today, Brazil celebrates Black Consciousness Month, honoring the contributions of African-descended peoples in Brazilian society and recognizing the challenges of those same peoples in the country today.
Well, that’s not entirely true…many people in Brazil are celebrating Black Consciousness Month. But many others see this particular exercise as unnecessarily divisive and alien to Brazil’s culture of “inclusiveness and miscegenation.” I see the latter as a negation and a silencing of an inextricable aspect of the culture that has long been undervalued and misrepresented, so…Happy Black Consciousness Month, todo mundo!
Stay tuned for related posts throughout the month…er, year, and in the meantime, take a look at the trailer for a documentary currently in the works about the black experience in Rio de Janeiro, called AfroCariocas. Can’t wait for the debut!
Often in my travels, people ask me which of my two home bases I prefer—Berlin or São Paulo. Like any place, each has its pros and cons and sometimes, at different times, I might need more of what one has to offer than the other. No two cities could be more unalike or more enthralling to my sensibilities as a lover of urban spaces, and I’ve identified three factors about each place that speak to why I spend much of my year there.
History at the heart of Europe: Having been the biggest prize to be won during World War II, a pawn between superpowers during the Cold War, and the capital of a centuries-old nation, Berlin’s history is vivid and palpable on every street. All the museums help, too. And with all the convenient air and rail links to the rest of Europe—Madrid, Istanbul, or London in two hours or less—Berlin’s my undisputed access point to the Continent, past and present.
Cheap and easy culture: On any given afternoon, you can hear Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring played by buck nekkid musicians, then grab a doner kebab en route to an exhibition about Pac Man at the Video Game Museum before dancing under a bridge until the sun comes up. And all for about five euro or less.
My circle of black American expat friends: Whereas in São Paulo, I know maybe two black Americans, I know a rack of ‘em in Berlin. We get together at restaurants where people give us funny looks for being loud and raucous, and we just ignore them, loudly and raucously reenacting scenes from Coming to America like we were at some Saturday afternoon barbecue in Atlanta. There’s no place like “home.”
My friends, period: Brazilian, non-Brazilian, wherever they come from, I’ve been blessed with some of the coolest, warmest, most open-hearted, dynamic, interesting friends on the planet, all in São Paulo. Whenever I’m in town, even if schedules don’t allow for a lengthy reunion, I still get a hearty welcome and the humbling feeling of being appreciated and loved. That’s what friends are for!
Brazilian affability: São Paulo might be the “New York of Brazil,” but paulistanos have all the friendliness and affability of the rest of the country, easily offering directions and assistance when needed, quick to smile and generally polite. In a metro area of 20 million people, it’s shocking that anyone’s nice at all, but here, I just feel at home. Included.
The skyline: New York’s skyline is iconic but finite. Hong Kong’s skyline is dramatic but hemmed-in. São Paulo’s skyline is forever—forever expanding, forever changing, forever mesmerizing me for hours on end, regardless of the angle or point of view.
Are you torn between two cities? If so, which ones?
Shot in and around the vast, gritty warrens of downtown São Paulo—also known as Sampa—the short but thrilling Samparkour takes viewers through the heart of one of the world’s largest cities by way of parkour, an extreme sport that is at turns skillful acrobatics and dumb luck. Much of the action takes place in my old neck of the woods, reminding me of how much I actually love this grimy, exhilarating concrete jungle. Make sure your shoes are laced up tight before trying this at home:
Last week, representatives of the US and Brazilian governments agreed to research the feasibility of visa waivers for Brazilian citizens. The US Visa Waiver Program currently allows citizens of 36 different countries—mostly in Europe, Asia, and Oceania—to visit the States for up to 90 days for business or pleasure without obtaining a pre-arranged visa. Brazil could soon be added to the list, which could mean a mix of positive and negative changes for American travelers:
1. Sustained Boon to the US Economy
In 2010, Brazilians spent $5.9 billion, around $5,000 per person, while visiting the United States. This kind of spending—mainly on luxury goods, upscale condos in New York and Miami, and electronics and household staples that cost three times as much back in Brazil—creates jobs and makes up for the fact that many, many Americans are broke as hell and aren’t really spending the little money they do have on these items. And while the vast majority of Brazilians who apply for visas to the US get approved, eliminating the hassle of scheduling an appointment and trekking to one of only four consulates to be asked annoying, invasive personal questions will surely attract even more upper-class (not middle…upper-class and super-rich) Brazilians to come and spend their money in the States.
2. Visa-Free Travel to Brazil
Brazil’s participation in the Visa Waiver Program would not only mean that Brazilian citizens could merely buy a plane ticket at the last minute and jet off to the States for a wee bit of shopping, but US citizens would regain visa-free entry to Brazil as well (we used to have it a few years ago).
3. Higher, then Lower Airfares
Brazil’s biggest international gateways—São Paulo’s Guarulhos and Rio’s Galeão airports—are overtaxed and inefficient, and both are subject to regulations that limit the number of routes and flight frequencies airlines can fly to and from the US. This will change as the “Open Skies” bilateral treaty comes completely online in 2015, allowing airlines to plan routes and schedules according to market forces. If Brazil is accepted into the Visa Waiver Program before 2015, increased demand for a limited number of airplane seats will cause already high fares to skyrocket before increased competition and decreased regulation theoretically bring down prices. Of course, Olympic fever and rickety infrastructure incapable of handling more traffic could prove me wrong.
4. Increased Number of Douchebags on Ipanema
With less hoops to jump through, every Tom, Dick, and Harry who fancies himself Snoop Dogg will be saving up a couple paychecks to go whoremongering on the beaches in Rio and Salvador. True, this happens the world over, but the unfettered increase in the amount of losers heading down to Brazil who’d rather pay for poon than use their natural wit and charm to attract women just makes for an unattractive atmosphere, in my opinion.