Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the month “March, 2014”

Lost Samba – Chapter 25/01 – Hitchhiking in Brazil

CaronaWhen the summer arrived, ignoring the incoming storm, Pedro and I decided to go on a tour of the Northeast. Things had changed and from the start it was clear that the budget would be limited this time. Dad didn’t want me to go, and refused to finance the trip, and Pedro’s widowed mother did not have much to put on the table either. I had to sell my beloved Blues Boy and he had to scrape most of the money that his father had left him. Still the money wasn’t much and by our calculations, we had enough to get a bus to Vitoria in Espirito Santo, the closest state capital, and from there we would hitchhike, camp and reach as far north as we could, living the Easy Rider dream.

As the bus moved into the lane heading north and took the Rio-Niteroi Bridge, I was thankful to once again be en route to the idyllic Brazil. We did not expect much from our first stop, Vitoria, which was a hybrid of the developed South and the as-yet-developed Northeast, neither modern enough to be exciting nor exotic enough to be attractive.

Our plans were to camp on the beach for a couple of days and then begin the hitchhiking phase into Bahia. We left our backpacks at a kiosk before going to the beach and had our first setback when the owner explained that camping on the beach was forbidden. We didn’t pay much attention, as the sun was shining strong and all we wanted was to evaporate the stress of a 15 hour journey by the sea. When sunset arrived, the question of where will we would sleep that night re-emerged.

We were discussing our options when we met two guys scuba-diving nearby. We asked them if there was anything to see in the water and they ended up telling us that they were also from out of town and were staying in one of their uncle’s flat. We explained our situation and they said that, if we were OK to spend the night in the maid’s room, they wouldn’t mind. This was the best option available, so we agreed. After settling in, taking a shower and eating a quick sandwich, we all went out into Vitoria’s bohemian district, Vila Velha.

Money was tight and the only thing we could afford to do was to walk around along the packed promenade. It felt like a nocturnal funfair filled with trailers selling drinks and food, and playing loud music. In the confusion, one of the guys noticed an empty table filled with untouched nibbles and beer bottles. We were still hungry and dying for a beer, so we spent some time keeping an eye out to see if the owners came back. They didn’t so we got closer and discretely took over.

As soon as the bottle reached my lips, I heard an effeminate voice calling me cheeky. I moved to an ‘excuse me’ mode and offered to pay, but I soon realized that we had fallen into the trap of a gay duo that was smiling at us by the van. It was obvious that what they were looking for went far beyond apologies. Anyway, as the other two divers seemed to be more comfortable with the situation, Pedro and I slipped out and let them deal with the situation.

After a couple of hours, things got boring, we were tired and it was time to go back to the table and ask about going home. There was news for us: the two parties had become perhaps too friendly and going back to the flat was not part of the plan any more. After many deliberations, it was agreed that we were all going to sleep at one of the gay guys’ apartment and in the morning they’d drive us to the motorway.

We didn’t like it but there wasn’t much choice. We went back to our flat to get our gear and were invited for dinner at a good restaurant, a good but rather uncomfortable news. After the meal, the next step was passing the night at the den of love. The chat was a bit tense and after a session of insinuations and avoidances, action time arrived and the scuba guys went to their rooms with their respective partners while we went to the living room to try to get some sleep.

The lights went off, the doors were closed and we stayed giggling like two idiots. About an hour later, one of the doors opened and we pretended to be sleeping. We heard one of the guys saying, “Sorry, but I was not inspired tonight” and then leaving the flat. I almost got up to ask if we could go with him but there was not enough time. The room door didn’t close and, with my eyes closed, I started thinking to myself, “Oh oh, shit is about to happen!” Then I heard some footsteps coming towards us and Pedro saying, “Take your hands off, mate!!!” After a few seconds, the same happened to me; after that, the short and now badly tempered guy, who looked like a Brazilain version of Little Richard, said something and left the flat slamming the door.

The next day the other couple woke us up in a much happier mood. The owner of the flat had long blond hair, a beard and he was wearing a purple silk robe and heavy make-up. He was hanging on to his diver’s neck telling us that he had lost his virginity. We found out that the unsatisfied one was a neighbor who owned the car that was going to take us to the highway. We stayed waiting for him to come down for breakfast. When he arrived he was in a bitchy mood and, in revenge, he said he wasn’t going to take us. The ex-virgin spared us from a ‘Cage aux Folles’ nightmare, as he was on our side, and they drove us to a gas station out of town as promised.


BR – 101 – Photo by Nicole Peralta

After that unexpected beginning, we wondered what could be expecting us next. Anyway, we had two months ahead of us and it was a hot, sunny morning and the tone of that day was being set by the noise of cars speeding on the BR-101 motorway heading towards Bahia. Meanwhile we were going from truck to truck asking for a hitch to our next destination, Porto Seguro.

Our first ride was in the rear of a truck carrying dried beef. We climbed up and joined a group of workers sitting on the plastic mats covering the cargo. They looked like the Latin American peasants one would expect to see in a film about revolution. They were a mixture of black, native and white, and wore torn clothes, straw hats and caps, and prehistoric Havaianas flip-flops. They were drunk and having a ball with the wind from the highway blowing all over them.

Riding unprotected on top of a van was dangerous and illegal. The guy sitting next to the driver opened his door, leaned out and shouted, “Police!” We all had to duck under the greasy plastic for 10 minutes where we stayed skidding on the rough but slippery meat until he shouted that we could come out again.

That group could not understand what two university students from the South were doing up on that stinky plastic with them. One of them passed their bottle of cachaça and taught us how to drink from the bottle correctly while others tried to teach us how things were pronounced in the region. Soon we were drunk and talking rubbish too. As we shook from the motorway’s bumps on its unprotected back, the truck took a turn onto a dirt track and stopped at a bar in the middle of nowhere. Everyone jumped off and inside our new friends made a point in treating us to more cachaça and to a local delicacy: a dark and strong, disk- shaped, barbecued organ of some undefined animal. The guys wanted to see if we had the balls to eat it and our pride made sure that we did: we were too drunk anyway to be disgusted but the taste was sobering.

They stayed on waiting for a bus to take them home while we went back on the truck and were dropped off in Eunápolis, only an hour and a half by local transport from Porto Seguro. We arrived there exhausted and found a camp site by the beach where we washed off the cachaça and the meat stench and got some well needed sleep.

We spent the next day at the beach diving into the warm light blue water and feeling the breeze of the south of Bahia. At night we discovered that its streets were lively: the locals decorated their backyards with colored lights, added tables and chairs, filled their fridges with beer, turned their stereos up to the maximum and transformed their houses into lambada clubs. There were more expensive places set up by people from big cities, but even there it would not be surprising to feel a chicken peck at your feet while you were dancing.

back to chapter 01                  next

Amazing video of Rio de Janeiro

Lost Samba – Chapter 24 – Brazil in the Eighties


Like me, Pedro had “parachuted” into the university’s economics programme. For the vestibular, he was lucky enough to sit next to an ace student he’d known since childhood. After some discreet but forceful nagging, his friend allowed him to copy his answer sheet. Pedro was not typical of my normal circles. He lived outside the Zona Sul, had darker skin, curly hair and had an athletic build from being a passionate water-polo player. We kicked off a firm friendship with me serving as his passport to Zona Sul parties, while he helped me develop some street cred. Our well-bred colleagues would soon view us as the class’s wise guys, but our popularity would lead us to forget that we were in such a demanding place of study.

In the beginning, we had a great time. The campus in Urca was divided into three faculties: economics and business administration, communications (journalism and advertising) and psychology. Economics – our course – was considered the most prestigious one of the campus’ faculties and, appropriately, we had the most high-profile building that contained the Teatro de Arena, the famous amphitheatre with a political past. Although student activism was hardly as important anymore, the students’ union opened the Teatro de Arena on weekends and transformed it into a popular venue for often great alternative bands. Perhaps because of all this, the economics students regarded themselves as being a cut above the rest of the campus, feeling we were tackling important and intellectually demanding matters, in contrast to the easy and superficial topics of the other faculties.

In response, all the other students viewed us as the campus’ slightly arrogant nerds, though we did command a certain respect. Pedro and I never really accepted these kinds of comparisons and instead made friends with the communications students (they knew how to party) and with the psychology students (they were overwhelming female, many of whom were pretty and seemed compelled to experiment with all sorts of things).

Overall, we were now part of a more senior university crowd who had a social life of their own, and, sure enough, the parties we started to go to reflected our new status. There were many older students, young professors, their girlfriends and their friends all of whom were more stimulating than the kind of people I was used to hanging out with. My guitar abilities worked miracles in getting us invited to the best gatherings, organized by the most prestigious members of the student body and many were in the best addresses in the city. This elite was left wing, and many would go on to enter politics or would rise to senior positions in government agencies or in business. Most of these young and clever people came from wealthy old families, and a few of their parents were involved in the newly legalized opposition parties or had links to returning exiles.

As this was a time of political rebirth – the period of the abertura politica – these circles appreciated the laid back attitude of a street-wise, hippy-like guitar player; a connoisseur of weed and of the alternative lifestyle found in Visconde de Mauá and Trancoso. For a short period, both Pedro and I enjoyed being courted by the student elite, but they soon brushed us aside owing to our poor grades, conventional middle class family backgrounds and to the lack of erudition in our arguments whenever serious topics came up.

The acceptance by the students of the other courses was far more straightforward and more durable. The invitations to parties, the girls, the new and interesting friendships and the jam sessions flowed in. In this situation, it was easy to forget the economic realities hovering around us as well as the academic effort that the course required if we were to hope to make the grade.

Cocaine was starting to replace weed in parties, not yet in the gatherings of the leftist radical-chiques of the economics course, but in the other gatherings that we went. Rio’s powerful drug lords had come to realise that the white powder was easier to transport, harder to track, more addictive and altogether a more lucrative business venture than was marijuana. They created shortages of cannabis that lasted for months while the supply of cocaine remained abundant and consequently cheap. The plan worked and soon pretty well everyone had converted to blow, the downside being that they began to see maconha as something for hippy dropouts from another era – in other words, losers. With more serious money pouring in, drug trafficking also became more structured and more deadly.



”Brizola” – the name of a leading opposition politician and for some reason the name widely used for cocaine – was more demanding, more negative and altogether more harmful than anything we were used to. While weed brought out the fun and the contemplative side of people, cocaine heightened egos. Once it became popular, the traficantes increased the price and made it an expensive habit – and because one had to consume a lot in order to keep buzzing, at a time of economic crisis many people were forced onto paths beyond the law.

At first, I didn’t like the superficial vibe that surrounded cocaine or the ego-driven people attracted to it, but the hype was so great and the high seemed so empowering that my crowd gradually accepted it into their world. As times grew harsher, the illusion of self-confidence that the white lines on our mirrors gave us would compensate for the shock of the severe economic downturn and its serious impact on our everyday lives and futures, which felt like a truck hurtling towards us at full speed.


Outside our sheltered lives, but very much knocking on our doors, was the unforgiving truth that Brazil had become a country struck by hyperinflation, recession, despair and suicide, some of them close to us. There was no way out, and on the ground it was “everyone for himself and God against all” in the words of Mario de Andrade in his novel Macunaíma. For many amongst the wealthy members of society, self-destruction through excess was the escape-valve, while for some of the poor it was crime and violence. Tragic stories began appearing in newspapers, with a surge in kidnapping and murders on one side, and vigilantes killing suspected criminals on the other.

Within my social circle, there was a widespread feeling of despair and hopelessness. Many of us believed that we had stepped out of the system, but when the bad times hit us – something that we never imagined could happen – we realized how entangled our existence was with all that we found wrong in the world.

Ideologically, the 1980s were a rebellion against the rebellion and with the change of tides came the witch-hunt. People who hadn’t enjoyed the fruits of the 1970s economic “miracle”, or who did not take part of the big party either through parental prohibition, through commitment to their studies or through rejection to the way people thought and behaved, were now engaged in private vendettas and rejoicing at their enemy’s disgrace. What had been cool was now frowned on, what had been revolutionary appeared idiotic, and what had been ecstatic became the cause of sexual and mental illnesses. The journey of a generation that had struggled against a dictatorship and then witnessed the return of democracy was disregarded. The sense of brotherhood that had risen from those days evaporated. Everything had changed and seemed to have reversed: what common sense had regarded as being self-serving and obnoxious now became unashamedly the right thing to do.

Everyone sensed that this was only the beginning of a long, dark, stretch ahead. By the end of my first year at university, the effects of economic and social mayhem ran deep, and the reach of this crisis in their personal lives caught everyone by surprise and no one knew how to respond. I tried to convince myself that I could cope with whatever might come my way – that it was impossible for things to get worse. I was wrong.

back to chapter 01                  next

Lost Samba – Chapter 23 – The Brazilian Hyperinflation begins


The Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Photo, Zica da Zuca

A bus to school, to my Dad’s office or to anywhere boring in the “real world”, would go from Ipanema towards Copacabana. After crossing my old neighbourhood it would leave the Zona Sul through the Túnel Novo. After this it would pass Botafogo’s training grounds before turning left towards the Botafogo beach and onwards into the city. On my first day as a university student, I was pleased to be catching the 511 bus, as it would not turn into Botafogo beach but instead would take a right into peaceful Urca where the Federal University – the UFRJ – was located. As the bus went along the good old Avenida Nossa Senhora Copacabana, I thought about the new cycle that was about to start, and realized that I didn’t know what to expect: was I going like the academic experience? What was the economics course actually about? What were my fellow students going to be like?

The campus was quiet, with well-kept trees bordering alleys that separated the well preserved nineteenth-century buildings. The one that housed the economics department originally served as a madhouse and although the asylum had long-since been transferred to a new building on the campus, we sometimes saw nurses chasing after runaway patients.

In the 1960s, the UFRJ had been at the epicentre of the students’ resistance to the military dictatorship. The National Union of Students (UNE – União Nacional dos Estudantes) had organized many crucial gatherings in its open-air amphitheatre that was just below our classrooms and most of the students who had opted for armed struggle reached that decision in the same places where I was now studying.

Even in 1981 there were rumours that some fellow-students were either undercover police agents or were members of underground organizations. I doubted this was the case, but there was no way of knowing. Anyhow, with the re-birth of open political debate, the students’ union was lively and there were active Trotskyists, Leninists, Maoists and anarchists, as well as people joining the new ideological groupings with more ecological and existential agendas.

These leftists fought amongst themselves. They bickered over almost everything; as, for example, which stance should the students union take over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, or which of the various communist parties was the true representative of the masses or which thinker best represented the people’s aspirations, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Bakunin or some other obscure Marxist. They also had serious fallouts over other theoretical and practical intricacies that made the experience of being involved with left wing politics seem more like belonging to a religion than anything else.

Now that the military regime was on its deathbed and the Soviet Union was beginning to show cracks, also having ceased long ago in investing in Latin American revolutions; the debate on choosing between either fighting or embracing the capitalist system had become obsolete. My generation was caught between this stagnant state of affairs and the pragmatism of the yuppie generation that would soon kick in. We recognized the importance of politics and welcomed the political springtime, but could not relate to the outdated dialogue.

Some teachers who had endured hardships during the military dictatorship saw us as a new breed of students; one of the first contingents to be free from the dictatorship’s constraints and, therefore, they expected a lot from us. Meanwhile, the militant Leftists saw us as alienated bourgeois kids while the nonpolitical students, already the majority, saw us as fake revolutionaries. Like our parents, they believed that politics was a waste of time, instead, they concentrated on forging their futures as stock market success stories.


The introductory courses that the university offered were vastly more interesting than the classes at the result-orientated factory schools that most of the students had come from. The programme concentrated on political economy and aimed at preparing students for future roles in government development agencies. We studied Marx – something extraordinary considering the government-funded university was still part of the apparatus of a pro-American dictatorship. Some of the professors had recently returned from exile and were excited to lecture freely in their own country. Everything was going well until an outbreak of hepatitis that I had contracted in Mauá forced me to spend over a month in bed.

That time off at home marked a subtle turning point both for me and for the country. Political freedom was already a given but an era of economic hell was about to break loose. Around the world, religious fundamentalism was taking root, HIV Aids was spreading, and Ronald Regan and Margaret Thatcher were consolidating the grip of conservative policies over the USA, the UK and the rest of the world.

In the minds of most Brazilian Leftists, the desperate middle and upper classes in the rich countries had voted in Regan and Thatcher to lead a crusade against the libertarian and egalitarian principles that had defined our intellectual upbringing. No matter how one saw this change of direction, it was undeniable that the duo had an anti-socialist agenda. For the new leaders of the two greatest western economies in the world needed to deal with a crisis caused by what they considered a warped way of thinking. While I was confined to my bed, and ate and drank from separate glasses and plates so that my infection wouldn’t spread to the rest of the family, foreign banks decided that their loans to friendly dictators – loans they’d been more than happy to make – were now a threat to world economic stability. They wanted their money back and if their debtors could not pay, they wanted to make money on those loans. Interest rates on international debts skyrocketed to levels that were unthinkable when the loans were taken out.

The international banks could not care less if their decisions suffocated the indebted countries and their citizens. Experiencing something like an ever worsening toothache ordinary Brazilians began feeling the consequences of the monetarist policies. When companies were forced to close down and inflation skyrocketed, people saw themselves jobless, with no social security to help them, while their money had less and less value. This came from the same creature that had sponsored the military coup back in 1964, now it was showing its true self again, but in a different angle.
Due to ineptness and to sheer lack of experience with such adverse economic conditions the policies that the government adopted were disastrous. With the Brazilian foreign debt rising to stratospheric levels, the authorities ignored the seriousness of the situation and resorted to printing more money in order to honour their internal obligations, a perfect recipe for disaster.

Over the following fifteen years, inflation in Brazil accumulated to 20,759,903,275,651 percent, an absolute world record. To give an idea as to how bad the situation became, had Dad not protected his money, for the same price that he had bought our comfortable apartment in Ipanema in the mid-1970s, he would only have been able to buy a cup of coffee a few years later.

At my university, faculty members and students saw this upheaval in a different light. It happened that our economics department was at the forefront of the opposition to the government’s policies long before the crisis began and many of the professors had issued warnings about the dangers ahead. Many Brazilians believed these academics could guide the country out of the mess, and they became public figures, appearing on television debates and contributing full-page articles in the main newspapers.


The prices during Brazil’s Hyperinflation.

Meanwhile, in order to stimulate national industry, the government resorted to control imports, something that had a crippling effect on Dad’s business just as he entered his ninth decade. Now on top of a shrinking market, just getting a license to bring his goods in became difficult.

After I recovered from the hepatitis, the challenges my Old Man faced in his business meant that the pressure was, more than ever, on. The good times were clearly over and his only hope for me was that studying economics would save me from ruin. Still, I had fallen behind and the more I considered the situation, the more obvious it was that economics was not for me. I was doing badly while, to my naive surprise, my fellow students took their studies seriously and actually liked the course.

During this turning of the tide, Kristoff – my German-Chilean school friend – managed to get himself arrested on the same bus route we had made just the year before. The arrest took place in Uruguaiana, on the Brazilian border with Argentina and Uruguay, a cattle-country town that had become notorious as a hot spot for smuggling and money laundering. Although Kristoff was not smuggling drugs, he took the rash decision to light a joint in the street. Before he could inhale a single puff, out of nowhere agents of the federal police ambushed him, arrested him there and then, and later transferred him to a jail in Rio. As this was Kristoff’s first offense, he was bailed. A few weeks later, someone reported him on another charge. The police stormed into the classroom while he was attending a lecture at the university and hauled Kristoff back to jail – albeit a relatively luxurious one for foreigners and people with a university education. Kristoff’s father made a discrete appeal to the minister of justice and, to avoid a trial, the court agreed that he would be quietly deported to Chile.

back to chapter 01                                  next


BBC writing about the Corcovado

BBC writing about the Corcovado

BBC writing about the Corcovado

Photos of 2014 Carnival

Photos of 2014 Carnival

Lost Samba – Chapter 22/02 – The magnificent Carnival of Salvador

Castro Alves

The Trio Eletrico of Dodo e Osmar at the Castro Alves Square.

Bahia’s capital, Salvador, is 1,200 kilometers from Rio de Janeiro. Even if I had wanted to take Blues Boy, the trip there and back would have been much more expensive than the bus fare and perhaps the feat of driving that distance on a two way motorway would have been too much of a challenge for my driving skills and for the car’s resistance. There was no other choice but the twenty-five hour bus trip. The uncomfortable journey did not diminish the excitement of going for the first time to the city that I had fallen in love with through Jorge Amado’s books and through the music of the Novos Baianos.

I went with Mauricio, the same guy who hit his knee on the bed in the Casa Rosa. Mauricio had grown up to be even squarer than Edu and was not even into chasing girls. He was obsessed with proving himself in obvious topics: money, football, mathematics problems and other theoretical issues that, as far as I was concerned, were annoying and had no life breathing through them. I never understood where within him lurked anything resembling a sense of fun. Perhaps because of these traits, Mauricio was prone to go hysterical whenever he grew nervous, and this was a frequent happening. His weedy build did not back these moments, despite them being extremely loud and usually disproportionate to the issue that had lit the fuse, and this made his outbursts resemble psychotic episodes. On the first bus stop, the bar man overcharged him for a sandwich which caused a fit that shocked all of our fellow passengers. I had seen this side to Mauricio’s behaviour before but had never got used to it. Yet, I had agreed to travel to Salvador with him because none of my other friends were available and, in any case, there was still a lingering sense of loyalty to a friendship that went way back. However, after this embarrassing moment, I just hoped that this would not be an introduction of what was yet to come.

I was determined that Mauricio would not spoil my precious holiday. Salvador’s carnival was arguably the best in the world and I wanted to enjoy it at its full. Those were the heydays of the trio elétrico, a musical genre that all Baianos affirm to have pioneered the electric guitar worldwide. In the 1940s, two popular musicians, Dodo and Osmar, discovered that putting whale wax around sound captors allowed them to amplify their mandolins without causing feedback. The method became a hit in the city’s street carnivals. The musical style was similar to Recife’s frevo but with two guitarras baianas substituting the brass section. By the late 1960s the trios added a bass and more percussion to provide extra weight to their performances. With the arrival of rock music, the instruments improved, the influences changed and the sound became sharper and more aggressive.

During the carnival, the musicians paraded through the cobble stone streets of the city’s Portuguese colonial centre balancing themselves on vans which they loaded with sound gear and loudspeakers. Thousands of people followed these musical fortresses impregnated by Bahia’s strong joie de vivre, dancing in a frenzy that appeared like a Hindu religious procession fused with a punk rock concert.

There were more primitive, non-electrified groups that paraded on foot, and that performed Afro-Brazilian rhythms in a completely different vibration. Among them was the Filhos de Ghandi (Sons of Ghandi), a group of muscular, pitch-black dockworkers who paraded in white tunics with a message based on Mahatma Ghandi’s pacifist teachings. They played the mellower afoxé, a rhythm used in Candomblé spiritualist sessions. This group and others, such as the Ile Aye were fully acoustic, relying only on their drums and their voices to move the crowd, which responded in a calmer and more respectful way, but with the same intensity.

The streets and the alleys of the oldest part of Salvador still retained the splendour of Brazil’s first capital. The carnival groups passed through here on a route resembling a figure of eight: in the central junction, where the two loops met, was Praça Castro Alves, the epicentre of the carnival, and our hotel was around the corner. The bands stopped there to allow the crowd to strengthen and then they played their best numbers. It was common for two bands to approach from opposite directions and reach at the praça at the same time, an encounter known as an encontro dos trios. When this happened, the bands would take turns playing and would compete for the ecstatic crowd, the winners being the many thousands of people enjoying the spectacle.

By an amazing stroke of fate, I was there at the praça when a unique face-off took place between the royalty of Salvador’s carnival – Novos Baianos and the Trio Elétrico de Dodô e Osmar. The former was my favourite band of all times and the latter were the creators of the trio elétrico and featured the best ever guitarist of the genre, Osmar’s son, Armandinho Macedo. After a short pause where the musicians and the crowd prepared for what they knew would be one of the highlights of that year’s carnival, the music took off. The feeling was as though the heavens had opened their gates, pouring carnival energy down onto us mortals. With each and every song, the assembled crowd seemed to be celebrating a never-ending World Cup victory, the overwhelming energy compelling the immense mass of people to join in and unite as one.

Mauricio hated crowds so, during the day, he’d go to the beach alone while I immersed myself in the carnival. At night, we would go to the safer, indoor carnival balls, a more sensible but utterly boring choice. Our differences were leading to a serious fall out, but on the last night of carnival, we managed to find something that both of us were up for. We decided to crash Salvador’s most exclusive ball at the élite Clube Bahiano de Tenis, a place where very few people ever played tennis but instead basked in the high status implied by the inclusion in its name of a sport the British had introduced to Brazil.

Security at the door was tight, but the walls surrounding the club were low and easy to jump over. We joined some passerby’s who had the same idea as us. Mauricio was one of the first to climb the wall – and one of the few successes. Before my turn came, the police arrived running and those still outside had to disperse as fast as they could. I and some other fellow escapees found another discrete length of the wall, climbed up and landed next to the tennis courts. But as soon as we hit the ground, huge, fierce and unleashed dogs came racing towards us. We took flight and managed to scramble back up the wall as in a cartoon film. After that I gave up and went back to the hotel, the Salvador carnival was over for me.

back to Chapter 01                                     next


Pelourinho, Salvador

Imágenes de Río de Janeiro / Pictures of Rio de Janeiro

Amazing Pictures of Rio de Janeiro

Zuvy's Blog

Valerie Pasquier plasma como nadie la realidad del más cotidiano Rio de Janeiro a través de sus fotografías. Sus gentes, sus paisajes incomparables, sus calles atolondradas, sus enormes contrastes, su Cristo que nos vigila: todo es Rio. Te invitamos a descubrirlo a través de su lente.

Todas las imágenes son propiedad de © Valerie Pasquier Schaub-Golaz

Valerie Pasquier captures perfectly the everyday reality of Rio de Janeiro through her photographs. Its people, its unique landscapes, its reckless streets, its huge contrasts, all under the Christ that takes care of us all: it is Rio. We invite you to discover it through her lens.

All images are property of © Valerie Pasquier Schaub-Golaz

Pictures of Rio de Janeiro © Valerie Pasquier Schaub-Golaz
Bikinis en Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro
Bikinis in Ipanema, Rio de Janeiro

Pictures of Rio de Janeiro © Valerie Pasquier Schaub-Golaz
Hombre de negocios en el barrio de Lapa, Rio de Janeiro
Business man in the Lapa neighborhood, Rio…

View original post 235 more words

Lost Samba – Chapter 22/01 – Getting a drivers license in Rio de Janeiro


Copacabana Beach in the 1970’s

After I passed the vestibular, at home, my status leapfrogged overnight from negative to absolutely positive. My parents celebrated my success as if I had done my Bar-Mitzvah once again. This time, as a prize, I received a light-blue, old VW beetle, a 1973 Fusca, which I named “Blues Boy”.

We bought the car from a contact of our building’s doorman. As old and cheap as the Fusca turned out to be, it was still a car and, as far as I can remember, friends from much richer homes had just gotten a pat on the shoulder for performing their duty, which they had done without cheating. As far as Dad was concerned, the award was for a son who refused to listen to him and who did not appreciate his company. There was some truth in his perception; we could not help being from very different generations which made us have completely different world-views linked to language, access to material comforts and places in the wider community.

At that point Dad’s life was not at all rosy. Apart from the normal issues brought about by an advanced age, there was the unresolved suffering of the past and an un-planned frustration with the present. Even with the wealth Dad had managed to build in Brazil, the more he experienced the ways of Brazilians in business, in government and in everyday life, the less he liked the country. Although he thought it was unnecessary to express these anguishes, they were never far from the surface.

In relation to me, despite his detachment, Dad silently wanted his son to achieve things that his history had prevented him from obtaining, such as the respectability of a university degree and establishing himself as a professional. Being a remarkably intelligent man he would have gone very far had he studied and got a degree, and probably he saw this potential in me. Because of all this and the opportunities that had come to me by birth, the existential turmoil that I had entangled myself in was something that escaped his understanding and with which he did not manage to empathise.
From my perspective, higher education was going to be just another layer in the confusion. First of all, as childish as it may sound, I saw getting a prestigious diploma as a form of selling out. Furthermore, there was the issue of the choice of the profession that I was heading towards; I had never really considered studying economics, instead I had drifted towards the course merely because it was the lesser among other evils. I didn’t love the subject, I only found it mildly interesting, still it seemed a safe path to social eminence and I expected to do well in it because of my ease with numbers as well as my interests in history and politics. In reality, what had driven me so far was the blind pressure to pass the exam and get into a good university.

Dad never had these options, and this was where our divergences stemmed from. Fate and survival instincts had been the driving forces in his life while I had choices – or at least at that point I believed so -, and my choice was to enjoy life. Dad saw this as rubbish and hoped that now, with me being in college, I would take life seriously and this new step would save me from what he regarded as my hedonistic, spoiled and selfish lifestyle. In plain terms, I just wanted Dad to give me a break while he just wanted me stop acting like a spoiled brat. The final consequence was that we could barely communicate. I found it hard to appreciate Dad’s generosity in giving me a car; and Dad wasn’t able to understand that this kind of reaching out was no more than applying a Band-Aid on an open wound.

Anyhow, the summer partying season had just kicked in, and the forty-degree heat and the lure of the beach were not compatible with introspection, let alone trying to understand my father. Instead, I simply wanted to enjoy what was around – and there were plenty of opportunities. My car would be an important addition to the experience, but before I got the keys there was the hurdle of getting a driver’s license. My parents saw this as tough because, following a driving lesson that Mum had given me in Teresópolis, my reputation behind the steering wheel at home was terrible.

The family car was a clunky, beige, Brazilian-made Chevrolet Opala with a confusing, manual gear stick protruding from the steering column. On the first lesson, I got Mum’s instructions all wrong and instead of moving slowly forward in first gear, I accelerated hard with the car in reverse. Had Mum not had the instinct to pull the hand brake, we would have gone crashing over the cliff behind us. Any comical value to the scene was entirely lost on my 79-year-old dad observing us. The lessons ended after that incident.


A Brazilian Opala

What my parents did not know was that my secret driving career was born soon after; on the day I decided to put an ad in the newspaper offering guitar lessons. I needed more money and that was the best idea that came to mind.

A female student from Tijuca called and, although this meant a long trip to somewhere un-cool and far away from the beach on Saturday afternoons, I was skint and accepted. Marineide – pronounced Mareenaydee – was younger than me and did not shy away from trying to seduce me from the moment she opened the door. Guitar lessons were not on her agenda and she ended up getting what she wanted.

Slightly overweight, with a faint moustache, not particularly bright and rather conventional, Marineide was not my type. Even so, I crossed the barriers of my schizoid social life and introduced her to my pot-smoking circles – and this was where the driving came in. My guitar student turned lover, put her father’s car at our disposal to go to Mauá. As she had absolutely no idea as to how to use it, she relied instead on my nonexistent driving skills. The hippy paradise was a four-hour drive, two and a half of which followed the most important highway in Brazil, the Via Dutra, linking São Paulo with Rio, with the remaining portion up an unpaved, winding mountain road.

Excitement won over my sense of fear and we took to the road using the little knowledge that I had acquired with my Mum in Teresópolis and by hearsay. We set off early in the morning for Kristoff’s house to pick up the rest of the guys. There was no traffic and after passing through several red lights, Marineide shouted for me to make a turn as we were heading up the wrong way of a one-way street. I didn’t think twice and turned the steering wheel as far as it would go. The car went into a skid, but the wheels obeyed, avoiding by just a few centimetres a lamppost that appeared to be passing in slow motion in front of us. How we arrived in Mauá without a scratch remains a mystery – but by then I knew how to drive.

Ignorant of this adventure, my Old Man insisted that I took driving lessons instead of buying a license through the corrupt system, as everyone else did. In order to force bribes that would swell officials’ bank accounts, the test was almost impossible to pass. Because I was about to leave on holiday, we reached an agreement: I’d take the course and they’d pay the lower fee to buy the license without the test, instead of paying a higher fee and passing without ever taking a lesson or appearing at an exam.

After two weeks of lessons, we went to the test centre where I got into the exam car with the driving school owner and two shady-looking examiners. Without looking at me, an inspector turned and asked: “Did this one pay?” The owner answered, “Yes,” so I just needed to drive around the block to receive a certificate that would let me loose on the crazy traffic of Rio de Janeiro.

back to chapter 01                                            next

enchente 01

Flood in Rio de Janeiro in the 1980’s

Post Navigation