Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “Janeiro”

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.

The Pink House

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The house above was iconic for boys from my generation and from many generations before and after mine.

Inaugurated in the beginning of the last century it was the most famous brothel that Rio de Janeiro has ever had. It was situated on one of the streets that goes up the hills leading to Santa Tereza, rua Alice. This was a very good address when Rio was Brazil’s capital, and for a long time the Pink House was  the naughty place where the politicians and the wealthy who lived in the surrounding mansions the went to enjoy paid sex.

In my teens, in the seventies, it had already lost its exclusive aura but had become the most popular place for boys to be initiated in sex in town. Parents took their kids, or went alone, and mentioning rua Alice created a familiar buzz in any male conversation in Rio’s middle class. It was old school: the place had a dance floor downstairs and rooms for all sorts of budgets and tastes upstairs; the girls stayed around the dance floor sitting around tables waiting to be requested.

As time progressed, the pill arrived and relaxed the moral codes regarding girls having to marry as virgins and the Pink House became more and more obsolete.

It continued to function until the early 2000’s when it had become a place for nostalgic frequenters and for people who didn’t have money to pay for the more expensive and younger prostitutes on Avenida Atlantica, Copacabana’s sea promenade.

Currently it is a cultural center and a Samba club, yet it still sits on a special spot in memory lane for most carioca grown up boys.

The importance of surf culture in Rio de Janeiro

The military dictatorship was in its peak and prisons, exiles and censorship were part of the country’s day to day life.  The left had been decimated, or at least silenced and there was no outlet for protest. Meanwhile the surf culture was growing in the vacuum left behind the shutting down of the left in Ipanema, a neighborhood known for its leftist residents. This culture had been imported from California and been introduced to Rio de Janeiro’s middle class by students of the American School of Rio de Janeiro.

So were the surfers really relevant? Did anything they say really count for anything?

Most of the Brazilian intelligentsia would say no. This was an insignificant byproduct of a repressed era.

Well, it wasn’t. First of all it did not come from the military apparatus, nor was it well  seen by the American mainstream. In the Coastal towns of the US the kids who were making it the king of sports among the youth came from the lower classes and were dropouts specially in the late sixties and early seventies.In this environment, being a long haired surfer was being against the establishment. The anti Viet-Nam war protests were at their peak, and protesting in the seventies was not theoretical, it was about taking on the mainstream by actions. The kids who were dropouts were closer to home, they could be anyone’s kid who was engaging into something outside the system, it could happen in any family, it was the real thing…

The generations who came after the surfers can still relate to them and the freedom that they represented. They sought a personal detachment from the logic that everything in life should be attached to a production system that has profit as an ultimate goal.

Surf culture in Rio was to give birth to the rock movement of the 8O’s that took the country by storm. For that generation they were like the stronger older brothers who told parents to shut up, who broke ties and who were radically alive. These were the precursors of Brazilian Punk, but healthier, more charismatic, sexual, and less hateful than their British counterparts.

If no one liked them in the middle class, it is because everyone wanted to be like them but did not have the inner strength to do so. In Rio some were spoiled rich kids, but  this group certainly were not accepted into the surfing elite.One you had to earn their way into being respected by being good at the sport and by tough in the water. They were not dumb blondes, they were just too big for this world.

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