Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “Latin America”

Lost Samba – Chapter 20 – A Brazilian in Chile


Panoramic view of Santiago, Chile

If my parents had ever found out about my adventure in the Maracanãzinho, they would have interned me in a rehab centre, or worse. In their innocence, they never saw the signs: red eyes, munchies, hours of practicing the same solo over and over again, and inexplicable mood changes. They considered all this as being just a mere teenager phase that they thought – or hoped – I would soon grow out of.

Kristof was my main partner in crime and, in their ignorance, my parents were thrilled with my friendship with the long-haired son and grandson of prominent psychoanalysts of German descent who, by a happy coincidence, were their next-door neighbours in the Teresópolis retreat. In fact, my parents were so delighted that they agreed that I could travel with him to Chile for the half-term vacation.

The length of the bus trip was crazy: seventy-two hours, the route taking us through the entire southern region of Brazil, then into Argentina and finally crossing the Andes to Chile. Nevertheless, I was excited: not only would I be visiting another country, but would also experience real snow and there was the prospect of skiing.

After a few hours in the bus, the light drizzle that had begun in São Paulo turned into a raging storm. At around nine in the evening, something fell onto the driver’s windscreen and crashed through the glass. Luckily, he was unhurt and never lost control of the bus. However, he had to continue driving for an hour in the cold rain, precariously protected from the elements by no more than passengers’ raincoats and blankets. We stopped in a small town to wait for a replacement bus and a dry driver. This seemed to take forever and, while the other passengers were caring for the cold and shocked driver, we noticed that a party was going on in a house nearby. We couldn’t resist and crashed it. When the new bus finally turned up, we were lucky that some people noticed that we were missing and managed to find us.

As dawn broke, we found the landscape now to be entirely different from what we had experienced just a few hours earlier. As we advanced south, the subtropical forests faded, and the bus continued across the vast expanses of the pampas grasslands. In that rainy, cold and miserable weather, the long, low walls to the sides of the highway, and the sparse vegetation separating the large green pastures, resembled the little I had seen of the British countryside. The population we came across in the bus stops was also different. In the late nineteenth century, after the Brazilians abolished slavery, the authorities encouraged Germans, Italians, Japanese and Poles to settle in southern Brazil, giving this part of the country something of a European look and feel. The food was more familiar and the portions were enormous.

As we sped through Argentina heading towards the Chilean border, the pampas gradually gave way to a more hilly landscape dotted with fruit farms. Brazil is so vast and diverse that it was strange to realize that we had reached another country by road. At the rest stops, they spoke Spanish, we had never seen most of the goods on the shelves and the cashiers recoiled at our requests that they accept Brazilian Cruzeiros as payment. The crops we saw from the highway were very European: peaches, grapes, cherries and other soft fruit that can only grow in temperate climates. From here, the dry Andean cordillera started to emerge on the horizon. We soon entered a desert-like region with snow-covered mountain peaks, which had amongst the lowest population densities in the world. The air was so pure that the mountains gave us the impression of being nearby hills, although we knew they were both colossal and still distant.

From 1973, a ruthless military dictatorship was ruling over Chile and, as we approached the border, the Brazilian passengers started voicing their opinions towards the regime. One girl, who happened to be in our year at school, took her repudiation too far: she went to the toilet and returned wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt. Madalena had the appearance of an Andean native, which, according to the Chileans on the bus, would make their military police, the carabineros, at the frontier even more furious with her statement.

She ignored our appeals for her to change her T-shirt and as we approached the isolated frontier post, we grew nervous. It was covered in snow, surrounded by tall barbed wire and kept by armed military. When the bus stopped, a heavy-set carabinero with a characteristic thick black moustache climbed on board. Expressionless, he walked up and down the aisle, and then told us all to get off. It was very cold outside and as we were going in we noticed posters with pictures of dozens of wanted “terrorists” at the entrance of the bunker-like station. Inside we were met by soldiers armed with machine guns and holding fierce-looking dogs. To everyone’s relief, minutes before leaving the bus, Madalena had the good sense of putting on a jumper and removing the T-shirt adorned with the face of the bearded revolutionary. The officers did not ask many questions but examined our travel documents carefully and we were relieved to continue on our way.


List of wanted Chilean “Terrorists”.

As the journey neared its end, the cordillera opened up to the narrow plains leading to the Pacific. The landscape resembled the Scottish rugged countryside: rocky, with vast fields and sparse vegetation. Kristof’s mum was waiting for us at the Santiago bus station. She was happy as we got in the car and she drove us home chatting away with her son while being polite and welcoming to me. Her comfortable house was in Las Condes, a neighbourhood that resembled an all-American middle-class suburb, with quiet streets and spacious homes bordered by well-kept gardens.

Santiago was a calm and beautiful city, set in a valley surrounded by snow-covered mountains. It was fun too as Kristof knew all the wrong people there. The first friends he introduced me to recounted their recent experiences going to an anti-dictatorship rally in the city centre. These were serious demonstrations that often descended into violent confrontations between the protesters and the military police – exactly the wrong time and place to be in a car full of illegal smoke. They had a big Cheech and Chong – a duo who did comedy films in the 1970s about smoking weed – moment while looking for a place to park, and ended up finding themselves stuck in the middle of a battle with stones and tear gas canisters flying over the roof of their car


The only kind of revolutionary action that still existed in Brazil was like the one I witnessed following a victory of the Brazilian team in the 1978 World Cup. Then, the police did not want celebrations near Barril 1800, a bar in Ipanema where the bohemian left congregated. Even so, we gathered in front of the bar shouting our lungs out. In the midst of the samba, we suddenly saw a wall of policemen on the other side of the street marching slowly towards us. In an instant, we went from cheering for Brazil to booing the police and chanting anti-dictatorship slogans.

In response, the police charged. We ran, but because they did not take up the pursuit, we returned and hurled stones at them. There was a lot of running back and forth, with the skirmishing carrying on until the police let their dogs loose. We ran for our asses and scattered.

In Chile, the situation far more serious. The dictatorship was at its peak and did not flinch from displaying its brutality. Chile had been a sophisticated country with high levels of education and a democratic tradition. The country’s sin had been electing a socialist government and providing asylum to leftist exiles from other South American countries. To dismantle that democracy, the USA needed a hard-right force without any scruples. This it found in the person of “Generalissimo” Augusto Pinochet.

Some of the families I met had sons, fathers, and brothers who had recently “disappeared” – seized and in all likelihood killed by the military. There was a curfew, and being out after ten at night could lead to your arrest and the risk of a beating at one of the police holding stations. Beer consumption in the streets, especially by youngsters, was a serious offense. Of course, more than once, we were in the empty streets late at night, buzzing with adrenaline and clutching beer cans. The fun was to run behind parked cars and to lie on the pavement to hide from the police patrols that passed by every twenty or so minutes.

One morning, Kristof had to go to a police station to get some documents and I accompanied him. It was obvious that we were not the typical well behaved youths that the Pinochet regime expected young men to be. As soon as we entered the room we drew attention and the atmosphere became tense with menacing looks from the carabineros lined up at the door. When Kristof’s turn came, the officer took an immediate dislike to his long hair and started yelling that he had an effeminate hairstyle and that he was a pot smoking communist. That was a dangerous accusation being made by a senior Pinochet serviceman, but in the end, my Brazilian passport and Kristof’s German document did the trick of getting us out of the building intact. I will never forget another afternoon in Santiago when a man in his early thirties passed by us in a park, discretely handcuffed between two plain-clothed policemen with genuine terror in his eyes as he looked at us as if asking for help.


Augusto Pinochet

Because all the Latin Americans loved the Brazilians – well, with the exception of our Argentine, Paraguayan, and Bolivian neighbours – the Chileans received me well, even one of Kristof’s friends who had swastikas and other Nazi motifs covering the walls of his bedroom.

The highlight of the vacation was skiing in Farellones, one of Chile’s oldest winter-sports resorts. To get there, we took a rickety, old bus that barely managed to haul itself along the steep, winding curves of the cordillera. Although the view was magnificent, the road bordered unprotected precipices that didn’t seem to concern anyone else but me. Up at the ski slopes, I regretted only having brought knitted gloves: I kept on falling onto the powdered snow and by the end of the day, the ice that had solidified around my hands had almost frozen them. I was in pain, so while we were waiting for the bus to take us back to the warmth of Kristof’s house in Santiago, I went to a public toilet to try to bring my hands back to life with hot water. When I tried opening the door, I found that my hands had lost their grip. It must have been comical to see me trying to turn the handle in every possible way but with no success. The solution was to use the only hot liquid available: I went behind the cabin, managed to pull down my trousers and pee on my hands, hoping no one would see.

The next time we went to the slopes, I borrowed a pair of skiing gloves and from then on, the holiday was great. The weather was windless and sunny, and the slopes were empty and covered with a layer of fresh, powdery snow. The sun was so strong that we could take off our jackets and our shirts when we stopped to have lunch on the terrace of a restaurant in the middle of the slopes.

Kristof and I were enjoying ourselves so much in Farellones, that we decided to remain for a whole week. We managed to stay at a close to free student hostel. The other lodgers were a little older than us and seemed to be very reserved – indeed secretive. After they found out that we didn’t live in Chile and therefore that we were unlikely to be police spies, they opened up. In the evenings, behind the closed doors of their isolated rooms, sipping mulled wine, we had long conversations about politics and about escapes through the Andes from that very hostel. There, much more than in Brazil, leading an alternative lifestyle was a courageous statement.


The farewell party in Santiago was as wild as one could be under the Pinochet regime. Although it was winter, one of Kristof’s mates held it in his parents’ garden and rock and roll blasted out of the loudspeakers accompanied by a lot of booze. The only element that was missing were girls. We ended the night at the red light district of Santiago completely drunk and acting as complete idiots. However, the women were too rough for any one of us.

We awoke the following morning with bad hangovers, completely unfit to endure another seventy-two hour bus journey, this time to take us back to the prospect of the final preparations for the vestibular. However, life is full of surprises. As we made our way to our seats and stowed away our hand luggage, we noticed that the only other empty seats were the ones opposite ours. A few minutes later, as in a fantasy film, two attractive young Brazilian women entered the bus and took those free seats. As soon as we left the station, I started chatting with one of them and, soon after, Kristof swapped places with her.

An hour or so later, the bus stopped at a wine shop in the mountains. I did not have any more cash and found it strange when a fellow passenger told me to pretend I was going to buy something. Without thinking much about that odd request, I went to the cashier and asked how much the bottle in my hand was, pretending to be interested in its vintage, its provenance and tasting notes. When the bus pulled away, I found out what had been going on meanwhile: some guys were bragging that they had stolen lots of wine.

I cannot really say what I would have done had I known how they had used me. Anyhow, they had managed to lift a sizeable quantity of excellent wine – booze that we would have to drink before the following day when Brazilian customs officers would search the bus for smuggled goods. It was too late to convince almost the entire bus to return the bottles, not that such an idea had seriously crossed my mind. Instead, there was no option but to join in. Someone asked whom the guitar belonged to, and the party began.

It turned out that the guys who had “liberated” the wine were professional thieves who were going to São Paulo to steal clothes from shops and then sell them in Santiago. There was also a football player who had been away from Brazil for so long that he had forgotten how to speak Portuguese, and also some dudes from Florianópolis who had been skiing in Chile. We soon discovered that everyone in the bus had an amusing story to tell and was keen to make the most out of the three days that they were about to spend there. Together we all managed to make that bus become a big party room, or narrow corridor. The guitar playing went on through the night, with all the passengers singing and making up songs about the vehicle, the other passengers, the booze, the driver and the weed. The girl who I had started flirting with soon succumbed to my charms and we ended up having fun in the toilet at the back of the bus. This was to be my best bus journey ever.

back to chapter 01                        next

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


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?

back to chapter 01                           next


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

Lost Samba’s new picture

Lost Samba's new picture

Check out what we are about on our welcome page and visit our Facebook page and our Tumblr blog.

Lost Samba, Chapter 10/01 – Super-8 and puberty in Rio de Janeiro


Aterro do Flamengo, Photo by Pedro Kirilos

Avi’s dad, Daniel, was not as lucky as mine with the stock market crash. Their family had lost a lot and perhaps because of this they lived in a small, stuffy, apartment in Copacabana. Avi’s dad was in his mid-forties and behind his rather harsh-looking features, thick moustache and cold blue eyes hid a very likeable personality. Although I was as skinny as a stick insect, he considered me a healthy influence for his chubby son. Daniel thought my pastimes were the right ones, namely that I enjoyed playing football and body surfing instead of spending the day watching television and eating sweets. Therefore my friendship with Avi was supposed to be a sporty one, and on weekends, either he would come with me to the club or we would do outdoorsy activities with his dad. The choices were walks in the Tijuca forest and picnics on faraway beaches. In the afternoons, as a compensation for the exertions of earlier in the day, we would end up in one of the several funfairs that were constantly opening up or closing down all across the Zona Sul.

After we discovered skateboards, our favourite place became the Aterro do Flamengo, a park designed by Roberto Burle Marx, Brazil’s leading landscape architect. The authorities had constructed the park on land reclaimed from the sea alongside the Guanabara Bay as a gesture to compensate Rio for losing its status of national capital. However, despite the gigantic cost, what Rio ended up with was a monumentally boring place. The “attractions” included a museum of modern art that never seemed to have any significant work on display, an area to fly model airplanes, a pond for model boats, a memorial for the Brazilian servicemen killed in World War II, playgrounds for toddlers, an old airplane for people who had never been in one before and a promenade alongside the bay. Despite this, the Aterro was a good place for beginner skateboarders like ourselves: the pathways were made of smooth cement and there were several easy ramps.

Neither Avi nor I, ever came close in terms of skateboarding skills to those of the gang who hung out on my street, let alone those of the Californians who performed impressive moves in empty swimming pools and whose photos we saw in Skateboarder magazine. In fact, we sucked. Like geeks trying to look the part, both of us had the same board, the Brazilian-made Torlay, a rigid piece of wood with two very un-cool pairs of black rubber wheels stuck under it. They broke all the time and looked embarrassing next to the imported ones with colourful semi-transparent polyurethane wheels and flexible, fiberglass boards that the cool kids used.


The uncool Torlay skateboard

One morning, Avi’s dad took out a Super 8 camera to film our awkward performances. I had never seen such a camera before and, noticing my curiosity, Daniel asked if I wanted to try it out. He handed over the small, futuristic, box and explained how it worked. I gave it a go and managed to capture Avi going down the slope. When I played back the footage in the visor, I had something close to a revelation. That device for capturing time, full of control buttons and with intricate futuristic leds blimping on its lens was simply too awesome for words and for weeks I could think of nothing else. For me, this was state of the art technology, almost the same as the cameras used to make 007 films, John Wayne westerns and other movies that I loved so much.

I was so mesmerized that I asked for a Super 8 camera and a projector as my Bar Mitzvah present, a heavenly wish Jewish parents simply could not refuse, as long as it was within reason. After I got the equipment, the obsession continued; I filmed just about anything on every opportunity. After getting the films developed in the shop, I rounded up my friends and family to show the results in the darkness of my room. The débuts were big occasions and before them, I carefully edited the shots with a slicer, stuck the bits together with special glue and reviewed the cuts in a precarious retro-projector. My room smelled of chemical glue and there were filmstrips hanging everywhere but, as they say in Brazil, I was as happy as a chick in a garbage can.


The Canon Super-8 camera

This interest took a new dimension during a family trip to Bariloche, a resort high in the Argentine Andes with a European atmosphere that gave Brazilian visitors – as well as Nazis in hiding – the illusion of being in the Old Continent.

One day, we went on a boat excursion to an island in the middle of the huge Nahuel Huapi Lake, a beautiful place that had inspired Walt Disney’s artists for the backgrounds in the movie “Bambi”. The journey soon became boring. Being unable to stand the forced jokes and talks about my future, I went outside to throw bread to the seagulls that raced alongside the boat. About a half an hour later, Dad came out seemingly to interrupt the fun, but instead of bothering me again, Dad told me that he wanted to introduce me to a man he had just met who happened to be a documentary director. Bill was British and was in Latin America to make a film for the BBC about an explorer who in the nineteenth century had travelled on horseback all the way from Argentina to the United States. For me, this was the coolest thing someone could ever do – travelling to shoot a film, not the horse ride – and I decided there and then this was what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Back at home, I started using my Super-8 camera to make silent movies with my friends and took a course in which I ended up directing a short film. The workshop’s organizers liked the end result and took it to several Latin American youth festivals. The film’s name was “Cheque Matte” and the script blended two stories: one of a man playing chess with someone the viewer never saw, and the other a romance of this same character with a female mannequin that he had stolen from a shop. At the end of the film, it turns out that the protagonist was playing against the plastic dummy and he throws the board into the air saying in a low melancholic voice “My life was a game of chess.” As any other trendy film director of time, I will never know the true meaning of my film. Years later, I was flattered to learn that an Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal, had a similar plot.


The seventh Seal, playing chess with Death.

My teachers considered themselves as part of the Cinema Novo movement, Bossa Nova’s cinematographic – and more politicized – sibling.  The people involved in it wished to move the Brazilian cinema away from the commercial studio system and discover the country from a different perspective. Following the neo-realist trends in Europe, these filmmakers focused on poor people, who until then had been portrayed in stereotypical and peripheral ways but now they were the central characters. The movement gained importance after their main exponents, Glauber Rocha and Nelson Pereira dos Santos, won international recognition at the Cannes festival in 1964.


Poster from Deus e o Diabo na Terra do Sol, the Cinema Novo’s master piece

As I entered into a more hormonal teen phase of life, my friends and I started to use the projector for a much less demanding style of film.  Anyone with any knowledge of the subject will agree that the 1970s were the golden age of porn: the action was authentic and the quasi-amateur debauchery made kids like us go wild. With hundreds of clandestine Swedish Super 8 movies passing from newsstands to the back of our wardrobes, my projector became a rare and coveted piece of gear I happily traded for a few days with borrowed films. This secret activity was to be the beginning of the end of my never-fulfilled dream of becoming a film director. With no one to share my passion, the lack of any decent film courses and the absence of parental encouragement, my interest, although ever present in the back of my mind, slowly dissipated into the tropical psychosis.

back to chapter 01                                                           next chapter


Porn in the 70’s


Brazil and the future

ImageA country’s mission goes way beyond constructing stadiums and hosting mega international sporting events that move a lot of money but that have dubious benefits. A country’s mission is its statement, the way it can contribute to the progress of mankind. This sounds outdated in a world that honors dead leaders who said that “there is no such thing as society”, but is it really?

Out of all the big emerging countries, or B.R.I.C.S. members, Brazil stands out as a question mark, what is that country about? Is it just jumping in and out of the big stage, or is it there to stay? What will happen after the Olympics and the World Cup? Will the global recession hit it or not? Will the traditional corruption prevail or will the new way of thinking brought about by almost a decade of left-wing government guide its development?

With the possible exception of South Africa, differently from the other B.R.I.C.S. Brazil has no solid past to stand on. In many ways it is like a teenager among adults, which can be seen as a weakness but can also be seen as a big promise and a great strength. There is a fascinating civilizationary process going on there; a country is writing its history in front of our very eyes. Of course history is happening everywhere at every moment, but very few nations have such a wide range of choices as the Brazilians do.

Here we must separate current state from potential, there is a huge difference between what something is and what it can become, between. As any other nation under the influence of the western financial power, Brazil suffers from the mess. This has been the case since its foundation as a westernized country but politicians and thinkers in the highest echelons of the Brazilian establishment are aware of this and wish to walk away from this bad influence, like teenagers from dysfunctional homes who are aware that their “parents” are drunkards or drug addicts.

This is not a consensus, and is the source of the recent protests that swept the country. There are many who would happily go the easy way and allow the country to perpetuate a model that has been a source of easy profits for the richer and more powerful countries. This is what the B.R.I.C.S. boils down to; China, who has never fully digested western dominance, is leading the train but Brazil is an active member with the backing of several other Latin American countries.

Returning to the main subject, as we stated above, Brazil stands apart from its geopolitical allies not only in the physical map but also in the metal/cultural/spiritual one, and there where its potential statement and mission come in. Brazil’s melting pot is much more comprehensive and more effective than the one of its brother up north. There the mixture of African, European and indigenous didn’t and doesn’t happen. It may have happened on paper, they may have a black president, but in Brazil it has been happening for centuries in bedrooms and in maternity wards, more than eighty percent of its population does not belong to any specific race. There is no such thing as a Hispanic-Brazilian, a African-Brazilian, a Native-Brazilian or a Teutonic-Brazilian there are only human beings belonging to a population that is proud of residing in a beautiful country and of being part of a young and promising nation.

When we talk about promise we revert to two Brazilian thinkers that shone in the 20th Century: the world famous anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro and the tropicalist Jorge Mautner. Both point to the same direction: their country’s potential to accept all differences and to amalgamate them into something new and profoundly human. A place where happiness and peace are more important than wealth; the world’s promised land. Out of all the countries in the world Brazil has the potential of doing this and of setting an example.

With the big capitals of the west becoming more and more multi-racial and communication shortening the gaps between cultures and people we see mankind “Brazilifying” itself. We can only hope that Brazil finds its way to that special place and that it opens the gates to a brighter future for the entire mankind.

Adventures in the Favela – Part 02 – Tania became a prostitute.

Rosa was from Florianopolis in the south of Brazil, a city known for good waves and for beautiful women. Marquinhos lived there and only came to visit us on weekend. When I met her she had just arrived in Rio with a friend, Tania. To be honest the night we met at a party of the Green party, I had fancied Tania’s wild looks. She had curly hair a small backside but breasts way bigger than the Brazilian average. Rosa was prettier but quieter and less sexual. However, she was more receptive that night and after a short courtship we fell deeper for each other and ended up living together.

I soon discovered that Tania was in fact too sexual. Every week she told us about a new guy: a waiter, a tourist, a surfer, a rich guy, a poor guy, a guy from another state; she was very democratic. The two girls continued to be friends and I got to know their story. They knew each other from Florianopolis and had come to Rio for the same job, subscription salesgirls for a left wing magazine. Tania didn’t last a month in the job and was fired after having a huge argument with a boss who tried to have sex with her. Now, jobless, without any money to pay her rent, with drug habits, with a great sexual appetite and knowing no one except Rosa in town, she ended up in the oldest profession in the world; prostitution.

With money coming in, she lived in several places, but everywhere she landed, she managed to argue with someone, be hated by everyone and being kicked out of the house. She would come to us when she was in a crisis, after so many bad experiences we ended up having pity on her and allowing her to rent a spare room.  In the beginning it was pretty cool, the friends she started brining to visit us in the Favela flat were actually interesting. One day she appeared with two legitimate Italian mafiosi, a scrawny pale guy wearing a heavy ring and the other one was a huge guy with a beard, together they resembled a duo that had starred a series of western comedy films called Trinity, with Bud Spencer and Terence Hill. The Italians were cool and had plenty of money, they took us out for many times dinner and were very generous with their never ending supply of cocaine. Another time she turned up with a South African yacht man who was touring the world and who was happy to find someone who spoke English when he met me. To my disbelief, he ended up confessing to me in tears that he had fallen in love with Tania, who perhaps because of this had a deep disrespected for the poor fellow and kept loathing him in Portuguese. Then there was Pierre Alain, a Swiss guy on a sexual safari through Latin America who ended up becoming her boy friend and a personal friend of mine to this very day.

Because I was her best friend’s boyfriend nothing ever happened between us and I became a kind of paternal confidant who gave her a lot of advice. Our friendship made me take her to work every evening. Her “point” was in a night club next to Lido square on avenida Atlantica, Copacabana’s beach promenade. This was the the place with the best girls on the entire strip. I would leave here there and watch girls of all sizes colors and ages swarm over rich and strange lookimng tourists from all over the world. As a gesture of gratitude, she not only paid the rent and for the gas, but she also constantly supplied us with generous small plastic bags filled with white power.

On her spare time, Tania had a talent for reading tarot cards and was into Umbanda the Afro-Brazilian religion. She sometimes gave us reading sessions “incorporating” a demonic spirit called “pomba gira” – turn-around dove -; and sometimes she guessed some pretty amazing things. When she was not doing her sessions and got drunk, the “pomba gira” business got heavy and stopping her was a problem. Things got worse when she started calling her work colleagues for card sessions and partying after work at dawn. I began to get pissed off with the whole thing because, despite living on the border of the Favela I had a job and had to get up early to give English classes.

On one occasion, she was going to travel that same morning with a suitcase I had lent her. She arrived with some friends at four in the morning and started doing her Umbanda stuff. That woke me up on the wrong foot. I got very angry and I went in to the living room to tell her to cut it out because I had to work in a few hours time. The “entity” didn’t like that and started swearing at me, at one point she started calling me a dirty Jew, and that was it, I got my suitcase back and told her not to come back after her trip.

It took a long time for me to hear about Tania again, a few years later someone told me that she was working in the sex business in Switzerland and was buying a house for her mother in Florianopolis. The old woman thought that she had found a great job as a secretary there.

Communism as an inspiration: Latin America

ImageDuring the 60’s and the 70’s in Latin America the notion of what the “free” world was about was clear; it was bullshit. This was the period when the rich developed Capitalist countries intervened in the continent’s local affairs. They wanted the southern hemisphere to swallow their bitter pill at whatever cost in order not go to the communists. For this they sponsored numerous military dictatorships where there was everything but freedom.
In most cases the military’s main concern were not the people whose lives and futures were most affected, the uneducated masses, but the leaders of potential uprisings. These were middle class knowledgeable students who understood what was going on and who were in favor of more egalitarian avenues to development. The example of Cuba was in everyone’s mind and provided a unacceptable scenario in the offices that dealt with the richness and the future of the LatinAmerica.
Taken out of the context of the cold war, the bearded revolutionaries had a Robin Hood like appeal that inspired a generation. For sure this is what drew a great part of the middle class kids towards them and not their disastrous Stalinist way of controlling their people. This was brought about by the economic blockade imposed by the US and its allies and forced the Castro regime to approach the Soviet Union and become an important pawn in a wider conflict.
In Brazil, for young people living under a dictatorship set to destroy it, the word communism was uplifting. First of all it was forbidden; mentioning the tabu word was like talking about porn and anything in this condition is exciting. Secondly it sounded like the antidote of an unjust and elitist solution that the powerful forced down the country’s throat. Lastly and most important, due to the secrecy surrounding this ideology, the only thing we knew about it was its name, which alluded to something that did not sound bad at all: sharing. There must have been something very good being kept from us.
To our uninformed minds and souls the word common implied privileging what belonged to everyone. For us a system with these worries seemed better than one that wanted the world as a place where individuals fought for survival in a hellish Darwinian fire of vanity and consumerism. The military dictators then, as the mainstream politicians now, seemed to want to appease and bow to the interests of these powerful forces “beyond their control” that created evil instead of focusing on common grounds such as our future, our ecology, our wealth, our education, our children, our friendship, our love ( the list is endless).
This giant task of standing up to these idols with unimaginable wealth, armies, police forces and prisons while fighting to transform the world into a more communal place was set long before neo-liberalism, the Latin American dictatorships and Karl Marx himself. The demonized and abused word communism stood in our minds as representing this struggle. We did not know about the parties, the purges, Siberia etc.. what we knew was that our oppressive system struggled against it and saw it as a serious threat.
The more profound and “realistic” interpretations of communism created state sponsored monsters in a similar way that the holy scriptures caused inquisitions, jihad and land grabbing. We were going to learn about this later but what we hopefully never forgot was the stream of clear water that this ideology originally drank from.

The Dilemma of the Brazilian Revolutionaries


Above is the cover of one of the most important magazines in Brazil in the 50’s and 60’s, Manchete. The picture is of the familiar Che Guevara being awarded the Gra-cruz of honor by the conservative President of Brazil, Janio Quadros.

It was a tense hand shake: This was at the height of the cold war and the Cuban revolution was still fresh. Uncle Sam did not like this friendship and a few years later, after Janio resigned and was substituted by his left wing vice president Joao Goulart, he would sponsor a military coup that would deprive Brazil from democracy for at least two decades.

America’s fears were not completely unfounded, revolutionary groups were pretty active in Brazil in that period. There were the peasant’s leagues (Ligas Camponesas) arming rural workers and preparing them for a revolution, the Communist Party had factions that believed in bellicose uprisings and were working on it with Cuba and the Soviet Union, the politicized students believed that Brazil should follow in Cuba’s steps, the trade unions were strong and a large portion of the urban middle class thought that Cuban style Socialism would be good for Brazil.

The right, backed by the military and, as we mentioned, the U.S., was also plotting in the meantime. When the coup came, the right won in the short run, but in the long run the left triumphed, the success of current Brazil may be attributed to figures that were in the opposition back then; of the three latest presidents: Fernando Henrique Cardoso was exiled, Lula was put in jail and Dilma Roussef was trialed, tortured and then exiled.

The picture below shows her at that time


Nowadays the leading party of Brazil, the Partido dos Trabalhadores, is very pragmatic and has distanced itself from any form of radicalism. It was born from the banned trade unions in the industrial belt of Sao Paulo who had nothing to do with the more theoretical and utopian students and intellectuals who were the core of the combatants.

The focus of this article, however, is about what was going on in the mind of the revolutionaries in those early days, which takes us back to the title. In Marxism a country has to acheive an advanced stage of Capitalism for there to be conditions for a revolution; there must be a large urban proletarian force to need the changes and to carry them through. As Cuba, Brazil at the time was vastly rural so the theory had to be re-thought and this was where the internal controversy came up.

For one side the enemy was the local bourgeoisie represented by Brazilian industrialists and large land owners. For them the path to socialism was for the people to take over big farms and industries by force and create a revolutionary country in a similar way that Fidel Castro did.

On the other side of the debate were the anti-imperialists, for them the enemy was the United States of America and their allies. Contrary to their opponents they thought that the local Capitalists should be strengthened in order to breed a proletarian class capable of creating a Socialist state. The subservience to foreign powers weakened this process and blocked the path to an egalitarian Brazil.

The PT, probably through circumstance, was closer to the second trend of thought. Once they reached the presidency, through Lula and now through Dilma the theory and the ideology were superseded by the practicalities of real life politics. The debate has become obsolete but despite this, the presence in Brazilian mainstream politics of people who went through that dilemma, the popularity of such a party and its success in making a continental sized country prosper while tackling its social issues without the spilling of any blood is a silent revolution that people should think about.

Post Navigation