Lost Sambista

A Brazil never seen.

Archive for the tag “marijuana”

Lost Samba – Chapter 19/02 – Problems with the police.


Cadets of the Military Police of Rio de Janeiro.

The interest in instrumental music became so great that promoters started to see opportunities. When the Rio Jazz Festival first started in 1978, it presented big, well-established, international names such as Joe Pass, Dizzy Gillespie and Dexter Gordon as well as most the Brazilian musicians who we were listening to. The festival’s problem was the venue: the Maracanãzinho (the Maracanã’s smaller satellite indoor stadium), the same place that had hosted the music festivals in the late sixties and the early 1970s. The Maracanãzinho’s acoustics were appalling: big rock acts, like Alice Cooper, Rick Wakeman and Genesis, had played there, but the echo had transformed their music into a painful rumble.

Regardless of the quality of the acoustics, we had to go. As the tickets were expensive, my friends and I could only afford one concert. We chose the closing one, the night featuring Jaco Pastorius’ Weather Report, followed by another star bass player, Stanley Clarke. The concert’s grand finale was to be with Jorge Ben and the bateria – or rhythm section – of the Mocidade Independente de Padre Miguel samba school, the best one in Rio de Janeiro, accompanied by special guests.

The seats were divided into cheaper ones on the uncomfortable upper part where for which my friends and I had bought tickets, and the more expensive ones nearer the stage where the wealthier audience could hear the concert more clearly. Jumping down to the lower part was easy, which all my friends did. When my turn came, a policeman tapped me on the back and told me to return to my seat. Despite staying seated alone, I was holding the precious joint that we had reserved especially for the concert through our financial hardship. My friends begged me to throw it down, but as far as I was concerned, it was now mine.


Spectators in the Maracanazinho.

There were two unwritten rules regarding spliffs at concerts. The first rule was that the lights had to have dimmed before you started burning them because, if you precipitated things, the security guards – or in the case of that concert, the policemen – would look incompetent and they’d take action against you. The second rule was that you had to be generous to strangers: this would bring good karma and would save you from watching a great concert in black and white on that day when you had none of your own.

After a long and anxious wait, a deep, formal voice broke out over the sound system to announce the bands and the event’s sponsor. After that, the stadium went dark and the whistling erupted making the place sound like a giant bat cave. A few seconds later, the stage lit up and Weather Report began playing “Birdland”, one of our favourites, with the living legend Jaco Pastorius soloing its beginning on the bass. At that point, it felt safe to light the precious. Some attractive girls sitting next to me asked for some and, of course, I did not refuse. The gig began to look promising. When the first song was halfway finished, I noticed a policeman by the entrance moving calmly over to talk to a colleague at the other entrance.
The police officer stopped in front of where I was sitting and pushed through the crowd towards me. The only thing I could do was to give the joint an awkward flick, and it split in half with a small piece falling near my foot. He picked up the evidence, handcuffed me and we paraded through the crowd, out of the arena. When leaving the concert ring, nervous, angry and stoned as I was, I heard the wrong words come out of my mouth, as if some other person was saying them: I told him that he was screwed because I had no money to give him.

Apparently ignoring my words, the officer continued to push me forward and took me down a long corridor filled with other guards until we reached a big and bright room where the military police was already holding at least another forty people. As soon as we got in, he gave me a strong punch in the stomach. This had always been my weak spot in fights, but because of the adrenaline, I felt nothing. He searched my pockets and didn’t find anything but did get hold of my ID card. After this, he handed me over to his superior, explaining to him what had happened. The captain, who was sitting behind a desk, examined my document, looked me in the eyes, then filled out a form and told me to join my new companions.

There were three categories of people in there: guys who had been caught jumping down stairs, pot smokers and two professional thieves. The latter were handcuffed and sitting on the floor next to a group of policemen who, every now and then, turned around to kick them hard with their leather boots before returning to their conversation as if nothing had happened. The rest of us pretended not to be disturbed by that violence and were busy trying to find a way out of the situation. This was a different jurisdiction from the Zona Sul and, even if I did have some cash, the cops didn’t appear to be open to bribes and it would have been a serious mistake to even suggest such a thing.

A thin Argentinian with a straggly goatee started chatting to the captain about the irrationality of keeping marijuana illegal. We were all surprised at the officer’s intelligence and civility. He accepted the arguments about the contradiction of weed being illegal while alcohol and cigarettes were as toxic – probably a lot more – but were freely available because they made millions for their manufacturers. We all joined in and he finished the conversation by telling us that, although what we were saying might well be true, the law was the law, that we knew the rules perfectly well and should abide by them.
As the drama unfolded, we could hear the mumbled sound of the concert on the other side of the wall. After a couple of hours, the cheering and the rumble ended, and the mood in the room became apprehensive. A more senior officer arrived, told the seemingly cool captain to leave and sat behind the desk without looking at us. After a few tense minutes, he turned to his assistant to say that the guys caught jumping down could go home but that the rest of us were going to spend the night in jail.

My heart missed a beat. The nightmare was becoming more and more real, and I could already see the outcome happening: the police calling my parents to release me from jail, their disappointment and the draconian measures they would take to correct my behaviour. After a long and silent half hour, the officer called his assistant to say that the maconheiros could leave. The thieves stayed on: they had a long night ahead.

When I got to the bus stop, I remembered my ID card and searched my pockets: it wasn’t there. I had left it with the police! That was too stupid to be true, but I had to walk back through the lines of hundreds of policemen, dogs, cars and vans, forced to explain to one and all my embarrassing situation until I reached the officer who had released me. He took me back to the holding room and looked inside the drawers. The document wasn’t there. He called a soldier to ask where the documents had gone and, after a while, the junior officer came back and confirmed that they had never left that room. He then asked me if I had searched my pockets correctly. I looked again and to my absolute shame, the plasticized document was deep inside my back pocket. Telling the embarrassing truth was inevitable; he looked at me, grabbed my hand to smell my fingers, muttered something unflattering and released me again.

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Lost Samba – Chapter 18/02 – Adventures in South of Bahia’s paradise


The experience did not touch Edu as much as it did me. He was more sensible and I felt he was restricting himself by choosing to mix only with a boring university crowd. They were an important part of the conversations, but only marginally participant in the “secret society”. By not having a relationship with “the herb”, they missed out on an essential element, not because of the act of showing off that they were smoking weed, but because of the perceptual dimensions it seemed to open in conversations and in observations.

Edu was into conventional psychology, which was too intellectual for that time and place. Gabeira summed up the difference of perspectives with a catchphrase, “Without a hard-on [by which he meant desire], there is no solution.” This is what the people in the forefront of that quixotic revolution thought. It was about walking the walk, and not about talking the talk. We were seeking a world in which people lived according to their connection to the positive energy of the cosmos, and not a world ruled by patronizing dogmas. In this utopian summer interlude, who needed to rationalize things? Who needed the weight of history, of schools, of tradition and of science over their heads? Should that dictate what was right and what was wrong?

The drifting apart of my friendship with Edu reached a climax because of our house-sharers, three girls from Brasília he’d found by asking around. When I met the girls, I immediately found them unattractive and square, and therefore completely off my radar. Their feelings towards me were mutual: my exaggerated carioca attitude of being laid back and not giving a shit when it came to anything remotely practical contrasted with the girls’ efforts to be sociable and with their requests to share household chores. Perhaps they were correct in seeing me as a lazy, rich guy used to having a mum and a servant indulging my needs, but I was too immature to take this on board and simply dismissed them as being annoying and ugly bitches. After all I was only seventeen years old.

The girls ended up getting fed up with my laziness and one day after the beach, they demanded that I cook a meal. I warned them I didn’t know how, but they refused to listen and forced me to embark on my first-ever culinary adventure. The stove, such as it was, was a grill lying over some bricks in the field behind the house, and I had to search for some dry wood and paper to light a fire. The wind made this a hard task and when the flames started to go down I placed on the grill a battered pot, into which I threw some water, oil, salt and the spaghetti.

While waiting for the mixture to boil, I lit the roach in my pocket on the fire. Everything was going fine until I added the eggs: as I watched them drop into the boiling water, I noticed that the rest of the contents had become thick and gluey. Even to me it was obvious that pasta should not have that kind of consistency but the harder I tried; the more I struggled to stir my creation. What was going to be a pasta meal degenerated into an unedifying block of dough. To make matters worse, I noticed that the eggs had vanished from sight. I started digging into the “thing” in an attempt to save them, but then the fork got stuck, before vanishing into that amorphous blob.

When I got back to the house and tried to explain what had happened, I found that no one else saw the comic value. In addition to wasting their meagre groceries, I was forcing them to spend their precious money on a meal in the canteen next door. The mood turned sour, but for me there were better things to do than listen to those three girls yelling at me, especially because I had warned them about my culinary inability. That night came the final straw. After getting drunk, I walked the youngest, quietest, most receptive and prettiest one of the three back home. We kissed, and after we got into the house and I was close to finalizing things, the other two girls stormed in, coming close to physically attacking me. The following day they threw me out. Edu wasn’t happy either and sided with them.

Perhaps because of this event, Edu decided to return to Rio earlier than planned and I left for Trancoso, the next village down the coast, where I stayed for three more weeks. Despite carrying with me feelings of dejection, as soon as I set foot in Trancoso, I knew that I was onto something special. That tiny place was somehow even more magical and unspoiled than Ajuda, so isolated that the only way to get there was by boat or by trekking along the beach at low tide.


As Ajuda, Trancoso was also situated on a cliff top overlooking the ocean. It was tiny and consisted of an angular formation of huts bordering a sizeable green in the middle of the tropical forest. At the end of the field there was a simple-looking whitewashed colonial-era church, which closed the rectangle. I arrived there at the end of the afternoon and it was love at first site. The beauty of the place was mesmerizing; the long shadows of the golden sun created by the tiny houses were almost covering the field, The smell of the fresh grass in the shade was unbelievably refreshing in that hot and dry weather.

The purity of the air made the ocean in the background assume a marvellous dark turquoise tint as it reflected the deep blue of the sky. The combination of all of this made that small commune possess an scenic sophistication that hardly combined with its remoteness. Trancoso had the look and feel of some kind of special university campus for people in search of living life in the correct way. Here, the divide between locals and visitors was not so huge, as many of the outsiders had decided to drop out of city life and had chosen to make that place their home.

I headed straight to the only bar in the place, an open air one, where I stayed chatting and playing guitar until it got dark. As it grew late, someone asked me if I had anywhere to sleep. I said no and, after a lot of talking, it turned out that the only hut available was one that stood alone down by the beach. I could stay there for free, but the downside would be having to get there alone. Although moonless nights, like that particular one, were excellent for watching shooting stars, they were terrible for seeing even one meter ahead, and even worse for walking in the bush. My new friends explained how to find the hut, but the idea of having to wade through a river to get there didn’t sound good.


The Trancoso Church

As the night advanced, the bar’s owner turned off his kerosene lamp but the music continued, breaking the silence of the rest of the village. Soon people started to wander off. Once everyone had gone his or her separate ways, I left my guitar in the bar and set off for my hut, guided by my sharp night vision and relying on my good hearing. When I reached the river and realised that the far bank was at least six meters distant, I considered giving up. Instead, I bit the bullet. The water was warm and the riverbed was muddy. As the river got deeper, croaking noises made my mind turn to snakes, strange animals and flesh-eating fish. At one point, the water came almost up to my chest and the current made it hard to balance the gear that I was carrying on my head. When I reached the other side of the river and spotted my new home, everything became easier as from then on I only needed to follow the sand-track until the hut’s door.

It was unlocked, and as I came in I saw a candle someone had left there and took out the box of matches I’d managed to keep dry. The flickering flame revealed a basic wooden shack stuck together with clay with a sand floor and a roughly thatched-roof, the only furniture was a rustic table and a chair. The wind blowing ashore was howling loudly, rattling the door and the windows in an eerie choreography. However, the candlelight made the hut feel surprisingly cosy. Still soaked, I opened my sleeping bag, stretched it on the floor and fell right asleep.

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Night in Trancoso

Lost Samba – Chapter 12 – The American School of Rio: privilege and weed in the 70’s

Part18After my fiasco at the British School, the Escola Americana, or E.A., was the only alternative left in which to continue an international education in Rio de Janeiro. That surreal institution had everything one could expect from an American High School: blond and ginger boys and girls speaking English with a nasal accent, a baseball field, an American football team, and the social competition inherent to such an institution. The Rocinha favela, the biggest slum in the world, located on the hill right in front of the school, was a reminder that those massive grounds and those futuristic buildings were a hub for a foreign virus in a foreign land.

The EA’s educational structure was as advanced as its architecture: we built our own curriculum, the courses were with different students in different classrooms, we had a smoking area, the teachers had long hair and we didn’t need to wear a uniform. In a town influenced by the American culture, in terms of coolness, this school was the Olympus of Rio’s youth. The kids who had set the trends for how the middle class was behaving; the ones who had introduced surfing and weed to Ipanema, had studied or were studying at that very school.  My classmates were the children of the powerful gringos sent over to overlook the making of “New Brazil” and to make sure that the branch followed the headquarters. This feeling was pretty much internalized in most students and I had to be careful not to absorb their sense of superiority and look down on regular Brazilians.

Most of them weren’t saints and were having the time of their life. They did all the wrong things that the other kids did, but had the added advantage of relying on IBM, or Merck or Shell to intervene on their behalf when things went wrong. This sense of impunity was usually reserved only to the highest ranking families of the land. The school’s elite knew each other well from their parents social circles and excluded those who didn’t belong. With the status of a non-surfer, Brazilian born, and non-muscular son of an elderly Jewish small business owner, I was barred from the ‘“in’” crowd.  These were guys with an unblemished American or European pedigree who irradiated self-confidence. Many had long hair, were athletic, and seemed to rock in any physical activity they got into, except for football (for them soccer).

Those kids had a lifestyle that is hard to imagine. To begin with, most of them belonged to the Yacht Club and had boats waiting for them at the marina. They lived in houses, a rarity in Rio even in those days, the ones who lived in flats stayed in the best addresses in town such as the beach front avenues of Ipanema and Leblon,  Avenida  Vieira Souto and  Avenida  Delfim Moreira. Whenever I was invited to parties or to hang out after school with any of them, I would think to myself, “So these are people who live here”. My schoolmates had access to gadgets that were science fiction in common households: video games (something that hardly anyone had in those days), imported surf and skateboards, records from any band one could imagine, the best stereo equipment available in the American (not the Brazilian) stores and dreamlike weekend houses in dreamlike locations where they could use their toys.

To add insult to injury, their monthly, dollar-based pocket moneys were probably more than what I received in an entire year, which in its turn was more than the minimum salary. Dad had made a lot of extra money with his stock market move, but next to these people we were poor.

The few friends I made there came with a novelty: they smoked weed.  After talking about my tastes and interests it didn’t take long for them to welcome me into their circle and help me discover what the fuss was all about. The first couple of tries were disappointing, but on the third or fourth session, the penny dropped and I realized I was very stoned.  The experience was not what I expected, there were no unicorns galloping in front of me nor did everything change into psychedelic colours, it was all about laughing with no apparent reason, and about appreciation of rock music. There was no doubt that the high gave a different dimension to everyday activities; every song we listened to sounded marvellous and had details that I had never noticed before. Perhaps because I was learning how to play the guitar, the state that the smoke induced me into allowed me to identify the different layers of the music and to understand what was in the mind of the musicians when they wrote those parts and performed them.  The simplest things: LP and book covers, paintings on the wall, decorative statues and plants, acquired a beauty that I could never have grasped in a normal state.  I was soon to discover that maconha was a repellent for girls, but, hey, the chicks at the American School were unobtainable anyway.

From that point onwards, at school, at the beach, at the club and at home, I had an edge: I was doing something illegal.  Things and people I had never understood before began to make sense, and belonging to that new club felt great, almost like the conquest of an identity.  In my mind, the peers in my other circles were dying to do the same but did not have the “cojones”.

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The summer of the Tin

What you see above was posted by Marcos Telles in his great site Pier de Ipanema (www.pierdeipanema.com) focused on Ipanema’s surfer generation in the 70’s.

The video is about one of the most unbelievable summers in Brazilian history: in 1988 the Australian ship Solana Star set sail from Singapore loaded with top quality Marijuana. In order to dodge the attention they took an unusual route: they traveled around South America and then up the Brazilian coast heading to the US when the maritime police intercepted them somewhere between Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Instead of allowing themselves to be arrested, in the lack of a better option, they threw their cargo in the ocean before the cops arrived. It happened that the weed was kept in tins which the currents took to the coast where surfers and fishermen recuperated them. The youth received the content of those tins like manna from heaven and the resinous and heavy scented weed provided  an unforgettable summer that some people find hard to remember 🙂

Following the Brazilian tradition of giving names to summers, the one of 1988 was the Verao da Lata (the Summer of the Tin).

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