By Mark Taylor
Deus Brasiliero (God is Brazilian) is a sort of black comedy. It tells the story of a poor man, Taoca (Wagner Moura), who while fishing meets up with God (Antnio Fagundes). God appears out of nowhere, standing on the mast of a sunken ship protruding up from the sea. Taoca, despite suffering his own troubles, offers to help God, at least initially to take him back to the shore.

Taoca meets God

Taoca meets God

It transpires that God is bored of humanity so wants to go on holiday, and is searching for a specific saint to act as a locum while he’s away. He engages Taoca to help him find the saint, and they are joined by Mad (Paloma Duarte), an idiosyncratic girl who is tired of living in a poor town, on their quest.

Mad, Taoca and God walk through the streets

Mad, Taoca and God walk through the streets

The story is a little light on content, but gorgeous cinematography and the landscapes of the north-east of Brazil (blue skies, beaches, rivers and colourful people and buildings) mostly fill the gaps. Although quite why God is Brazilian is never explained, unless they’re referring to him being played by a Brazilian actor.

You should be able to find this on DVD at any reasonable store or rental store. It’s particularly recommended on DVD for those struggling with Portuguese who can opt for Portuguese or English subtitles.

Previous articles by Mark Taylor:

Brazil: Finados (Day of the Dead)
Interjections, exclamations and onomatopoeia in Brazilian Portuguese
Brazil: Halloween
Brazil says “No” to banning firearms
Brazil Humour: Phone Etiquette
Brazil’s Gun Referendum
Brazil: Scams
Brazil: Moby Review
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 5
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 4
Brazil: Avril Lavigne at Pacaembu
Moby in Brazil
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 3
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 2
Brazilian Film Review
Brazil: Keeping in touch via the Internet – Part 1
Brazil: First season of Lost repeated on AXN

This week’s entertainment guide for São Paulo covers a bar in Vila Madalena, a restaurant in Itaim that specialises in fish, a place for kids to play in the Market Place Shopping Centre, an art exhibition at Estaão Pinacoteca, and this week’s recommended cinema release.

VeniceVenice is a large bar in Vila Madalena. It has an unusual and difficult to categorise style, highlighted by the unusual lights all over the ceiling. It has six areas and “environments” including a a large inside floor, an open fronted area, and in front a balcony with a waterfall. On the upper floor things are more relaxed with a lounge and sofas. The menu has options such as salad and pasta, as well as a grill. Burgers are a particular speciality, with a burger named after the bar itself, the Venice burger. To drink there are the usual Chopp (draught beer), spirits, juices and soft drinks. Rua Incio Pereira da Rocha, 494. Tel. 3812 4282 http://www.veniceonline.com.br

Rufinos“Born” in Guaruj, Rufino’s is a restaurant that has that feel of being at the beach. Primarily beacuse the menu has a large number of fish dishes, as well as other “fruits of the sea”. Aside from both grilled and baked fish there are also tasty risottos cooked “on the hour”, and the traditional “Spaghetti al Vngole”. Rua Dr. Mrio Ferraz, 377. Chcara Itaim. Tel. 3078 6301. http://www.rufinositaim.com.br

Market PlaceChildren will no doubt love to visit Fantasy Place, located in Market Place Shopping Centre. The highlights are: “Samba baloon”, a toy formed from eight baloons that flies around while both climbing and descending, also a carousel with two levels, and “Venturer” a flight simulator. This is aside from a leisure area, games, arcade and pinball machines. Price R$1.50 – 4.50, depending on the attraction. Loja 106. Shopping Market Place. Av. Dr. Chucri Zaidan, 902. Vila Cordeiro. Tel. 5543 3377. http://www.marketplace.com.br

Portugal Novo: Artistas de Hoje e AmanhEstaão Pinacoteca is currently showing the exhibition Portugal Novo: Artistas de Hoje e Amanh (New Portugal: Artists of Today and Tomorrow). The exhibiton brings 50 works from those artists active in the contemporary art scene of Portugal, like Julião Sarmento, Rui Chafes and Filipa Csar. Note that the exhibition closes on the 4th December. Estaão Pinacoteca is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10h – 18h. Price: R$4, half price for concessions. Free on Saturdays. Lgo. Gal. Osório, 66. Tel. 3337 0185. http://www.iartes.pt/portugal_novo/index.htm

Saw IIThe film recommendation for this week is Saw II (Jogos Mortais 2 in Portuguese). Continuing with the Halloween flavour, and released to coincide, the story continues from the gory original, Saw. Jigsaw, the evil killer, again locks some unwitting individuals in a shelter filled with booby traps which they must escape from. Similar in style to the first film expect more gore, and is recommended for fans of the horror genre. Has been relatively popular in the USA. Rated R in the USA, and 18 in the UK. http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0432348/

If you have been to a restaurant, club, park, or anywhere that you would like to recommend to other readers in future Entertainment Guides then don’t hesitate to contact us!

What’s On Guide, October 31 – November 6 2005What’s On Guide, October 24 – October 30 2005What’s On Guide, October 17 – October 23 2005What’s On Guide, October 10 – October 16 2005
What’s On Guide, October 3 – October 9 2005
What’s On Guide, September 26 – October 2 2005
What’s On Guide, September 19 – September 25 2005
What’s On Guide, September 12 – September 18 2005
What’s On Guide, September 5 – September 11 2005
What’s On Guide, August 29 – September 4 2005
What’s On Guide, August 15 – August 28 2005
What’s On Guide, July 28 – August 14 2005
What’s On Guide, July 7 – July 27 2005
What’s On Guide, June 22 – June 28, 2005
What’s On Guide, June 15 – June 22, 2005
What’s On Guide, June 6 – June 15, 2005
What’s On Guide, May 26 – June 6, 2005
What’s On Guide, May 20 – May 25, 2005
What’s On Guide, May 13 – May 19, 2005
What’s On Guide, May 6 – May 12, 2005
What’s On Guide, Apr 29 – May 5, 2005
What’s On Guide, Apr 21 – Apr 28, 2005
What’s On Guide, Apr 6 – Apr 20, 2005
What’s On Guide, Mar 31 – Apr 6, 2005

By John Fitzpatrick
In early October I was talking to someone closely involved with the São Paulo PSDB leadership who said that the Workers Party (PT) of President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva was wrong if it thought the ongoing political crisis was running out of steam. Something would occur which would show Lula that he would not have a clear run at a second mandate next year. I assumed he was referring to some ambush the PSDB was preparing for just before next year’s election. Oh no, it will happen sooner, perhaps this month”, he said. Events in the last few days of October show he may have been speaking the truth. These events included: an article by Veja magazine claiming that Lula’s election campaign had been partially funded by Cuba; a PSDB call for a Congressional inquiry (CPI) into the double entry bookkeeping method of the PT’s campaign (known as Caixa 2); and a call by a leading PSDB member, Tasso Jereissati, for impeachment proceedings to be considered against Lula. However, not everything is going as smoothly as the PSDB leadership might have imagined at the start of October. Its president, Eduardo Azevedo, resigned on October 25 after admitting that he had used the Caixa 2 and received R$700,000 to pay off a debt from Marcos Valerio, the “banker” at the center of the scandal. This has given the PT plenty of ammunition with which to defend itself in the “war” which some sections of the media say has broken out. Whether it is a real “war” or a phony war we can be sure of one thing – it will be a dirty one.

The cover of the current issue of Istoe magazine shows tanks blasting away at each other and a headline declaring that the truce between the PT and the PSDB is over. This seems a rather exaggerated portrayal of the situation. My feeling is that these latest developments are just skirmishes in a long struggle which will unfold over the coming year. Instead of a head-to-head contest involving just two parties slugging it out, we will see a conflict of attrition fought on various fronts, with shifting positions and alliances.

Both sides have strengths and weaknesses. The PT, for example, is still strong and has survived the onslaught of the last six months surprisingly well despite the fact that it has lost several of its top leaders. It is true that some members, including Congressmen, have defected to the recently-formed radical PSOL party but the overwhelmingly majority has remained loyal to Lula. The party elected a former government minister, Ricardo Berzoini, as its new president rather than the more left-wing rival candidate. However, the loser has been made a vice president and the party executive as a whole has moved further to the left. Instead of being a setback to Lula this is actually an advantage since the more left-wing element now no longer has anything to complain about and will be duty bound to support him. Since any radical leftist candidate, such as the PSOL’s Senator Heloisa Helena, would not make the second round her supporters would have no choice but Lula. Even if they are disillusioned with Lula, it is hard to see them voting for a PSDB candidate, for example.

Another point in the PT’s favor is the fact that Lula is its undisputed leader and no other PT candidate is conceivable at this moment. Lula can also use his position as president to his advantage and ensure the continued support of the tens of millions of poorer and working class Brazilians who identify with him. Many, if not most of these staunch supporters, do not read the press and are uninterested in the ins and outs of the political machinations in Brasilia. Brazilian voters do not necessarily hold past misdeeds against their political leaders. We only to have to look at the likes of Antonio Carlos Magalhes, Paulo Maluf or Jader Barabalho who have been re-elected in the past despite serious allegations against them.

No Easy Ride for Lula Next Time
Despite these strengths, the PT is weak in several areas. First of all, Lula no longer enjoys the commanding lead he had before the scandal broke in May. This was when the first allegations appeared that the PT had been paying bribes to members of allied parties to ensure their votes in Congress. Polls show a big drop in his popularity and it is unlikely that he will ever regain his previous position. He and the PT have certainly lost the votes of many members of the middle class and business sector which backed him in 2002. This means he will have a tougher time during the campaign. We will have no repetition of the last campaign when his lead was so commanding that all he had to do in the TV debates with the other candidates was turn up. He will not be able to dodge the issue of corruption, particularly if there are further revelations or no satisfactory conclusions to the various Congressional inquiries.

He will also have to be careful not to appear holier than thou. The PT has lost any reputation it had of being more honorable and ethical than the other parties. Although individual PT members do not appear to have benefited financially from the corrupt goings-on, the party has been seen to be as unprincipled as any other. Lula will have to persuade voters that the PT has learned its lesson and will be more responsible if it gains a new mandate. That will be a hard task since his running mate will probably be a candidate from another party, such as the PMDB or PSB. This means any second Lula mandate will be another broad alliance and it is precisely this overstretched alliance which has caused the current crisis. The scandal has revealed that the glue which bound this odd combination of interests, which ranged from Communists to Evangelicals, was money.

At the same time, the PSDB is not in quite as strong a position as is often assumed. First of all, it is not the only party which will put forward a presidential candidate. Secondly, it does not have a definite candidate which the whole party is behind and, thirdly, the resignation of Azevedo has weakened it strategically and morally.

Although the PSDB will probably provide the opponent to Lula, should he seek re-election, this is not a foregone conclusion. The two other large parties, the PMDB and PFL, have strong potential candidates in Anthony Garotinho and Cesar Maia respectively. The PFL provided Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s vice president, Marco Maciel, during his two mandates but this does not mean it will automatically sign up this time. The PFL has been the main official opposition party along with the PSDB but has not always seen eye to eye with it. The PMDB, although officially an ally of the government, has a large anti-government wing which will insist on the party putting forward its own candidate, probably Garotinho.

PSDB Faces Internal Battle Over Candidate
Unlike these other parties, the PSDB still does not have a definite or outstanding candidate. It has two big names – Jose Serra, the mayor of São Paulo, who lost to Lula in the last election, and Geraldo Alckmin, the state governor of São Paulo. Opinions polls show that Serra would do better against Lula than Alckmin but Serra is still in his first year of office and would have to step down, thereby breaking a pledge to voters that he would complete his mandate. Alckmin, on the other hand, faces no such moral dilemma.

It is doubtful that voters would be particularly annoyed if Serra were to resign and run for the presidency again and there is a good chance that this will happen. This would not go down well with the Alckmin camp since Alckmin is not as experienced as Serra or as well known nationally. He is rather faceless and has little charisma. However, there are signs that he is using (if not abusing) his contacts in the media to help gain the PSDB nomination. The current issue of Exame magazine has a flattering cover story claiming that the business sector would overwhelmingly back Alckmin against Lula. How an obvious assumption like this merits such extensive coverage is beyond my understanding but it must have made Alckmin pleased. A week earlier, the São Paulo leisure supplement of Veja had a gushing cover story about Alckmin’s photogenic wife and portrayed her as paragon of social virtue.

The resignation of the PSDB national president, Eduardo Azevedo, has not only damaged the party’s reputation for probity but also upset the Minas Gerais section. The funds he received were for his campaign for the governorship of Minas Gerais in 1998. Before this scandal erupted, the current governor of Minas Gerais, Aecio Neves, was one of the PSDB’s rising stars and a possible presidential candidate. However, much of the financing of the scandal was done through two banks based in Minas Gerais, Banco Rural and BMG. As a result Neves has lost his impetus and is no longer in the running. Neves has publicly criticized the “São Paulo power struggle” and has called on the party to tone down its attacks on Lula. Unfortunately for Neves, Serra is now interim president until November 18 when he is likely to be replaced by none other than Senator Tasso Jereissati who raised the issue of impeachment. Sorting out the Minas Gerais faction is another issue the PSDB will have to deal with this in choosing its candidate.

It may also find it has to defend itself against allegations of corruption during the administration of Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Members of the PT and other parties have suggested that bribes were paid to Congressmen to ensure their support for the constitutional amendment which allowed Cardoso to seek (and win) a second term of office. They have also claimed that the privatization program, which the PT fiercely opposed, was marked by corruption. The PT has also been trying to revive allegations that senior members of the previous administration, including Cardoso, were involved in setting up illegal bank accounts abroad. Although these allegations are almost 10 years old and have been discredited this will not stop the PT using them if it suits its purpose.

In conclusion, the Veja article alleging that the PT received illegal funds from Cuba has been met with widespread skepticism even among the anti-Lula section of the press. The story is thin, to say the least, and one of the main figures alleged to have been involved in the operation is dead. The two people who make the allegations differ over how much was involved, with one claiming US$3 million and the other US$1.3 million. Whether it is true or not, it is another example of the kind of “revelation” we can expect in the months to come.

John Fitzpatrick 2005

John Fitzpatrick is a Scottish writer and consultant with long experience of Brazil. He is based in São Paulo and runs his own company Celtic Comunicaes.This article originally appeared on his site http://www.brazilpoliticalcomment.com.br. He can be contacted at jf@celt.com.br.

Previous articles by John Fitzpatrick on www.gringoes.com:

Brazilians Vote for Guns and Death Not Peace and Love
Brazil’s Gun Lobby Launches Hysterical Campaign Against Arms Ban
Jews and Arabs Find Success in Brazil
Brazil’s Politicians Start Looking Ahead to Next Year
Brazil: Lula Down but Certainly Not Out
Brazil’s Congress Struggles to Cope with Ongoing Crisis
Brazil: Scandal Threatens Presidential Mandate System
Brazil: If Lula is to Survive He Needs to Change His Tactics
Brazil: Many Parties – Few Ideas
Brazil Through Foreign Eyes
Helping the Helpless in Brazil
Pinheiros – São Paulo’s Best District
Growing Old (Dis)gracefully in Brazil
Canudos, Still With Us 100 Years Later
The Rise of the Brazilian Empire
Brazil and Portugal – The Samba and the Fado
Brazil – Just A State Of Mind
Brazil: For Lula, is Ignorance Bliss?
Brazil: Pay Day – or Pay Dirt?

By D. E. Finley
My husband and I wanted a tour of São Paulo. But, our usual tour guide, Carlos, had scheduled a beach trip to Santos with an Italian businessman, Bruno. We could tag along if we’d like.

As we drove out of São Paulo, Bruno told us of all the great Italians who had made São Paulo the impressive city that it is today, even enlightening Carlos. I had thought always that Brazil had been founded by the American explorers, Lewis and Clark. But, according to Bruno, it was an Italian, John Cabot, who discovered Brazil and made it prosper. According to Bruno, Cabot was also a fantastic chef in his leisure time who invented feijoada, pao de queijo (cheese bread), and the caipirinha.

Driving to Santos, Bruno excitedly told us about his recent, two day side trip. On day one, he went to Iguassu falls to see one of the seven wonders of the world with all it’s natural beauty and splendor. Day two, he went next door to Paraguay, where he bought cheap electronics and knockoff CDs and DVDs.

As we reached Santos, Carlos pointed to the sandy beach, gentle waves, and women in thong bikinis that he’d like to sleep with. He explained that a while back there was a problem where a bunch of whales got beached, and weren’t able to return to the sea.

You are talking about wav-as?” Bruno asked for clarification.

“Yes, val-as.” Carlos replied.

“How could big wav-as not return to the sea?” Bruno asked.

“Because the val-as were stuck on the beach. People poured water on them, to try to get them to return.”

“But, how could big wav-as get stuck on the beach? Don’t wav-as always go back into the sea?”

“Not these val-as. They got stuck. Some of them died.”

Bruno looked more confused than a mother who had just given birth to the wrong test tube baby – a goat.

“I think that there’s a little mix-up here, Bruno. Carlos is talking about a whale as in Moby Dick or Sea World, not a wave as in surfs up or bitch’in,” my husband explained.

“Uhhh,” Carlos and Bruno replied, seeming to understand.

After a driving and walking tour of the Santos, we stopped at an Italian seafood restaurant, so delicious, it would have made Frank Sinatra and Tony Soprano regulars. The owner, Anthony, who was from Italy came visited our table. Anthony and Bruno talked to each other in Italian, like two Mafia brothers with the same, Sicilian grandma.

“It’s very simple what we are a saying,” Bruno laughed. “Italian men like to talk about two things – food and women. They are both so beautiful and plentiful in Brazil. Still, we can’t get enough.”

During our lunch, which was enough for an entire busload of tourists with weight problems, the topic of President Bush and the war in Iraq came up. Bruno said that he was for Bush and the war. Gus said that he was against Bush and the war. Bruno asked my husband and me what we thought of Bush. To reply diplomatically, we made the sign of the “O” with our fingers. Bruno translated it to mean “okay” and Gus, “asshole”.

“You know-a,” Bruno informed us, “I dis-cov-red that Bush has another meaning.”

I stressed to myself, “No! He’s not going to blurt that out in front of all these people, is he?! Even, if they won’t be able to understand him!”

With his arms and hands raised, Bruno made a huge, half diamond shape in the air, blurting, “It also means a PLANT-A, like a SHRUB-A! I did not know this before!”

My husband, Carlos, and I looked at each other, trying not to implode by holding in our laughter.

After a size expanding meal and entertaining company, Carlos led the way back to the car, “I par-ked it on the floor under that tree.”

Carlos dropped my husband and I off at our hotel in São Paulo, a Holiday Inn. It looked more like a yellow brick of cheese the size of Newark, NJ. As we said our thank yous and goodbyes, I suggested, “Maybe next time, we’ll see Moby Dick in Santos.” Carlos and Bruno looked confused.

D.E. Finley is a writer and graphic artist. You can visit her website at http://defDesigns.com

To read previous articles by D. E. Finley click below:

Brazil: Novo Jerusalem

Brazil Humour: Plastic Surgery

Brazil Humour: What’s In A Name?

Brazil Humour: Sizing Up Shoes in Brazil

Brazil Humour: Hiring a Cook

Brazil Humour: Pet Sitting

Brazil Humour: Driving in Campinas

Brazil Humour: Lighting Up

Brazil: Going to the US Consulate

Brazil: Advice to Dialinda

Brazil: Feijoada Anyone?

Brazil Life: Winter in Brazil

Brazil Life: Home Safe Home
Brazil Life: Hose Shopping
Brazil Life: In-Laws In Town
Brazil Life: Got Floss
Brazil Life: Hiring a Maid
Brazil Life: Brazilians are so Nice
Brazil Life: Gringa Goes Shopping at Carrefour
Brazil Life: Amazon Encounter Lodge Vacation
Brazil Life: Keeping Track of My Purse

By Max Hodgkin
This column is for all you lovely classical music lovers in São Paulo. This week’s suggestion list includes another Opera for the buffs and a film with live music.

Prices normally are ridiculously low in SP so don’t miss the opportunities! Often there is price for children and senior citizens.

Nov 3rd and 5th
Opera Candide” by Bernstein at 20.30
Theatro Municipal. Praca Ramos de Azevedo. Tel.222 8698. There is plenty of parking nearby.
Entry R$40 to R$80

Nov 3rd and 5th
International Film Festival.
The film Battleship Potemkin will be shown at the same time while the Orchestra Jazz Sinfonica will play Shostakovich.
Free Entry, although tickets must be collected from Central da Mostra, Conjunto Nacional, Av, Paulista 2073.
Memorial da America Latina, Av Auro Soares de Moura Andrade 664. next door to the metro Barra Funda Good parking R$10 and good seating.

Nov 4th and 5th
Orquestra Sinfonica do Estado de São Paulo. Play Shostakovich Sym. No.7
At the Sala São Paulo, (part of the railway station) Praca Julio Prestes. Tel. 3337 5414 with its own parking and good seats.
Entry $R25 to R$79

For classical music on the radio tune to Cultura (FM 103.30MHz). On some late nights they transmit Jazz. More extensive details can be found in a monthly magazine called Concerto and is available via Tel. (11) 5535 5518

For previous articles by Max Hodgkin see below:

Brazil: São Paulo’s Classical Music Roundup – Oct 25th to Nov 1st
Brazil: São Paulo’s Classical Music Roundup – Oct 20th to 24th
Brazil: São Paulo’s Classical Music Roundup – Oct 5th to Oct 16th
Brazil: São Paulo’s Classical Music Roundup – Oct 5th to Oct 12th”

By Blair A. Lasky
Dr. Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) once said, in his popular situation-comedy of the 1980s, that I want to live long enough until all my children leave home.” It wasn’t that he didn’t love his children. He did. I considered him to be a good father, a good role model for the rest of us who perhaps needed some guidance. He said the above because he believed that it is a natural course for children to grow-up and leave the nest to start independent lives.

I was a typical American example. I was one of four brothers who grew up in small-town America. We were encouraged by our parents, after we graduated from high school, to go away to college in another city or state. This is considered as a right-of-passage into adulthood. College is a half-way house between living with your parents and living on your own. Actually, a half-way house in the American penal system is a place where some former convicts live, after being released from prison, but before they have completed their punishment. That’s what I felt like when I went away to college more than forty years-ago, like I was released from prison.

Colleges and universities in the United States encourage this type of behavior by building dormitories on their campuses to accommodate the vast percentage of their students who will not be commuting directly from their parents’ homes to the classrooms. They aren’t exactly like hotels and nobody chooses where to go based upon the food at the campus cafeterias designed to feed the students.

When it was my turn, I encouraged my two children to leave home at the appropriate time and choose a college not nearby. One of my son’s friends thought that I was a very mean parent to force him to leave home. Obviously, my son’s friend was the exception to the norm. He stayed at home and attended a local college.

The above exception to the rule in the USA is the rule in Brazil. It is not as common for Brazilians to leave home and go away to college. Few Brazilian colleges have dormitories on their campuses. Many communities, at least in the State of São Paulo, have colleges which accommodate the needs of local students. There is no reason to go away. Furthermore, Brazilian culture doesn’t encourage such independence of children from their parents.

In the USA, the attitude is that parents owe their children. The children did not ask to be born. After children are born, and until they are able to care for themselves, the parental-caregivers have a responsibility to take care of and educate their children to the best of their ability. When the children reach adulthood, they are on their own and usually live in another home, perhaps in another city or state. It is considered healthy for both parents and children to live separately. If the parents reach an age or a physical condition when they can no longer live by themselves, off they go to a nursing home.

In Brazil, the relationship between parents and children is more reciprocal. When the children are young, the parents take care of their children. When the children reach adulthood, they are not so quick to run away. They don’t have that college experience of living away from home. In addition, they feel an obligation to live near their parents, if not in the same house or apartment. However, problems can develop when the parent doesn’t want to give up their role of being a parent to their adult children. When the parents become widowed, aged or infirm, there is even more reason for the children to take personal responsibility for their parents. After all, when they needed their parents, their parents took care of them.

What is the right answer? I’ll leave that to the psychologists. People tend to accept the system into which they grew up. However, I’m sure glad about my jailbreak forty years ago.

Blair A. Lasky was born in Syracuse, New York and educated at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a retired accountant who has been living in São Paulo since September, 2003, giving English classes and writing novels. You can contact Blair at blairlasky@hotmail.com.

To read previous articles by Blair Lasky click below:

Brazil: Sim ou Não? (Yes or No?)
American Sports with a Brazilian Flair
Brazil: Deny, Deny, Deny
Brazil: Telenovela and the Illegals
Sports in Brazil
Watergate do Brasil

This week in our continuing Foreigners Through Brazilian Eyes series we have an interview with Alexandre, a Jiu-Jitsu teacher from the Rocinha favela (slum”) in Rio de Janeiro. Note we are only giving Alexandre’s first name, as this is common practice and respectful if you live in a favela. He has travelled to both California and New York to teach Jiu-jitsu. Read on as Alexandre tells us about his impressions of foreigners, and gives some helpful advice also.

1. Where are you from in Brazil and what do you do?

I am born in Rio de Janeiro and living in Rocinha. I am an academic student and teacher of Jiu-jitsu for kids in my community.

2. What are the main obstacles for foreigners in Brazil?

The biggest problem is not knowing the language. I think if you visit some place, is important to know some words. We speak Portuguese, not Spanish. Every place in Brazil is different. I think some foreigners expect things to work the exact same way they do from where they are from.

Cariocas are different from Paulistas. Mineiros are different from Baianos and favelados are different from asfaltos. There are many cultures here in Brazil.

Editor’s Note: “Asfaltos” refers to those who live outside the slum.

3. What are common mistakes that foreigners make in Brazil?

They think the life here is all about playing and not working. Play is important but, we all need to live, so work is important. My American friends who come to visit me always ask about the women. Women are strong here. Never underestimate women.

They think where I live in a favela, is always dangerous, this is not true. I think there is more danger in the asfalto because tourists stay there. The thief will find you there, not come to my neighborhood. There is no crime in my neighborhood. The only crime is when the police come to invade.

4. What characteristic of other nationalities strikes you as the most different (e.g. sense of humour, formality, dress)?

Other cultures can be confusing but this is what makes life interesting.
I enjoy people who come to Brazil and not expect it to be like their home, they accept Brazil for what it is and appreciate our culture.

5. Which English accent do you prefer and why (eg. Scottish, American, Australian)?

I like American best because, I have difficulty understanding the others. Plus the Americans who come to visit, respect us.

6. Favourite place travelled abroad and why?

I’ve been to California to give seminars on Jiu-Jitsu. I like it there because, it is like Rio, beach culture, relaxed. I’ve been to New York too, but people there have very stressful lives. I would like to visit Japan because of the martial arts interest I have.

7. Favourite foreign food?

Pizza and Spicy Chicken Wings.

8. Favourite foreign band, book and movie?

I do not like just one band, but I like American Hip Hop, Reggae, R&B and Baile Funk. I am a young person so I think this is normal.
Books I like are those that teach me something. Right now, it is an English grammar book and books about foreign places. My favorite movies, I have too many to say but I like drama, suspense and mystery movies.

9. What is the difference between dating a Brazilian and Foreigner (if this applies to you or perhaps a friend)?

The cultures and ways of communication are different with foreigners. It is not a bad thing. Just different. I think it is only worth a relationship if you have many things in common, if not times will be difficult. And with somebody from a different country you have to try to work with them, not try to change them. I never dated a foreigner because with my language I do not feel confident to speak to them. Plus because of where I live, people may visit or tour but not stay a long time, so we do not meet many foreigners. The guys that visit me from America come to train in Jiu-jitsu, but very few women come. I would date a foreigner if she would not make a judgement of me based on where I live, but who I am as a person.

10. Can you share an incident, misunderstanding or ‘culture shock’ that you have experienced with a foreigner?

I had an experience with one of my American friends staying with my family. In Rocinha, public services vary depending on which district you live in. My father (he works in construction) installed a shower unit that hooked the water up to a timer. This is to save water.

The timer is set to give water for 30 seconds, so you have enough to soap your body, then after the soap is on, you push the button to wash the soap off. For the next person to shower, you have to wait 10 minutes for the pump to set.

Well, I tried to explain this to my American friend, but my level of English was confusing for him. He gets in the shower, unlike America where he says his showers are 15 minutes or LONGER, he is shocked when he pushes the button and only gets 30 seconds to get wet and put soap on. He starts to yell to us asking what is going on with the water. He puts his head outside the door and says “No more F****** water?”, he is full of soap and now has to wait 10 minutes for the pump to set to get all the soap off. I think this was a big culture shock for him, and funny for us, because this is life in a favela. But the culture shock for me was when I was in California to take a bath or shower for a long time was very enjoyable.

11. What are 2 things you would recommend for a visitor to do in Brazil to better understand Brazilian people and their culture?

Before coming to Brazil, read something about the country and go to places where Brazilians are to learn how they interact. Learn just a little Portuguese and interact with all different types of Brazilians.

Note: Because of the details involved in some of the questions, parts of this interview were translated from Portuguese to English by Marco Almeida.

To read previous interviews in the Foreigners Through Brazilian Eyes series click below:

Elizabeth Sacknus
Geberson Coelho
Rosaly Loula
Andreas Saller
Elvis Renato Barbosa Lima
Bruno Santos
Maria Cecilia Schmidt Maluf
Marta Dalla Chiesa
Cludia Ramis De Almeida
Vivian Manasse Teixeira Leite
Fernando Saffi
Gabriela Kluppel
Patrcia C. Ribeiro
Fabiano Deffenti

If you are Brazilian, or know a Brazilian, who has traveled abroad or has considerable experience with different nationalities here in Brazil, we would like to hear from you. Please send an email with contact details and a brief description of yourself to gringoes@www.gringoes.com

By Mark Taylor
Following All Saints Day (November 1st) the public holiday of Finados” (Day of the Dead) is celebrated here in Brazil on November 2nd.

The idea is to remember the life of loved ones, so many people will go to cemeteries and churches, and take flowers, light candles, and pray. Despite the morbid subject the celebration is intended to be a positive one, and the day is set aside specifically to celebrate the life of, and remember those who are deceased.

The origins of this celebration are a little lost in time, but it’s a holiday that has been celebrated for thousands of years in Latin America and clearly stems from there. Most likely the origins are from cultures such as the Aztecs and Mayans who revered their ancestors, and wanted to honour their memory. It was a common practice to keep the skulls of ancestors as trophies, and then display them during rituals such as this and also those that symbolised birth. Hence skulls are a potent symbol still used in countries like Mexico.

The holiday is celebrated throughout Latin America, but is also celebrated in growing numbers in parts of the USA, principally those areas that have large Latin American immigrant populations.

By Joe Lopes
Arnold Schoenberg’s twelve-tone opera Moses und Aron, unjustly portrayed in the classical-music media as a jumble of dissonant cacophony” and a “tough intellectual exercise,” has forever stood on the fringes of the standard repertoire.

Its Viennese-born Jewish creator, a great-uncle to conductor John Neschling, was also credited with having supplied his own libretto, much as another musical marvel, the revolutionary Richard Wagner, had done for his works.

By 1932 the score had all but been crafted for the first two acts, when ill health and the rising tide of the Third Reich forced Schoenberg to flee the following year to America, where he took up successive teaching posts in Boston, Los Angeles, and briefly Chicago.

While the composer later revised the text to Act Three, the work was left unfinished at his death in 1951, despite his directive to perform the final act as a spoken pendant to the two completed ones — a practice not normally complied with in actual performance.

What remains, then, is an unparalleled opera-going experience where philosophy and theology converge in a head-on clash over ideas: the conflict of biblical prophet Moses and his views of a benevolent, all-powerful Supreme Being (“omnipresent, omnipotent and unimaginable”), and that of his brother Aron’s slickly mundane version, a simplistic solution for mass consumption that the children of Israel could more easily grab on to.

Their dialectical debate ends in the Second Act, with Moses’ heart-wrenching cry, ‘O Wort, du Wort das mir fehlt!’ (Oh Word, thou Word that I lack!), let out as an audible affirmation of his inability to give form and definition to what is, in essence, formless and indefinable.

Most visionary artists have felt this same need for understanding, with some of them taking their frustrations out to absurdly preposterous lengths.

A good case in point is Brazilian director Gerald Thomas, who staged a well-received 1998 production of Schoenberg’s complex theater piece in Graz, Austria; and whose personal artistic credo (that “words are less important and more restrictive than images”) has often driven him to the outer limits as well of post-modern visual expression.

But his most recent version of Tristan und Isolde, given in August 2003 at the Teatro Municipal in Rio de Janeiro, almost rang down the curtain once and for all on his notoriously controversial stage career.

As a stunned assembly watched in amazement, the drama unfolded with a couple of novel “touches” unwisely added in, including a masturbating woman, a chorus of Hasidic Jews, a fashion show, and a riotous, cocaine-addicted appearance by none other than Sigmund Freud, the protagonists’ de facto analyst. The entire affair took place not in Wagner’s mythical Cornish kingdom but in the good doctor’s private consultation quarters.

This is exactly the sort of cultural “event” most Europeans have grown accustomed to over the years, what with their constant exposure to such personality-driven rgisseurs as Patrice Chreau, Walter Felsenstein, Goetz Friedrich, Harry Kupfer, Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, and Giorgio Strehler, to name but a few.

The same cannot be said, however, for more tradition-bound Brazilians who, when it comes to their favorite operas, like them served with all the classical trimmings.

Greeted at the end with a salvo of boos and catcalls, Thomas turned his back to the audience, dropped his green-colored underpants, and flashed his bare buttocks at them. “You could have heard a mosquito fly past,” he claimed afterwards.

For his maverick efforts the authorities slapped Thomas with a public indecency charge, “Surprising in a country that we love for its openness to all kinds of political and social dialogue,” American composer Philip Glass was quoted as saying in his defense. “The act itself was not obscene. What they are objecting to is an artist replying to his critics, and knowing Gerald’s work, he would of course choose a theatrical response.”

Thomas even refused a plea-bargain agreement, stating in effect: “If I pleaded guilty, what would that say to my fellow professionals and later generations of artists? Don’t do anything risky? I don’t accept the fact that I committed a crime because I decided to ‘moon’ the audience in my own theater.

“I joined the music of Wagner, an anti-Semite, with the ideas of Freud, a Jew that changed thought and the art of the twentieth century. But I thought that I had created a pretty formal opera with a thoughtful concept. Fashion really does kill passion, especially in a piece like Tristan und Isolde.”

It very nearly killed his chances at directing future theater projects, too — and if chutzpah were an accredited field of study, then Thomas would hold a doctoral degree in it.

Indeed, anyone familiar enough with the wacky world of the avant-garde, and the vast laundry list of Gerald Thomas’ bizarre stage works, can attest to the claims made against him, labeling the audacious director as “profoundly ridiculous,” “an incurable crackpot,” and “a precocious boy who went senile at the age of thirty.”

Others have hailed him as a “genius,” a “pop star,” and “the most lively and animated presence on the moribund stage of the Brazilian theater today.”

It is fair to assume by these colorful, off-center comments that one can never be certain of anything that has ever emerged from this nonconformist’s wildly vivid mindset. “I have become a presence in Brazil’s cultural life,” he told the New York Times as far back as 1988. “People are already talking about the pre-Thomas and the post-Thomas eras of Brazilian theater.”

His lack of modesty aside, Thomas epitomizes the commonly held notion that “to be an artist is to not recognize frontiers.” In that, he shares similar circumstances with another iconoclastic colleague, maestro John Neschling: both come from Jewish backgrounds, both were born in Rio de Janeiro — in Thomas’ case, in 1954 — and both are equally at home in Europe, North America and their native Brazil, despite not always feeling welcome there.

Negative criticism has nonetheless played a crucial part in Thomas’ daily routine since the mid-1970s, when he first dedicated himself to life on the stage at London’s famed National Theatre.

“I was the youngest director to enter and also the quickest to leave,” he commented to the Brazilian magazine Veja.

“I debuted there with Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which all the newspapers bad-mouthed. At the Theatre, no one dared look me in the face, so I took my piece off the marquee. Fortunately, an American producer told me I was in the wrong city. I then moved to New York and staged the same piece again. This time, it came off without a hitch.”

Working in the Big Apple between 1979 and 1984, Thomas expanded his professional horizons at La Mama Experimental Theater in Greenwich Village, where he presented numerous Off-Off-Broadway works by Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, a past master of the absurd and a close personal acquaintance, until his 1989 passing.

Anyone for Dry Opera?
Upon his return to Brazil in 1985, Thomas formed the Dry Opera Company in the Manhattan-theater-district equivalent of São Paulo. The group eventually relocated to Rio in November of 1999.

“Dry opera,” as it came to be called, is an original Thomas creation, an innovative style of theater that incorporates, in the words of New York Times reporter Alan Riding, “a cinematographic use of lights and blackouts, pre-recorded music, almost choreographic acting, and a sort of anti-language he describes as ‘verbal hemorrhage.'”

How have all these elements combined to help further the audience’s appreciation for, and understanding of, his vanguard ideas about art?

“Text is only one aspect of theater,” Thomas explained. “The other aspects are the setting, the sound effects, the music, and the lights. As written language, they may not be understood, but visually they will be sensed. And anyway, when does ‘understanding’ come? When a piece ends? An hour later? A week later?”

This is true. Although Schoenberg’s serial Moses was made to suffer by the difficulty he faced putting words to his personalized vision, Thomas has had no such qualms about the integrity of his own speech, or the skill he displays in using it: “Puns are my real interest, visual, philosophical, musical puns that subvert meaning. It’s good for any artist to machine-gun conditioned values.”

A brilliant marketer and self-promoter, he is fluent in several languages, among them Portuguese, German, French, and Spanish, in addition to British-accented English.

He relishes, too, the wider latitude a strictly theatrical forum has allotted him as a means of artistic expression throughout the span of his thirty-year career — but in art, as in life, there are limitations.

There are times when even Thomas has gone too far in the liberties he has taken with the sacrosanct work of others.

For example, in 1987 he presented a trilogy of Franz Kafka pieces, one of which, a stage adaptation of the Czech writer’s The Trial, made heavy use of music from Wagner’s final opera Parsifal — a first for Thomas.

It was also an occasion for the inventive director to replace the original text with his own imposition of ideas. “I don’t need Kafka’s lines,” said Thomas, “I just need his ambiance. I can make better use of him by putting other lines in the bucket he has created.”

The year before, he staged Carmem Com Filtro, which, like the Kafka Trilogy, played first in repertory, then traveled successfully abroad to such places as New York, Vienna, Munich and Hamburg. Literally “Carmen With Filtertips,” and based on the same Prosper Mrime story that inspired Bizet’s popular opéra-comique, Thomas’ more streamlined approach boasted minimalist music by his friend and partner, Philip Glass.

The play became one of several joint collaborations, the most controversial of which turned up later in Rio, in July 1989, where together they unveiled their Mattogrosso, a sprawling, three-part spectacular created exclusively for the Beaux-Arts brilliance of the Municipal. It was billed as the first true “environmental opera.”

Expectations naturally ran high, but the writer-director was severely rebuked by critics, mostly for his “marvelous capacity to stage his deliriums, puns and piles of cultural references.”

One journalist went so far as to describe the work as “a repugnant nightmare,” while another felt that, “Visually, it was beautiful, but it seemed to be at the service of emptiness.”

And as for Glass’ highly touted score, “It was irritating. It also had nothing to do with Thomas’ play.” The composer himself called Mattogrosso “a collage of images. My music gives it a musical window to look through.”

Still, how can one dismiss a piece outright that mixes the three pillars of European cultural history — William Shakespeare, Charles Darwin, and Richard Wagner — with American comic-book characters Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Batman?

As usual with the eloquent Mr. Thomas, his reaction to the chaos around him was maddeningly oblique: “I am trying to transform the sung aria, the didactic aria, into a scenic thing. (That’s why) I use enigma. You have to let the audience complete the puzzle.” And so it goes.

Yet the basic question for Thomas remains: what would he accomplish with a so-called standard repertory assignment — the complete Ring cycle by Wagner, for instance, a project “made-to-order” for his peculiarly fertile imagination? Would he get away with subverting the master’s well-known text or would mere visual subversion be sufficient?

Audiences have already experienced his radical reworking of the same composer’s The Flying Dutchman in Rio (1987) and Busoni’s Doktor Faust for Graz (1995). How about trying something more stylistically challenging for a change, say, a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Cos fan tutte or The Marriage of Figaro at the annual Glyndebourne Festival?

Similarly, Beethoven’s lone opera Fidelio and Debussy’s Pellas et Mlisande are also up for grabs and, theoretically, waiting in the wings. Would he consider instead a lavish Baroque piece by Handel or a less stately form of eighteenth-century entertainment?

At this point, even a Johann Strauss operetta or two will do. And let us not forget the great Italian composers, Verdi, Puccini and Rossini: how would they fit into the overall stage picture?

It is high time the talented fifty-year-old came in from the outer fringes of the avant-garde and joined the modern ranks of the classical mainstream — without compromising his outr principles, of course; surely, that would be his greatest coup. He could conceivably spice up operatic life, as we know it, given his far-fetched, Freudian account of Tristan for Rio.

What is still not known about him, as far as the theater world is concerned, is if and when he will run out of bold ideas before his own third act is complete.

Some say past performance is no indication of future events. Not so with the savvy Thomas: when all has been said and done and written about him, he is still “barely” getting started.

Copyright 2005 by Josmar F Lopes

To read previous articles by Joe Lopes click below:

A Brazilian Diva Torn Between Europe and Brazil
The Enraged Genius of Brazil’s Maestro Neschling
A German Ring in the Brazilian Rainforest
Brazil’s Musical Polyglots: What Was That You Were Singing?
Did Bossa Nova Kill Opera in Brazil?