searching for carmen

Oh, God, I thought.  That can’t be it.

A concrete building, too small to be a UFO but too big to be a public bathroom, in a dusty, abandoned playground between two highways.

Unfortunately, I was in the right place.  I’d finally found the Carmen Miranda Museum. Continue reading


como torcer

On Saturday, I got my stripes.

All the football fans bring theoretical texts on football to the games. That's what I'm led to believe, at least.

“Perder faz parte,” my football godfather said with a worried look as we bid each other goodbye before the Botafogo-Fluminense game. “Losing’s part of it.”

Pump-up talk: you’re doing it wrong.  But I was prepared for wailing and gnashing of teeth – perhaps even readier to grovel than to exult. As Nelson Rodrigues famously put it,

The Botafogo fan buys his ticket like someone obtaining the sacred, inalienable right to suffer.

Consider my ticket purchased.

I went with a group of five gringos – one undecided, two Flamenguistas (one halfhearted, one rabid), and two baby Botafoguenses out for our first game.  I had probably seen a total of 5 football games in my life, none of them in a stadium.  This was a big day.  We took a picture together before heading off.  “Don’t look so serious,” said our photographer friend.  I hadn’t been trying to.

We got off at Engenhão – incredibly early, as predicted by more seasoned torcedores – and joined the steady stream heading for the massive gates. Being a lone alvinegro is something; being in a mass of them is quite another.  As we arrived at the stadium, time started to elongate.

To get to the upper section we walk up a massive spiraling track.  From the top you feel nestled in the mountains, and the view reminds me of looking out from temples in the Yucatan.  I see the tricolor masses on the other side of the field and want to know what we look like.  Over to our left, an impossibly large banner unfurls itself over the bleachers.  Flags are parading through the seats. I’m too far away to see the people wielding them, which makes the sight even odder. The torcida looks like it’s taken on a collective life of its own, as if the flags and banners sprouted spontaneously once given a critical mass of alvinegro pride.

The game starts without me realizing it. Shouldn’t there be some 21-gun salute, shouldn’t someone sing the national anthem? Nope, they’re already running around down there. Continue reading

this is truly a remarkable country

One of the incredible things about Brazil is how nebulous – or even nonexistent – the line is between cultura erudita and cultura popular. Take VideoFilmes, a Rio-based production company, which in and of itself is a portrait of the convivência of relatively high culture with extraordinarily low.

Let’s take a look at the curating touch in the films VF distributes, shall we?

There’s Memories of Underdevelopment, a watershed reflection on the Cuban Revolution; there’s Primary, arguably the first direct-cinema film and an incredible portrait of Kennedy’s 1960 tussle with Humphrey for the Democratic nomination; there’s the double-feature DVD which includes Moi, un noir and Les maîtres fous by Jean Rouch.

And then there’s Shut Up and Kiss Me!, the seminal 2004 romantic comedy.  This is what IMDb has to say about the film:

Ryan and Pete are 27-year old best friends in Miami, born on the same day and each searching for the perfect woman. Ryan is a rookie stockbroker living with his psychic Mom. Pete is a slick surfer dude yet to find commitment. Each meets the women of their dreams on the same day. Ryan knocks heads in an elevator with the gorgeous Jessica, passing out before getting her number. Pete falls for the insatiable Tiara, but Tiara’s uncle is mob boss Vincent Bublione, charged with her protection. This high-energy romantic comedy asks to what extent will you go for true love? Continue reading

cows and tongues (but not cow tongues)

I try to carry a notebook with me whenever socially acceptable, because ever since I was accused of “talking like a dictionary” I’ve been trying to pick up as many idioms as possible.  Soon I will be so full of folksy aphorisms that I will be completely unintelligible!

Cara de vaca – literally, “cow’s face,” but figuratively, “a dime a dozen”; something so common as to be banal.

This implies, somewhat erroneously, that there are cows wandering all over Brazil. I would like to state that I have been here for two months, visited two states, and have not seen a single cow yet.  I am aware that there are  plenty of cows in Brazil, but they are certainly not as ubiquitous as the phrase would lead you to believe.

Morder a língua – “to bite one’s tongue.”

Actually, that’s literally what it means, but the idiomatic sense is equivalent to the English “eat one’s words.”  When we English speakers bite our tongues, it’s because we’re trying not to say something.  Biting your tongue holds the words back. When Brazilians bite their tongues, on the other hand, it’s because they’ve already said something stupid – put their foot in their mouth, that is – and they’re chastising themselves.  Does this provide concrete linguistic proof that Lusophones are, in general, hastier to speak than Anglophones?  That’s for the graduate students to decide.

Uma mala – or variations thereof, literally, “a suitcase.” Continue reading

vuelva ud. mañana

Let’s revise Ary Barroso’s sentiment: Brazil is the terra of samba, pandeiro, and bureaucracy.

The sheer amount of paperwork in this country is mind-blowing. It’s as if at any moment the average Brazilian were expecting someone to demand that he produce paper documentation of everything he’d done that day. He’d be able to present at least half a dozen little slips, everything from the ticket he’d had to take at the post office to one of the two receipts the little hole-in-the-wall lanchonete provides its customers with.

One’s everyday routine is structured – even consumed – by ridiculous bureaucratic hoops one has to jump through. At PUC you have to stand in line to get a ticket to use the computer lab, which gives you an assigned computer for the next 2 hours. I cannot for the life of me understand why this is necessary. Let’s do a thought experiment. (See, PUC hasn’t robbed me of all intellectual curiosity!) What if there were no tickets? Students already have individual logins, and the stations are apparently capable of shutting off after 2 hours regardless; users could go, sit down at a computer of their choice, and work to their hearts’ content. Voilá; you’ve cut out the completely useless middleman. Most of the time it isn’t even that much of a pain going to get a ticket; it’s just the principle of the thing. Liberty and efficiency, dammit!

Is this why Brazil has such low unemployment? If every computer cluster at Princeton needed to hire someone to administer little tickets, the university would generate several dozen new jobs just like that. Not to mention the infamous ascensorista, whose job it is to sit in the elevator and push the buttons. Out of all the elevators I’ve seen in Rio, only two were the old kind where someone actually needs to pull a lever to make the thing go. As for the rest, I have absolutely no idea as to why anyone deemed their operation so dangerous or time-consuming as to require a trained professional at the helm. It’s like Brazilians don’t trust themselves.

Then there’s the CPF. Its closest U.S. equivalent is the Social Security Number, which in the States is treated with a sort of sacred regard. You only give your SSN for very serious purposes – voting, accessing your bank account remotely, matters of national security, etc. In Brazil, you give out your CPF more often than you give out your phone number at a bar. Any purchase online, from concert tickets to a pair of socks, will ask for your CPF. I understand needing a CPF to register a prepaid telephone, since there have been issues with drug traffickers using the phones from prison, but socks? Continue reading