Fastelavn. What a country.

Halloween doesn’t make a big splash here. It’s like being in Denmark again: the Danes have their own holiday where everyone dresses up in silly costumes (Fastelavn), and only the Americanophiles blink an eye on October 31st. I remember that we tried to have a Halloween party in Odense – the neighborhood kids were appreciative of the candy, but not too keen on The Addams Family. Rio, for its part, has Carnaval, so the prospect of skimpy nurse outfits kind of pales in comparison to the samba schools.

But the Instituto Moreira Salles, much like teens craving popularity in late-October Disney Channel movies, is planning a Halloween party for the ages. Not quite in a spiking-the-punch sense. Inspired by Bloomsday, the international annual commemoration of the day in which Ulysses takes place, the IMS is trying to make fetch happen. “Fetch,” in this case, being Dia D, a Bloomsday to mark the birthday of that monument of Brazilian poetry (although not so much if you ask Nelson Rodrigues), Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Which happens to be on October 31st.

Bloomsday is buckets of fun.

This is the first-ever Dia D, but the Instituto’s hoping that it spreads across the country. “In schools, universities, libraries, bars, museums, on TV, on the radio, in cultural centers and even in solitude, doesn’t matter where or how, remember to celebrate Drummond and his poetry.”

My form of pre-gaming is as follows. Last winter I copied out some of my favorite passages from a sublime little Drummond collection – 50 poems chosen by the author – and I’ve just translated a few of them with utterly indecent haste and reproduced them out of context. Homage or sacrilege? Well, I had fun doing it.

Lembrança do mundo antigo 

[…] As crianças olhavam para o céu: não era proibido.
A boca, o nariz, os olhos estavam abertos. Não havia perigo.
Os perigos que Clara temia eram a gripe, o calor, os insetos.
Clara tinha medo de perder o bonde das 11 horas,
esperava cartas que custavam a chegar,
nem sempre podia usar vestido novo. Mas passava no jardim, pela manhã!!!
Havia jardins, havia manhãs naquele tempo!!!

Remembrance of the Ancient World

The children looked at the sky: it was not forbidden.
Mouth, nose, eyes, all open. There was no danger.
The dangers that Clara feared were flu, heat, insects.
Clara was afraid of missing the 11 o’clock streetcar,
awaited letters that were slow to come,
couldn’t always wear new dresses. But she walked through the garden, in the morning!!!
There were gardens, there were mornings back then!!! Continue reading


a picture worth a thousand howls

Nelson, num momento de emoção. What makes it all the more remarkable, for me, is that after a serious infection in his 30s Nelson lost a considerable amount of his vision – thereafter he had to rely on game companions to tell him what was going on down on the field (he was a cautious cheerer ever since once accidentally applauding the striped-jerseyed Bangu over his beloved Fluminense). Yesterday in the game against Cruzeiro, a raspy-voiced guy would let out a string of pained, panicked “Não! Não! Não!”s when the blue-shirts started zipping toward our goal; he sounded so genuinely pathetic (in the best sense of the word) that I believe the Cruzeirenses slowed their roll purely to give him a break. Nelson, on the other hand, appears to be in full operatic, transcendent rage here. No mercy, particularly not for the referee.

the devil’s plaything

“Você não sabe ser ociosa.” My friend pronounced it like a death sentence.

The fact that I would have difficulty translating the sentence confirms the sad truth of it. I hesitantly proposed “leisure” to another carioca, and got a categorical response.

For ócio, no. Leisure is lazer, the other face of which is work. It’s the same logic as “weekend,” which only exists as part of the work week. The closest would be idleness, without the pejorative connotation that Protestantism lends the word.

For lack of anything better, let’s go with that. Você não sabe ser ociosa – apparently, I don’t know how to be idle.

Frankly, I think I’ve made big strides since moving to Rio. Let’s give me some credit. I may not know how to be idle, but a lot of my constant crippling guilt about not being productive 24/7 is starting to waft away with the sea breeze. (Don’t worry, though, there’s still plenty to go around.) That, I believe, is the reason I can enjoy the beach now, and the reason I’ve started reading 3 or 4 books a week for pleasure. No, reading Nelson Rodrigues is not productive, but it’s good for the soul.

The only reason Gödel ever left his house to go work at the Institute for Advanced Study (according to QI, which is the ultimate authority on everything) was because of the walk back. If I dare to ideologically nestle up against the man who came up with an ontological proof of God’s existence, which I believe I do, then I completely understand. The commute, the obligatory transit time, gives you a sort of mental oasis: it’s a moment in which all you have to do is move from point A to point B, and your thoughts have free rein. It is, to reference a term inaugurated in my groundbreaking national analysis, a kind of shower. Continue reading


On Wednesday morning, I awoke with the flame of revolution burning in my breast.

To be scrupulously honest, it was more like the flame of logistical opportunism: I had errands to run in Botafogo before making it to a meeting in Glória, and I had a few hours to kill in between engagements. Seeing as I spent the fateful 22nd of October not engaged in political pursuits (unless spending the whole day at a friend’s house watching Eduardo Coutinho films constitutes a political act, which I kind of like to think it does), I felt myself pricked equally by guilt and curiosity. Errands run, I emerged in an occupied Cinelândia.

It has gotten very difficult for me to tell exactly who I’m writing to here. (Professors: reduce palavrões and references to immoral tropical lifestyle by 60%. Gringos: reduce Brazilian words by 80%. Cariocas: reduce snark by 95%. I tend to fail on all these counts.) But in a show of deference to the non-Lusophones and non-followers of Rio news, I’ll take a few baby steps back and contextualize. First of all, Cinelândia. Cinelândia, apart from having a very fun-sounding name, is one of the relics of Old Rio that I came to know back when I was still at Princeton. I was about to cite a long luxuriant passage from Ruy Castro’s biography of Carmen until I got the sinking sensation that I’d already done so. It is here, for the record, but I’ll paraphrase. In the mid-1920s, the businessman Francisco Serrador transformed a strip in downtown Rio into a sort of Brazilian Broadway, full of theatres, cinemas, restaurants, bars, and pretty much anything a young carioca’s heart could desire. Today Cinelândia is, uh, a Metro stop. All right, that’s too harsh – the heart of Cinelândia was and continues to be the Praça Floriano, which has a gorgeous view of the unabashedly French Municipal Theatre – but by day it’s just a half-abandoned square ringed by the Biblioteca Nacional and Câmara Municipal and a few restaurants and botecos. (By night… well, by night nobody is in Centro if they can help it, unless it’s for some show in the Odeon or the TM.)

Secondly, Rio’s stab at revolution. I am admittedly talking out of my hat, since I’ve only really kept tabs on this through Facebook invites and statuses (minimal coverage in the Rio press), but here goes – the #OccupyThings movement finally twitched a knee in the notoriously politically apathetic Cidade Maravilhosa, in the form of a one-day Occupy Cinelândia on October 15th. Yep, it lasted one day. In a subsequent attempt to save revolutionary face, the povo called for a reconvocation on the next Saturday, the 22nd. A hundred or so people showed up, and four tents were staked in the Praça Floriano. Cinelândia, consider yourself occupied. Continue reading

“só tem pastor e programa de bunda”

“You made it!”

Even though he’d invited me to the film screening, my friend seemed genuinely astonished to see me. But this is what I love about not overscheduling myself in Rio: the freedom to blow an entire Monday taking the Metro out to Maracanã, summiting the massive jungle gym that is the main building at UERJ, and watching an hour and a half of Brazilian TV. Rather, watching the film that’s listed in Eduardo Coutinho’s resumé as a “filme inacabado” (a somewhat portentous distinction given that his last “unfinished film” was the landmark Cabra marcado para morrer): Um Dia na Vida.

For the unfamiliar – and I’m guessing that you form the vast majority – here’s a rundown of how they made it. Coutinho’s team chose a day – October 1st, 2009 – set up camp in a television studio, and went to work for 19 hours straight. There were half a dozen monitors tuned to half a dozen basic cable stations: Bandeirantes, TV Globo, Manchete, etc. The recording doohickey (just let me know if the language is getting too technical here) only taped one channel at a time; João and Coutinho essentially channel-surfed for the entire time, suffering through everything from the morning shows to the afternoon novelas to the evening news, infomercials, and beyond. Coutinho suffered through everything, that is; João Salles eventually went to get some sleep, but Coutinho claims (credibly) that “eu não durmo.” From those glorious 19 hours they culled the 90 minutes of television montage that is Um Dia na Vida. That’s why the film can never be shown commercially: “tudo é roubado,” or, as Coutinho put it in a wonderfully pirate-y turn of phrase, “pillaged.”

Seen from one angle, Um Dia na Vida is a parade of the grotesque and absurd. The very first thing – broadcast at around midnight on the morning of the 1st – is a program for learning English in which neither the teacher nor his interlocutor nor the narrator seem to have the firmest of grasps on the English language. It was fantastic. I don’t know the ways of the Brazilian hipster, but the U.S. flavor (at least among those who haven’t abandoned television entirely in favor of semaphore) adores a good dose of terrible TV, and I share that vice. I could have watched the teacher and his friend “Washington” talk about why Washington closed his store yesterday (he was sick, so he stayed at home and watched TV) for the entire 90 minutes. And it just got better. Or worse, depending on how you see it. Tom and Jerry horrifyingly dubbed in Portuguese, a segment on Jesus’ blood type, a woman playing Rock Band and being heckled by an animatronic parrot: it was all gold.  Continue reading

nom nom nom

Now, the last thing I want to do is turn this into a tourist blog – or, heaven forfend, a series of restaurant reviews, because few things in this world are worse than amateur food criticism – but I think that the Confeitaria Manon deserves to be somewhat of an exception. I came out of the research room at the Museu da Imagem e do Som one evening this week a little wobbly-legged from a combination of intimidation at probably having to write something sometime soon (but I thought I could just keep researching forever!) and the fact that I had consumed an entire thermos of Brazilian-strength coffee and nothing else since 9 that morning.

Doubting that I’d survive the bus ride back without some sustenance, I treated myself to a very late lunch at the Manon, a consciously nostalgic sort of place (since 1942!) with bowtied waiters and marble countertops. The place had a homey feel, packed with tons of tiny tables; it actually reminded me eerily of the one decent deli in my grandmother’s tiny Pennsylvania hometown. I picked my way between the tables to a place in the middle and, knowing the evasive ways of the Brazilian waiter, read Memórias de um sargento de milícias until someone thought fit to bring me a menu. Continue reading