It was the only night that a party of mine managed to make enough noise for the apartment upstairs to threaten to call the police. I had been more or less begging for the karaoke to stop, first out of personal disdain – when Avril Lavigne supplanted MPB – and then out of pure exhaustion. It was no use; even dressed for bed and lying down on the living room floor in protest, I was dragged up to learn salsa steps.
Around four o’clock, a friend knocked on the window with a bottle of cachaça and his guitar. Everyone left was so tired that the cachaça would have been redundant, but the guitar was welcome. He propped it on one knee and began.
Within a month I was going back to the United States; Carlos and José to Mexico; Luís to Switzerland; Gabi to Uruguay; and Marília to São Paulo, which is less forbidding in terms of commute times but about equivalent in terms of culture shock. Everyone else would probably stay in Rio, to try their luck with the riot police or the job market. But for a while we were all there, albeit with an air of an epilogue. I want to say it was raining outside, but I think it had just stopped raining.
Ciro struck a soulful pose.
A tristeza é senhora
Desde que o samba é samba é assim
A lágrima clara sobre a pele escura
A noite, a chuva que cai lá fora
The show had been exquisite.
Exquisite, but remote. What else is the word for a show in a chocolate-box auditorium, where plush seats and propriety virtually pin you on the spot? I sang along as quietly as I could, trying not to bother the couple next to me. A few songs brought huge involuntary grins, but I’d sort of ruined the spontaneity of it all by gorging on the live recording of Abraçaço, and my mind wandered.
Caetano came back for a curtain call with Arto Lindsay, and then with a haunting Venezuelan song, and sent the theater off with an air-hug. But the crowd was hungry, and put up an insistent stamping and clapping even as the ushers tactfully opened the doors to the street and people began filtering out. I was edging toward the exit myself when Caetano was drawn out once again by the audience’s siren song, and the theater lights dimmed contritely. Now all bets were off. I made my way down the aisle, as close as I could get to the stage. I was not the first to have this idea: there were plenty of cheap-seaters gently elbowing/dancing their way forward.
Here, up close, amidst the swaying bodies, things felt right. The first time I saw him it was in my first week in Rio, in a crushing press of 80,000 at the Quinta da Boa Vista, and I lost my Brazilian cell phone, but he sang “Cajuína,” so it was all right. The second time was a year later, approximately a million miles away from the stage at the Teatro Gran Rex. In between then and now: a bachelor’s degree and a wild goose chase across the Americas, and more than one night singing along to Caetano records. There was always time for that, somehow, even when I was putting up a fit at how late it was and stalking around in my pajamas. Sambinha, podia. Caetano, podia.
The last song in the encore was “Desde que o samba é samba.”
Instinctively, I looked around to see if they’d be there.
A tristeza é senhora – curled up on the couch in Laranjeiras – desde que o samba é samba é assim – the soft strumming of Ciro’s guitar. I was there again, and yet not, and the summoning of all the love left behind in Brazil and scattered across the Americas – here, and yet not – overtook me before the song was over. Cantando eu mando a tristeza embora.
The theater lights came up and dismantled that dark intimacy, but I knew I had to say a thank you beyond applause.
The room was stuffy for a September night; most of the people there were rotating slowly and awkwardly around a hidden center of gravity, making small talk as they glanced at the invisible magnet. This, of course, was Caetano, who had barely to move, only swiveling from side to side, to engage with the waves of friends and fans edging their way up for a hug or a picture. It was something between an assembly line and a zoological exhibit on charismatic Bahians. I felt silly, but I couldn’t come this close without at least introducing myself. When I could, I put a hand on his elbow and introduced myself as ruiva no rio. This earned me an enthusiastic hug. Chico Alves, Pedro Almodóvar, smile for the camera.
I did get it out, though: You destroyed me with that last song, you know, desde que o samba é samba.
He looked a little taken aback at the verb, but then smiled. “That’s what it’s all about.”