The Final Post

Note: The blog stopped but the Learn Portuguese ebooks (sidebar) are still available, and will continue to be.

The Final Post has been viewed many times since I posted it and I feel like I need to say a little bit more…PS – You can still find me on Eyes on Recife, a side-project of mine started in 2012. Also, this site’s url will be eyesonbrazil.wordpress.com for a short time.

I started studying Brazilian culture at a time in my life when I was really in need of something meaty enough for me to grab onto with both hands and not let go, something I could count on to keep giving for a long time to come. Brazil was large enough to meet that need, even to the point that I still find myself wanting it to remain my teacher. I stopped blogging about it here, after many years, and yet I still find myself wanting to be taught more and, in turn, to be able to teach more.

What is of most interest to me these days is the Northeast because it’s so diverse and culturally rich, and full of lessons to be learned. It’s where tradition has long met, and even clashed with, modernity. As Clarice Lispector once said,

“(I grew up in Recife, and) I think that living in the Northeast or the North of Brazil is to live more intensely and closer to the real life of a Brazilian..”

These days, though, I think it can be said in another way as well. As a smart friend once explained to me one night in Natal, the Northeast (and, as an extension, Brazil) is not about the old meeting the new or, for example, the Amerindian coming face-to-face with the branco. Brazil isn’t a battle of “us vs. them”, it’s a single entity being confronted with its own inner dualities.

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In any event, a large part of the reason I stopped blogging is that I want to do something more, something better and more focused, something…professional. Phrases like “go big or go home”, “do it well or don’t do it at all” come to mind. If I could have my way, I’d want a magazine or a travel documentary series, something fina that digs deep and where the inclusion of every detail is well-thought-out (a humble Brazil-focused Monocle-like publication, perhaps?). Not saying it’ll happen but it’s possible at some point Eyes On Brazil will get the word “blog” on the end, while Eyes On Brazil proper will become something more ambitious.

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The Original “Final Post”

I started learning about Brazil when I was 22 and started this blog when I was 27. Now I’m 32 and also no longer going back and forth to Brazil like I did between ages 24 and 31. My interest in the country and culture remains but I’m looking to keep the written expression of that interest to current and future work. Plus, since I left Brazil almost 9 months ago, readership has fallen by over 50%, going from 20K views per month to under 10K (btw, unique visiters usually come out to be about half the view count).  I attribute a lot of it to the plethora of sources for Brazil news out there today which didn’t exist when I started. Large, US and multinational news companies (not to mention many other blogs) are covering even the smallest of occurences and cultural aspects. This means what I do has to be done creatively or simply in a different manner, and I need to reserve that for paid work.

After sharing 5.5 years, or 65 months, of posts, this will be my last here. That being said, I will continue to update the films list and write at Street Smart Brazil if you’d like to keep reading my stuff. ; )

PS – A quick note on the stats. It’s possible my montly stats are more like 15K-20K but I just don’t know it, since WP doesn’t allow blog owners to know if an email subscriber has looked at a post. With 350 people receiving every post, it’s possible a day of 500 views is really 850 views, and so on. In any event, this remains my last post. Thank you for reading!

The Real Fight for Independence

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On May 8th, 2013, Bahian Independence Day, which falls on July 2nd, was officially recognized by the Senate as a date of national importance in Brazil. The recognition doesn’t mean it will become a national holiday but the date does hold an important place in the hearts of Bahians.

While Dom Pedro I was shouting “Independence or death!” on the banks of the Ipiranga river in São Paulo, the war for the independence of Bahia against the Portuguese military was in full swing. In actuality, it not only ended after Brazil was declared independent but it begun before the fight for Brazilian independence had started. The Bahian efforts, in the end, were what sent the Portuguese packing. In fact, Bahian people are proud of July 2nd because it symbolizes the real fight for independence (and not just a mere proclamation of it), where they not only shed a lot of blood and tears, but where slaves and those of native indian descent (caboclos) came together to aid in the fight. It is also where they found themselves outnumbered, by three-thousand Portuguese soldiers versus one-thousand five-hundred on the Brazilian side, and still ended up victorious.

In 1822, the royal courts in Lisbon ordered Portuguese commander Madeira de Melo to take control of Bahia in light of Dom João VI’s return to Europe almost a year prior. The rumors, and later knowledge, that his son, Dom Pedro I,  would not return to Portugal brought about Madeira de Melo’s appointment. With the start of 1823, Portuguese reinforcements arrived in Salvador, dominating the city. Dom Pedro I, then, sent in Brazilian troops, who eventually had to fall back into the Recôncavo region outside the capital city. (Important to note that “Brazilian” here means fighting for Brazil, since almost all the troops actually doing so were Portuguese-born).

Surrounded and with food and ammunition running out, Madeira de Melo requested more Portuguese troops from Europe. It was then that Dom Pedro I sent in the French general and mercenary, Pedro Labatut, to expel the enemies. Labatut had previously participated in the Napoleonic Wars, as well as alongside Simon Bolivar in Colombia. It’s somewhat ironic that a Frenchman would push the Portuguese out of Brazil since it was due to the French invasion that the Portuguese went to Brazil in the first place.

In the Battle of Pirajá, which was a defining moment in the fight for Bahian independence (and, ultimately, that of Brazil), Madeira de Melo took the offense and ended up getting injured. One account of the battle relates the story of a soldier who, while being Portuguese but fighting for the Brazilians, confused the Portuguese troops by giving the sound for them to advance according to a specific battlefield scenario. The only problem was the scenario wasn’t actually happening so instead of advancing, they fell back, at which point the Brazilian troops attacked, winning the battle.

The Portuguese retreated to the city center and soon found themselves weakened, tired, low on firepower, and with a Brazilian fleet (with an Englishman at the command) all but surrounding them seaside. Madeira de Melo and the remaining troops finally fled the country, returning to Portugal while being chased all the way back to Lisbon.

The day that Labatut and his men took back the city was July 2nd, 1823.

The Added Benefit of Being Employed

There’s a Brazilian ditado (saying) that says, “Vamos em frente que atrás vem gente”, which translates roughly to “if you stay still too long, others will pass you by”. It can perhaps be best applied to the work environment and with Brazil being a country fast approaching 200 million people it’s best if all those people have work. Many Brazilians have a lot of pride in being employed, even if for those who have a basic-level job in the service industry. The other day, though, I found out that it’s not just in the citizen’s own personal interest to have work but it also happens be to illegal to be unemployed in Brazil. It’s even technically punishable by a short jail term of between 15 days and 3 months.

The reason behind it is likely found in social security benefits. While in the US, you effectively pay your own future benefits out of each paycheck, I hear that it’s possible for the elderly to get a social security check in Brazil, regardless of one’s prior employment history, or lack thereof.

Before the idea of going to jail starts to worry you, read on.

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Does this law explain why most retail shops have many employees? Not quite, that’s more about stringent labor laws regarding wages and firing. If each employee has a pre-arranged wage, there’s not much of an added benefit to send them home during down-time (especially in case there’s a sudden surge of customers). Firing is also made difficult due to current laws regarding employment contracts.

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The fact that someone may be committing a crime without knowing it is not at all specific to Brazil. For proof, there’s a somewhat recently-published book called “Three Felonies A Day” on Amazon which discusses how the average American commits up to 3 felonies per day, that is, according to the Feds.

Getting back to Brazil, here’s the actual legal standing (specifically, Legal Decree 3.688, Article 59, from October, 1941) on the criminal misdemeanor of vagrancy, in laymen’s terms: “Being unemployed, while able to work, and without receiving other income, is the same as committing vagrancy.” What it means is, if you’re Brazilian who was stopped on the streets and your “carteira de trabalho” (employment card*) wasn’t signed (meaning testified to, by your current employer), you could have gone to jail. There’s no need to get too worried because the reality is, no one goes to jail these days for being out of work. It just doesn’t happen.

* The official name is “Carteira Nacional de Trabalho e Previdencia Social” (National Card of Employment and Social Security).

Give freely, or else

Screen Shot 2013-08-22 at 5.11.43 PMMy day shift at the hostel in Ipanema had ended and, as usual, I stuck around chatting with the friendly manager and some of the guests. Upon noticing it was already dark out, I said goodbye, then ran a quick errand before heading to the nearest Zona Sul supermarket, kiddie corner to General Osório square, to pick up some spaghetti for later. With the errands completed, I went a few blocks towards the beach to catch a public transport van back to Rocinha. Numbered according to their trajectory, I was hoping to catch the less frequent of the two lines that went through Gávea because it would leave me closer to my apartment.

I waited there like on any of the other hundreds of times I had caught a van back home, aware of my surroundings, even though this was Ipanema and I was dressed in the usual shirt, shorts and flip-flops. As I held my grocery bag with its one item inside, I thought about the dinner I’d soon share with friends, accompanied by a beer from the bar across from my front door.

Right then a lone young man (reminiscent of those I saw daily in the favelas) appeared on the median strip, shouting out to someone on the sidewalk where I was.

Rio wasn’t a stranger to me and I had always kept my wits about me while living there. Even though I had never found myself in any kind of unwanted situation before, this guy didn’t immediately make me think twice, but he made me want to think twice. “Calma, just be cool”, I thought to myself, “I’ve got nothing visible he can steal,” knowing full well that prior to the supermarket, I had made a stop at the bank to take out R$60 for the next week. Luckily, while still in the bank, I had folded the bills up and stuck them, along with my bank card, under the waistband of my underwear.

He shouted again, across the sparse lanes of traffic, which prompted me to take a quick look around me to see whose attention he was trying to get. It was mine. I was alone and it was dark. That’s when he went for my bag, with his eyes.

Tem comida aí? Me dá alguma coisa,” he suddely mumurred.
(You got food there? Give me some.)

É macarrão, tem que ser cozido,” I reluctantly responded.
(It’s spaghetti, it has to be cooked.)

E daí, dou um jeito, cara.
(So what, I’ll find a way to cook it, man.)

Não posso, é pra janta.
(I can’t, it’s for dinner.)

I didn’t want him to think I was an easy target, and by that I mean gringo. I considered playing the sympathy card, telling him I was a resident of the morro, the comunidade (favela), without specifying which, but that might lead to more talking, and more talking might reveal I’m a foreigner. Two or three more times he asked for food but as many times as he asked, I denied him. That’s when he changed tatics.

Então, me dá um real aí.
(So give me R$1.)

Tem, não, cara. Preciso pro transporte.
(I don’t have it, man. I need what I got for transport.)

Ô, me dá um real!“, he repeated, a little more directly.
(Hey, give me R$1!)

Não posso“, I said.
(I can’t.)

I realized this was going to continue for a while unless I either gave him money or food, which meant getting close to him physically, or I would have to go back to General Osório and walk down ‘Visconde’ (a main street in Ipanema) all the way to Leblon where I could also catch the same van. Just as I was about to offer up R$1 to get it over with, I heard another person shouting at me. It was the cobrador (fare collector) of the van I had been waiting for. Giving him a quick wave to stop the van, it blocked out the view of the lone peddler and I got on and went home.

To this day, I don’t know what would have happened if I let him approach me. At the most, I suppose I could have lost a simple bag of spaghetti or maybe the bus fare. In the least, I would have helped someone in need. He was the one breathing thing that could have stood in the way of my belief that, crime-wise, Brazil isn’t as bad as others say it is.

Brazilian inventiveness

BBC put out an article on a Brazilian man who created a plastic bottle light, aka the Moser Lamp, to be used in low-income family homes. All one needs is a bottle, water, a little bleach and sunlight. I had heard about it before but didn’t know it was a Brazilian who invented it. Pretty creative.

If you can get BBC World Service (iPlayer), listen to an interview with him (minute 35) here, though it just repeats what’s in the article.

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Two New Beatz

Here’s two songs off the newest Brazilian Beatz Podcast (Facebook page), an upbeat one called “No Balanço da Canoa” by Maga Bo and the other, already famous and a little more mellow, called Oração by A Banda Mais Bonita da Cidade.

Quick Portuguese Podcasts

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Luiz Costa Pereira Junior, the editor of Revista Língua Portuguesa started doing quick Portuguese podcasts (titled “Em bom português” and recorded in Portuguese) on the magazine’s site and via the radio station Band AM840. You can check out the latest here and find the previous 2 or 3 near the blog’s comment section.

The Disappearing Dolphin

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The Amazon river dolphin is one of four families of river dolphins around the world, principally occupying rivers throughout Asia and South America. They come in a variety of colors and, in the Amazon, they come mainly in pink. A few things that differentiate them from other dolphins are their poor vision and their ability to turn their heads 180 degrees, which aids in maneuvering around in the muddied waters. Unfortunately, yet another difference is that they’ve been disappearing from the rivers of the Amazon in recent years.

The Amazon dolphin’s nature is to be friendly and that has led to fishermen killing them in order to use their meat to catch large catfish which populate the rivers. There’s been an annual drop in their population of 7% per year, according to the Institute of Amazonian Research who has been studying the dolphins for close to 20 years. The other river dolphin families are also either being wiped out or have already been declared extinct in recent years.

One side effect from their gradual disappearance is the lenda do boto, or Amazon dolphin legend, might disappear along with it. Among native inhabitants of the region, it is said that during the nights of the Festa Junina, these dolphins become charming young men who seduce unsuspecting young women and end up impregnating them. The next morning, they turn back into dolphins and disappear into the water. When a young woman turns up pregnant, others will speculate that it was a dolphin’s fault. And when a child doesn’t know their father, the response is…you guessed it, the dolphin did it.

You can watch a short cartoon about the tale below.

 

Over Half a Year Away

 

Screen Shot 2013-08-07 at 11.10.27 AMI’ve been away from Brazilian life for over half a year now. Every time I have been away from Brazil for a short period, it seems like my last trip was a hundred years ago. I think this is because Brazil is a place that has to be lived and felt in order to be understood. Once you’re away from it, it’s like having woken up from a dream and only remembering bits and pieces.

One thing that’s pretty constant is what happens when I hear Brazilian Portuguese or encounter Brazilians in my day-to-day. There’s that instant familiarity and a strange sense that they’re somehow “my people”. As I’ve related here several times before, I grew up in many cities across the US and so I never saw myself as having a particular “people”, at least locally-speaking. That’s what’s weird, I suppose. Having lived all over Brazil, it usually doesn’t matter where a Brazilian is from because I can safely say, “oh, I’ve lived there (or near there),” and we can start talking. And because I’ve intentionally studied Brazil’s regional cultures, while never having really studied the intricacies of my own country’s culture, there’s that familiarity with Brazil that I kind of lack with the US. I’ve spent over half my life entrenched in the study of foreign cultures, and thus I’ve experienced the US from a mental distance.

Now that I’m back in a country where everyone speaks Portuguese, it’s pretty clear to everyone when I speak their language that I’m most likely a Brazilian. Before I’ve spoken, however, there’s the assumption that I’m an English-speaker because, with a neverending number of tourists here in Lisbon, most shop employees start off with English (this happens to my Brazilian girlfriend, too). That’s one of the other major differences between Brazil and Portugal, by the way, as here it seems most Portuguese people speak fluent English…and they have no problem with speaking it. In Brazil, I knew lots of people that even knew English but were too ashamed to speak it. I don’t know where that stems from. Danielle in Brazil touched upon this on her blog.

I’ve mentioned this talk before on my blog, but as the famous Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta once said (although, he was responding to an audience member’s question on the subject of patriotism), there are basically two Brazils, that of the State and that of Society [1]. Like in a Venn diagram, the two must overlap a little, rather than be separate, in order to have patriotism. Their actual separation parallels my feelings about Brazil having been more than six months away from it. Because of the State (ie, bureaucracy, politics and the effects of both), I’m totally fine being away from Brazil now. Because of the Society (culture, rhythm of life, way of living, etc), I long to embrace it once more. After all, underneath it all, I’m basically Brazilian.

[1] - video (for the anthropologists out there, in PT)