Brazil has had quite a run over the past decade and a half. Up, down and into the ground under the PT (Worker’s Party), and now into the political slime pits with president-elect Bolsonaro, man enough to slap a woman and enough of a paragon of hard-working virtue to spend 27 years doing nothing in the Brazilian congress while criticizing the descendents of slaves living in villages founded by their forefathers — places in which I seriously doubt he’s ever trod — for laziness (these of course being people who must work hard or starve…fishermen and subsistence farmers and the like.
The oft-repeated phrase attributed to Antonio Carlos Jobim is “Brazil is not for beginners.” One might assume that the first Africans forcibly brought to the sugarcane plantations of the Recôncavo felt likewise, but then for them Brazil was a place and not, as implicit in Jobim’s phrase, a society. Brazil as a society began with those first Africans (unless one were to presume that Brazilian society was manor houses sheltering long hardwood dining tables grandly set with the finest silver and plate and presided over by milky white sinhás forever protected from the sun; but this, dear amigos, was Portuguese society).
Brazilian society, incandescent as in few places on earth, was born in circumstances vastly more awful than those being lived now, under the despotic and absolute reign of a multiplicity of evil Jokers. One of the testaments to the strength of Brazilian society was that it was born at all.
This society grew up in the quilombos so disliked by Bolsonaro, in the dusty villages of Brazil’s nordeste, in the crowded tenements and hillside ghettos (favelas) of Rio de Janeiro. The Brazil of postcards, of the late ’50s and ’60s was almost a mirage for most Brazilians. There’s an expression here, “pra inglês ver“, “for the English to see.” And that’s exactly what the rest of the world saw, and heard: the Scheherazade 1001 Nights version played to the tune of Jobim’s ingeniously conceived siren songs.
So the real Brazil hasn’t gone anywhere. If anything it has gone forth and multiplied. The Brazil of jungle and sun and desert and sea and a resourceful and struggling and energetic people for whom family-ties and friendship by the bucketfuls are indispensable. The Brazil of a collective musical genius illuminated by the indigenous cultures of Africans and Native Americans and Sephardim. The country which owned football and which for all practical purposes still owns that pre-Lenten festival born in staid Christian Europe: Carnival.
This is the Brazil which continues to be as movingly compelling as ever. Which has since the beginning been magisterially more than the cynical, cruel, corrupt and incompetent jokers who run it.
I hope I’m wrong about Bolsonaro, that the statements attributed to him were not deep convictions and that he’s capable of better than he’s evinced so far. A lot of decent people voted for him. I fear for the worst but pray for the best.