WHY HAVE CARNIVAL?

 

This is the question some of my Brazilian Facebook friends are asking this year—a year where we’re in the throes of a serious recession and feeling the effects of a government drowning in corruption. I think it’s a valid question, but a complicated one. It doesn’t have a simple answer, such as: “We should cancel Carnival and spend the money on schools and hospitals.”Carnaval Cancelado no Ceará

But that’s exactly the answer I’ve been seeing in a lot of the memes my friends (and friends of friends) are posting. I get it. They’re fed up with the inadequate services Brazil provides for its citizens (not to mention infrastructure, transportation, and so many other things), and they think Carnival is a waste of money. The truth is, a lot of Brazilians have never liked Carnival, even when things were looking rosier for the country. They get out of the city as fast as they can to spend the week in some quiet resort. I would venture to say that these are pretty much the same people who are posting negative memes about Carnival on Facebook.

OK, I’m a gringa expat…what do I know? Well, quite a bit, as it happens. I’ve been living in Rio for around 18 years, and quite a few of them were involved with Carnival and the samba culture (you can read about my experiences in my book, Getting Down to Brass Tacks, here: http://goo.gl/OfdMd7

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My two samba pals and me

I played drums in the samba school parades for 7 or 8 years, and came away with a clear sense of why Carnival is so important to many Brazilians—not to mention thousands of tourists from around the world—and why it should NOT be canceled—ever.

First of all, Brazilian Carnival is one of the most amazing events anywhere in the world—so much so that it has been attracting tourists for decades. But even more important, Carnival is an event that many Brazilians look forward to every year. It’s a wonderful vacation from the tedium of day-to-day living, and thousands of people from all walks of life are either spectators or take part in the parades. These parades range from the larger-than-life spectacle at the Sambodrome (in Rio) to the smaller groups (blocos) that parade in various neighborhoods all over the city. If you can’t afford to buy a costume and parade in the Sambodrome with the big groups, you can either go out with one of the smaller schools or blocos, or if you’ve got rhythm and the time and dedication to go to the rehearsals, you can play in the bateria and get a costume for free.

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Getting ready for rehearsal

For many, this is the time to live a dream, a fantasy, to be someone you can’t be in your everyday life. It’s art, culture, music, theater, dance—all wrapped up in one—and so much more.

It also provides jobs. People work for months in the big warehouses (barracões) for months to create the floats and figures that are the focal point of the parades. These are artisans, artists, carpenters, and others without specific skills, who make it possible for Carnival to happen every year—without them, there would be no Carnival.

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Working in the barracão

So what about the schools and hospitals? Would it be better to cut out Carnival and put more money into building more and better schools and hospitals? No, this isn’t where the money should come from. True, Carnival could be scaled down a bit (some samba groups are already recycling materials from previous years), but the funds for public services and institutions could easily come from all the money that is wasted by the corrupt government here.

What would life look like without art, music, theater, and other forms of culture? Would it really be worth living? Carnival is joy, inspiration—a health-giving activity for so many. I’ve seen up close the happiness and inspiration in the faces of so many of my samba school friends here, that I can’t help thinking: If Carnival is canceled, Brazil had better build more hospitals, because there will be a lot more people needing them!

Salve o Carnaval!

Amy, Dave Brown

Yes, that’s me!

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Gustavo Rosa’s playful eye

Gustavo-Rosa-Vale-POstGustavo Rosa (1946-2013) was a truly original Brazilian artist. I hadn’t heard of him until I was asked by his brother, photographer Roberto Rosa, to translate a website into English that was being created in his honor.

I immediately fell in love with Gustavo’s work. It’s playful, amusing, colorful, satirical, and wonderfully executed, with wildly humorous depictions of typical Brazilian lifestyles in his own peculiar and engaging way. As you can see from some of the examples here, Gustavo had a penchant for chubby folks, which under his brush, have a definite charm of their own!

0bfc0ce99892772fc285e10ee3943d9aGustavo Rosa was born in São Paulo, Brazil, and was drawing on anything—including school notebooks and walls—from the time he was a very little boy. He mostly drew the things from his own life—boys flying kites, the ice cream man, the circuses he went to with his parents, and so on.

In school he was restless and bored, and spent most of his time in class surreptitiously drawing. It was inevitable that he would become an artist, and he eventually took some drawing and painting courses. His first public exhibition was in 1964 at MAB—the Brazilian Art Museum. Finally he abandoned all schooling and forged ahead on his own.6a52e108664a192a7fd3e708ee73d6a9

Gustavo was at odds with some of his contemporaries, because he was willing to commercialize his art. Some artistic noses were turned up when he accepted an invitation from the American firm Russell-Newman to create unique designs to be printed on shirts, towels and other paraphernalia to be marketed throughout the United States. “Brazilians are not ready to accept the idea that an artist can put his art on a consumer object,” says Gustavo. “Outside Brazil it’s exactly the opposite: The artist who popularizes his art is greatly prized.”

quadro1-300x298Although Gustavo Rosa was diagnosed with cancer in 1999, he continued working and exhibiting until his death in 2013.

You can see more of Gustavo Rosa’s work on his new website, created by his brother, photographer Roberto Rosa: http://www.gustavorosa.com.br

 

 

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Sweet Solitary Christmas

I’ve spent Christmas alone for years, so a few years ago I decided to write a poem about it. I shared it on Facebook today and people seemed to find comfort in it. Many shared it with their friends, so I decided to share it on my blog as well.

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It’s the night before Christmas
And I’m all alone,
No tree and no presents
No calls on the phone.
No stockings are hung,
There’s no candle flame,
And Santa Claus doesn’t
Remember my name.
Long gone are the days
Of family fun
Now there’s just me
By myself, just one.
But please don’t feel sad
I’m really quite fine,
In fact I’m so glad
That Christmas is mine.
I’ve got my dear angels
Who speak in my ear
In tones oh so tender
With love oh so near.
They tell me of Jesus
And his awesome love,
His goodness, his healing,
Around and above.
Christmas is coming,
A new birth for me,
With joy and abundance—
I’m happy and free!

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Emancipation

There came a time when the vastness of life overwhelmed me…

I had forgotten that its glory was the glory of my own self.

I came to see it as something “out there” somewhere,

And so it became a danger and a threat to me.

Thus I, in my fear, made my world smaller and smaller,

As I tried in vain to protect myself from the vastness.

Oh! Let me give kind attention to my fears, my woes, my brokenness!

Let me not fight them anymore…let me dwell with them,

Not resist them, let them in…only then can I let them go,

Watch them float away…

Like dandelion seeds in the warm summer breeze.

Oh! Let me forgive myself for being afraid to live,

To love and be loved…and let me

Dive into the vastness of the unknown,

With wild abandon!

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Hoofin’

This is part of a chapter from my book, Getting Down to Brass Tacks – My Adventures in Jazz, Rio, and Beyond:

Leon Collins

Leon Collins

I was still unhappy with my piano playing. I’d had a few gigs off and on since I had quit the Top of the Hub, but I felt there was something wrong with my sense of time. It wasn’t swinging the way I wanted it to. Charlie Banacos had showed me some methods to get my lines to sound more swinging, but I felt it wasn’t just my hands and arms that were the problem (and I’m sure he knew that, too)—it was my whole body and the way I felt about it. I’d never been particularly graceful, not good at sports, and not much of a dancer, either. One night Mad, Hil and I were watching TV and the Nicholas Brothers were on.

“Look at the way they move,” I said. “If that isn’t jazz in motion I don’t know what is.” The girls were fascinated, too, especially with the way they tapped up and down the stairs. I’d seen lots of tap dancers on TV, of course, like Shirley Temple and Gene Kelly, but there was something different about the way these guys danced. I wanted to find out what it was that gave them that fluid, relaxed, hip way of moving, so I decided to find myself a tap dance teacher. I really thought it might help me with my piano playing.

I knew I didn’t want one of those Broadway types that flailed their arms around and made big dramatic sweeps across the floor, so I asked around and someone mentioned Leon Collins. They said he was one of the old-time “hoofers” like Honi Coles and the Nicholas Brothers and the Copasetics, so if I wanted to learn the real deal, I should look him up. It turned out that Leon was giving tap lessons in a studio not far from the Monitor newsroom, and his classes were all jammed, mostly with white women. I signed up, and got Mad and Hil into classes, too. Now we were the tap family.

Leon was skinny as a toothpick and loose as a mop, with a big, toothy smile, and he loved his “girls”—many of whom were well past middle age. He also played the guitar and sang a little, and was a walking jazz machine. There was always a tune running around in his head, accompanied by some new tap step he could fit with it.

Before long, Leon and I were having long conversations about music, and I’d stay after class to show him something on the piano or watch him work out an improvised line on the guitar. I turned him on to some tunes he’d never danced to, like Randy Weston’s jazz waltz “Little Niles” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night in Tunisia,” both which became part of his regular show repertoire. Leon was wide open to new ideas, and even made up some tap routines to a couple of classical pieces.

I enjoyed the tap classes and they really did help me with my rhythm, both on the piano and in general. But the best thing that came out of my association with Leon was that he asked me to be his musical director. This is how I came to be involved with many, many tap dancers over the years and be known as the “tap dancers’ piano player.” I got to know Chuck Green of Chuck and Chuckles, James “Buster” Brown, Leslie “Bubba” Gains and Charles “Cookie” Cook of the Copasetics, Bunny Briggs (who had danced with Duke Ellington), Jimmy Slyde, Sandman Simms, and then later on Greg Hines and Savion Glover.

The older tappers were all Leon’s contemporaries and colleagues, and I even got to play with some of them, because of Leon. Once he took me to a jazz club in Harlem and Chuck Green was there. I sat in to play for him, and he danced in his socks! Everyone kept shushing me so they could “hear” his steps…shh, shh, softer, softer!

To buy the book: http://goo.gl/OfdMd7

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MY INTERVIEW WITH MILES DAVIS (1986)

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The ongoing search…

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Anyone who has read my book will identify me as a spiritual seeker and, more specifically, as a student of Christian Science for over 40 years. The book was published in 2012 and it’s now 2015…a lot of water has gone under the bridge, and many things were washed away, including Christian Science. I didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, though. There are still some thoughts and ideas from that teaching that I find valid, but in my case it was simply time to move on.

In Christian Science we were taught that anything bad or evil is illusion, and should be denied and replaced with Truth (spiritual perfection, or God) in our thought, hopefully with enough understanding and inspiration to heal physical diseases as well as any other type of problem. I’ve known people who have had success with this approach, but have also known many who are puzzled and dumbfounded as to why they never seem to achieve physical healing through these means. I am one of the latter.

When I stopped studying “CS,” as we call it, I felt a sudden surge of freedom—I thought, wow, now I can read anything I want, study anything I want! Not that I wasn’t free before, I had just locked myself into that one teaching, believing that it was “it.” But when I realized that there is no “it” that can be boxed into one teaching or path, I started looking into lots of things. I love investigating thoughts about life, what we’re here for, what it all means, and so on.

One of the unspoken (and sometimes spoken) rules of CS was that you don’t talk about your illnesses, because that would make a “reality” of them. Consequently, many of us kept our sufferings to ourselves, or we would confide them to a Christian Science practitioner, who would pray for us. Imagine my surprise, then, when I started reading different teachings that encouraged us to “embrace” negative things and situations, and suggested that this is the way transformation takes place. Instead of resisting, trying to fix or get rid of, or trying to “unknow” our problems and illnesses, we simply (well, maybe not so simply) stop all of those stressful mental gymnastics and just “dwell” with what’s going on—welcome it, love it, let it do its thing. Most of the teachings I’ve been reading suggest that negative occurrences are actually catalysts to wake us up to recognize what’s really going on, i.e., harmony and goodness. Unlike in CS, “evil” things are considered part of the ALL…the reasoning being that how can ALL be ALL if it doesn’t include everything? CS says that evil is an illusion, but an illusion is still something—it’s still a thought, a part of consciousness.

At first I was afraid to stop resisting and trying to fix my various disabilities and just live—do things that brought me joy. I thought if I did that, the disabilities would just get worse and worse. I should mention that these new teachings I was reading didn’t preach against seeking medical solutions, but there are times when the medical faculty has no solutions to our problems, and so we must search elsewhere. And even if we do find a fix through medicine or surgery, there’s no guarantee that the problem won’t return or that we won’t have another problem. I’ve always, from a very early age, felt a desire to get to the root of things and not merely deal with them on a surface level, so the idea that I could just relax and the answers would come was very appealing to me, albeit a bit disconcerting. I thought, after all, I’ve been resisting my difficulties for over 40 years with little results—what did I have to lose?

I no longer feel that I have all the answers, or that one teaching or system has them. I’m looking to my intuition most of the time, and am doing my best to face up to myself and be honest. As a result, I sometimes feel that my life is being turned upside down, but to tell you the truth, I kind of like it.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that are my thoughts and ponderings. They may not be yours, and you may disagree with some of them, and that’s as it should be. :)

For the curious, some of the writers/thinkers/teachers I’ve been checking out (and I’m certain there will be more) are Margaret Laird, Betty Albee, Bentinho Massaro, Jeff Foster, Anita Moorjani, Abraham/Hicks, Matt Kahn, Anthony de Mello, and Steven Pressfield.

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