Altenir Silva, my friend from Brazil, had a one-minute play produced at the New Workshop Theatre, Brooklyn College, in June.
It is called “She Loves Pepsi and He Drinks Coca-Cola.”
Needless to say, it is about relationships.
I told him it sounds like “Waiting for Godot,” only with a redhead with a Russian accent.
Altenir has written for Brazilian television and has also written several movies, including the touching “Curitiba Zero Degree,” about four men whose lives intersect in gritty corners of a large southern city.
The film has a hopeful message, rare anywhere.
The trailer for the film:
(The Silva family lives in the Copacabana section of Rio. He is a writer....and a Yankee fan....and my friend. I asked Altenir to write something he was sensing about these Olympic Games, taking place all around them.)
"Yes, We Have Problems”
By Altenir Silva
Rio de Janeiro is a divided city in its complexities. There are two sides in Rio de Janeiro and we can put these terms in a musical context: the sadness of Bossa Nova and the happiness of the Samba.
The Rio of "Bossa Nova” is a movement musical that shows the soul of existence of the middle class on the ways of sadness. There's a poem by Vinicius de Moraes with a melody by Tom Jobim, "Tristeza Não Tem Fim; Felicidade Sim” (Sadness Doesn’t End, Happiness Does) that shows the broken heart of Bossa Nova, formed by composers who lived in the South Zone of Rio, a rich region.
And there's a Rio of Samba, our African musical heritage, where the music is sung with joy about the heartaches and the cultural characteristics of the place.
Samba has its origin in the North Zone and the favelas, which are poor regions, but with a great vocation to be happy. There’s a samba that is very meaningful by songwriter Zé Keti, “A Voz do Morro” (A Voice of the Hill) that says on its verses "I’m samba; I’m native from here, from Rio de Janeiro; I’m the one who brings joy to millions of Brazilian hearts”. Even in different contexts, the Bossa Nova is a softer way of singing and playing Samba.
The Olympic Games in Rio are happening on this musical equator: for one side is the image of a city that is all right, but is sad because we know that this city is temporary - it finishes after the Olympics Games. This city is Bossa Nova.
There's a Rio of Samba, where the people know that this feast isn't made to them, but they are being happy because they believe that the glee is the matter of the soul. The life is difficult and the smile makes it bearable. The paradox is our essence: the Brazilian smiles to not cry.
All the world knows that there’s a breakdown of the State of Rio de Janeiro and the City Hall as well. This real city is out of our media, but has been shown relatively in the international media.
Anyway, we have to take advantage of this unique moment in our city and sing the song of Braguinha & Alberto Ribeiro that was sung by Almirante: “Yes, We Have Bananas.” Now the song is: “Yes, We Have Olympics Games," also.
Roger Cohen, who has lived and worked in Brazil, finds the positive side of Rio's hosting the Games:
Works by Altenir Silva:
Links to the music Silva references:
A Felicidade - Tom & Vinícius:
Yes, Nós Temos Bananas - Braguinha & Alberto Ribeiro:
A Voz do Morro - Ze Keti:
Michael Powell's excellent column on the favelas:
It’s early March. It’s New York. It rained overnight and now it’s getting windy. The baseball games are starting down south.
I found myself humming “Waters of March,” sung by Susannah McCorkle, with her English lyrics:
“It’s the promise of life/ It’s the joy in your heart.”
But wait: when Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote that song, in Portuguese, he was talking about March in Brazil, in the Southern Hemisphere.
I checked with my friend Altenir Silva, film-writer, who lives in Rio, not far from the Tom Jobim statue. Altenir said the Portuguese lyrics mean, “It’s the rest of a bush in the morning light,” and he added, “Yes, March is a rainy month in Brazil.”
Turns out, Jobim was caught in a major rainstorm, in the interior, far from the beaches of Ipanema.
Apparently, McCorkle wrote the English version around 1993, giving it a northern take. She was a linguist, who sang in English, Portuguese and Italian, and a writer, published in magazines and working on a memoir when she committed suicide on May 19, 2001 at the age of 55. Her obituary was lovingly written by Leon Wieseltier in the June 4, 2001, edition of The New Yorker.
McCorkle’s version of “Waters of March,” with terrific guitar backup by Howard Alden, survives her, as recorded music does.
My friend Altenir followed up by sending me a version by Elis Regina, probably the most popular Brazilian pop singer when she died on Jan., 19, 1982, at 36, of an overdose.
This sadness from both hemispheres is diluted by the music they left behind, the music of water, the rush of life, the little things we see and hear and feel, the things we take for granted: -- “a stick, a stone.” “É pau, é pedra.”
McCorkle could have added a stanza about spring training. A bat, a ball, a glove, a cap.
“It’s the promise of life/ It’s the joy in your heart.”
On a warm day last May, Neo Silva was baptized in a glorious Italian church on Carmine Street in Greenwich Village, in the presence of his parents, Celia and Altenir.
Seven-plus months later, in summer in Rio, Neo encounters the new statue of Antonio Carlos Jobim near the beach in Ipanema.
No matter what hemisphere you are in, Feliz Ano Novo, with special thanks to Brazil for being the permanent heart and soul of Jogo Bonito, the beautiful game, and the source of Tom Jobim and La Garota de Ipanema.
Wanna feel warm?
I still have not made it to Brazil -- although following Brazilian fans around Barcelona in 1982 and watching Sócrates and Falcão on the field probably qualifies me. I describe that seminal moment in my book.
Most soccer fans would list Brazil as their first or second favorite team. Well, maybe not Argentines.
I did catch some Argentina fans enjoying Brazilians dancing and playing music in the parking lot in New Jersey two summers ago. But that was before a friendly.
If it’s not the soccer, it’s the music that makes people think we have been to Brazil.
I was exploring that theme during my interview with John Schaefer, who has been producing New Sounds and now Soundcheck on WNYC-FM in New York for many years. That lovely interview was played Tuesday, June 10, after 9 PM.
Schaefer asked me to pick three songs that represent my love for soccer. For two of them, please check out Schaefer’s show or podcast. The third came directly from his show 13 years ago, when he played a “new sound” – a CD named Casa, featuring the trio, Morelenbaum2/Sakamoto, with a photo of Corcovado on the front.
You know how sometimes you hear a “new sound” and you wonder how life existed before that moment? I can trace a few albums or songs to that first ethereal experience.
Out of the ozone came Ryuichi Sakamoto, a Japanese activist-pianist, Jaques Morelenbaum, a Brazilian cellist, and Paula Morelenbaum (wife of Jaques), a singer. They recorded songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim in the house of Jobim – hence the Casa – and gave them a unique jazz/samba interpretation. I went out to Tower Records the next day and bought the CD. Been playing it ever since. The counter in my iTunes says it is my most-played album.
Omigosh, where to begin: melancholy songs of love, found and lost.
Fotografia, about a couple in a bar along the beach, ending with the Portuguese aquele beijo (that kiss) sung so insistently by Paula Morelenbaum, and then in English, with her delightful inflections.
Estrada Branca, about memories of a couple walking, walking, walking, and then her sighting the former lover “walking on my street.” When I looked up the Portuguese, the last words of the song are “death wish.” The American lyrics were quite a bit more upbeat. So it goes.
But the song I chose from Casa was Jobim’s classic Samba do Avião, once recorded by Tony Bennett as “Song of the Jet,” about flying home to Rio. It starts with Sakamoto’s rhythmic piano, incorporates Jaques Morelenbaum’s moody cello, and features Paula Morelenbaum’s soaring voice. After touchdown, there is a long jazz riff about the energy of Rio.
In musical terms, we might as well all be Brazilians. For me, it goes back to the classic Getz/Gilberto in 1963, with Astrud Gilberto singing some of Jobim’s songs, including The Girl From Ipanema. Then there was Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66. My pal Doug Logan got me hooked on Caetano Veloso doing Jobim, doing Michael Jackson. And some Brazilian friends have introduced me to Gal Costa, João Gilberto, and recently Ana Carolina e Seu Jorge. And on the classical end, the music of Villa-Lobos.
Almost forgot the writer-singer Susannah McCorkle, who sang in Portuguese, Italian and English, and totally owns the Jobim classic, "The Waters of March."
So, yes, I have been to Brazil. Will be watching – and writing about – the World Cup for this site for the next month plus, starting Thursday, from 3-6 PM, at Foley’s on W. 33 St. in Manhattan, selling my book, watching Brazil-Croatia. The iPod goes with me, Brazil only a touch away.
Here is the link for the podcast of the interview:
The man dithers and prattles. In any multinational corporation, he would have been long gone, not because of right and wrong but because he was bad for business, bad for image, bad for selling lethal cars or whatever the company was doing.
But Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, the world soccer body, goes on and on. Now he is threatening to run for another term, even before the World Cup takes place in Brazil under very dicey circumstances next month.
Blatter’s latest foolishness was saying the other day that choosing Qatar for the 2022 World Cup was a “mistake.” You make mistakes in life, he said, talking about awarding a World Cup to a nation without a football heritage but lots of oil money to grease FIFA delegates.
Some of the people who voted for Qatar have since been banned for improprieties. Yet Blatter insists the 2022 World Cup was not bought and sold. Just a “mistake.” The executive voters did not notice that it gets hot in Qatar in summer.
Blatter’s handlers have since chimed in, as they often must, to note that he never said Qatar would be replaced.
Blatter used to be known for merely sexist and inane comments. FIFA should hold the World Cup every year or two. Female players should wear tight uniforms. Now he is about to preside over the most political protests ever seen in a World Cup – and he has insured a scandalous World Cup in Qatar, a nation that allows mistreatment of migrant workers.
Fortunately, Andrew Jennings is still raking the muck.
Jeremy Schaap did a great report on the deaths of migrant workers, on ESPN a few days ago.
Dave Zirin of The Nation has been all over FIFA.
And Wright Thompson of ESPN has been in Brazil, producing prose and videos about a nation where a major swath of citizens has identified FIFA and futebol – and the government -- as a problem, not just a big quadrennial party.
Blatter has been found out. Yet he keeps talking – and getting re-elected. Speaking of mistakes.
Celia and Altenir Silva are introducing Neo to his first Carnival near their home in Rio.
Don't tell Altenir how the Knicks are doing.
The World Cup arrives in three months.
Boa Sorte Para o Brasil.
In the Copacabana section of Rio de Janeiro, Altenir Jose Silva imitates John Sterling.
Silva is a writer with television and movie credits in Brazil, and he also writes in English, including a recent play about F. Scott Fitzgerald.
He also pays around $70 a year to subscribe to a web site that streams Yankee games, direct from New York. He works on his English by shouting, “YANKEES WIN! Thuh-h-h-h-h Yankees! Win!”
(It’s only fair. Some Americans imitate soccer goal calls by South Americans.)
Silva and I become email pals, and he is a frequent contributor to this site.
Recently, he visited New York for a screenplay course and he and his wife, Célia, took their last big trip before she delivers their first child, after years of marriage.
We met for the first time at Foley’s, the Irish baseball pub on W. 33rd St. and he had already bought tickets to last Saturday’s Yankee game. Altenir and Célia were glad to hear Curtis Granderson was back in the lineup after his injury; Altenir gave his version of John Sterling’s rendition of “The Grandy-man can, oh the Grandy-man can.”
From the nation of Pelé and Sócrates and Romario and Neymar, a man sings of Curtis Granderson.
The very nice publicity director of the Yankees, Jason Zillo, arranged for a greeting for Altenir and Célia on the message board before the home half of the third. I advised them to have their cameras ready.
They are great tourists. On their last night here, they caught Woody Allen’s weekly appearance at the Café Carlyle with The Eddy Davis New Orleans Jazz Band. Now they are back home in Rio. Instead of imitating Tom Jobim or Caetano Veloso, Altenir warbles along with John Sterling.
There are millions of reasons to love Brazil – Sonia Braga, for sure, plus the throaty way Brazilians speak Portuguese, Brazilian music from Villa-Lobos to Tom Jobim, feijoada, Brazilian football fans, Brazilian football nicknames, and then good old joga bonito itself.
Being emotionally acknowledged as the best in the world, based on the record and the way Brazilians carry themselves on and around the field, is mostly a blessing, but this superior image can also be a burden.
Everybody wants to knock off Goliath, even a nimble and attractive one.
The Brazilians were a moving target again on Saturday as Mexico outwilled them, 2-1, in the gold medal match of the Olympic tournament. (At which point the Games ended for me, except for those highly entertaining clips of Usain Bolt. Time to get back to baseball and joga bonito of all nations.)
The Brazilians wanted this title badly, never having won the Olympic gold medal. The nation put together a squad that included three allowable over-23 players back in June and prepared hard for this tournament. But Mexico came into Wembley with the grim mission and skill that has often not traveled well from Azteca.
The only category Brazil won was nicknames, employing reserves known as Hulk (in English) and Pato (which means Duck in Portuguese.) That's what it said on the back of their classic yellow jerseys.
Those are the football names of Givanildo Vieira de Souza and Alexandre Rodrigues da Silva, opposites in physique but teammates in odd nicknames. Brazil has a long tradition of giving nicknames to its sporting heroes. (In the '80's, its star basketball gunners were Oscar and Hortencia, their given names.)
Brazil football had Pelé and Garrincha in the long-ago past, and when I started following in the early 80’s it had Sócrates
(one of his many classical given names) and Falcão (I always assumed this wavy-haired bird of prey was named for the way he soared but in fact it was his last name.)
Then there was Alemão, the Portuguese word for German, who was called that because of his light hair and complexion and also for his efficient work at midfield, or so I was told.
And who can ever forget the mainstay of the emerging Brazilian women’s teams of the 1990’s – Mariléia dos Santos, who sported the name Michael Jackson on her jersey long enough to score a reported 1574 goals. I saw her play a few times and never saw her perform the moon walk – or score, for that matter; Brazil had better players – but now she is the coordinator for women’s soccer in the Brazilian federation, having a far better middle age than her male namesake.
On Saturday, Hulk came on early in the disastrous final. British broadcaster Arlo White said it was pretty apparent why he got his name – the man’s shoulders and chest swelled out his No. 12 jersey. (His father was said to be a fan of the television series, and the son wound up having large pecs.) The Hulkster was mostly ineffective until extra time when he scored a goal and nearly set up the tying goal.
Another sub was Pato, who does not waddle or quack, but does come from the town of Pato Branco, which means White Duck.
With their wonderful nicknames, the Brazilians now must prepare for the 2014 World Cup, when they will be hosts and once-and-future favorites as well as beloved symbols of the world’s game. That’s not a burden, is it?
Have I forgotten any epic Brazilian nicknames?
(NB: In my earlier version, I called Pato's home town Prato Branco, which would mean White Plate. He's from Pato Branco, of course. My fault. One of the flaws of Underwear Guys filing precious little essays untouched by human or even editor hands. GV)
I had a wonderful time on the #NYTReadalong Feb. 7 with Sree Sreenivasan and Neil Parekh, talking about the Super Bowl and the great paper where I used to work. Thanks to all the nice people who sent messages while I was babbling. The Readalong is Sunday, 8:30-10:15 AM Eastern, and the link is available after that.
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: