I grew up in the Scottish countryside, so it was natural for me to choose a small town like Pedro de Toledo to retire to when I came to Brazil. I had visited my brother several times before moving here. He lives in the neighbouring town of Itariri, so we can drop by on each other from time to time.
Small towns are probably the same the world over, in so far as they share the values of a family oriented community, but they have their own character and the people who live in them are keen to defend their turf, so there can be quite a lot of jealousy and competition going on, but it gives a sense of pride too.
In Brazil, I think that the main differences are that the family is of paramount importance and that each town, or city as they insist on calling it, has their own town council and mayor, who are responsible for a lot of the public services, including junior schools, local medical care facilities and the roads, social welfare, library and the bus station. The “Prefeito”, as he or she is called, wields a lot of power locally, and usually belongs to one of several local “Clans”.
This year is an election year for town councillors and the mayor, so there is a lot of political talk going on, which is healthy and keeps the local issues in the spotlight.
For me, as a foreigner living here, I am a relatively big fish in a small pond.
With only 9,999 other inhabitants in Toledo, everyone knows the gringo! That makes me a bit of a local celebrity, and as I am an outgoing type of person, I enjoy the attention it brings, but maybe it wouldn’t suit everyone. It means that when you go into town, people will wave at you and expect you to wave back. You are expected to greet people in the street who you know, even if you only know them slightly. For example if you buy something in their shop, or use their taxi for a ride home, you are a friend, and they will expect a “Bom dia” from you.
In the places that you frequent, people will expect you not only to say good morning, but also to ask them if everything is going okay and maybe to comment on the weather or something like that, and they will be pleased if you call them by their name, or ask about their family and that sort of thing. It is important to be polite here, and not to be in too much of a hurry!
If you are not related to someone in a small community, or have no special ties, it can be difficult to get beyond the informal acquaintance kind of relationship. So you can begin to feel left out of the social events that go on, and of which, information is often not widely circulated, except by word of mouth. Having a good understanding of Portuguese is important and although there are students of the english language here, I am the only fluent speaker that I know of.
The friendliness and the comparatively low crime rate are very positive aspects, and I find that the scale suits me because I like to feel involved in what is going on in the place that I live in. The fact that everyone knows every one’s business, doesn’t bother me, as I have nothing to hide and I am not a very private sort of person, but be aware that your every move in a place like this will be noticed, noted and discussed!
The cost of living here is cheaper than the big town or city, mainly because property prices here are low, and staple foodstuffs are not expensive. There is plenty of local produce, with fruit, salads and vegetables for sale each week in the street market, and it is possible to buy fresh meat, poultry and salads direct from producers at good prices.
The down side is that as a foreigner, I often have cravings for a certain kind of food, or drink, or want to buy something that is a little bit out of the ordinary.
That means a minimum round trip of almost 80 km to Peruibe, which is the local big town, with a population of almost 100,000. There I can expect to buy a decent bottle of wine or whisky, find ingredients for cooking the more exotic dishes, and have lunch in a nice restaurant. It also has a nice beach and a fish market!
Infrastructure in Brazil is generally weak, and more so in a small town or village, so access to the internet can be very difficult and in rural areas cell phone coverage is patchy. There is only one bank, where the queues can be lengthy, and it is the same in the post office, but who’s in a hurry?
Local services such as health care and education are as you might expect in a small town. Primary health clinics are in each Bairro or district, where a local doctor is available usually once or twice each week. This is where vaccinations take place and initial assessments are made for referral to specialists should this prove necessary. It is important to be registered locally and to make yourself aware of the services available as information is otherwise poor, but staff are generally very helpful. Emergency services are available 24/7 in the town centre, but severe cases, requiring blood transfusion for example, are taken by ambulance to one of the neighbouring cities. Preventative care is excellent in my community. You will be weighed, have your blood pressure taken and asked about your state of health at each visit. Diagnostic blood tests are easily available, but x-rays and other examinations will require a lengthy wait and travel to an adjacent town or city.
Education services are generally weak, but widely distributed in each Bairro.
Keen students will have to supplement their education with plenty of home study as school hours are split into morning OR afternoon sessions. Private education is preferred by the better off families, but this is only available in large towns and cities. Adult education opportunities are limited.
For those seeking employment, a small town is obviously not the most obvious choice. However, for the enterprising individual with a keen commercial sense, there are opportunities here.
Visitors have sometimes complained that I live in a somewhat isolated place, since a trip from the airport, which is on the far side of Sao Paulo, requires two bus journeys and around six hours travelling, even though the distance is less than 200km, but for me at least, the isolation adds to the charm, and I can be in the big city within three hours.
I think that the biggest drawback is the clannishness that exists in every small town the world over. If you came here to live without knowing anyone, and were not an outgoing sort of person, you could feel very lonely indeed, despite the outward displays of friendliness. So it is important to make good friends, to use local amenities and services, even though they might be more expensive than those in the big town, and to get yourself involved in what is going on.
I have lived here now for six years and feel a part of the community.
Although I may be described as being mildly eccentric by the natives, as I refuse “to blend in”, I enjoy being a little different. When I go abroad for a visit, I look forward to arriving back in my sleepy little town, that I am pleased to call home.
I always bring back presents for my closest friends, who appreciate the honour attached, as much, if not more, than their value, and as it is very much the case in a small Brazilian community, that who you know, is more important than what you know, it helps to oil the wheels!
I would hazard a guess that almost everybody can name at least one Brazilian musician, but I wonder how many can name at least one Brazilian composer?
It isn’t necessary to refer to any one genre in particular. The lack of awareness as to who actually wrote the music you are tapping your toes to, applies across the whole sound board.
Let us have a wander through some well known Brazilian music and you can see for yourself if you can prove me wrong.
Take Samba for instance. Who can put hand on heart and say that they have heard of Zeca Pagodinho or Herivelto Martins? Maybe you know of Jorge Aragao, but then who hasn’t, and are you certain that he composes and if so, which songs?
Singer Song Writers are easier to follow, with Caetano Veloso, Chico Buarque, Djavan to name but a few, but has anyone today heard of Andoniran Barbosa?
He was famous for his samba improvisations using the common street language of Sao Paulo in the days when the shanties were being torn down to make way for the megalopolis that it is today.
Here is a sample of one of his songs:-
“We picked up all our belongings
And we went out on the street
to watch the demolition.
Ah, what a sorrow we felt,
Each plank as it fell
Hurt us in the heart…”
Fond of Bossa Nova for a smootchy glide across the dance floor?
Who hasn`t listened to The Girl from Ipanema? But does Vinicius de Moraes ring any bells? Ding Dong, because he wrote the words! Maybe you do a little better with Jobim who collaborated with Vinicius, but can you name any of his hit songs other than Consolacao, and does Black Orpheus mean anything to you? Vinicius wrote a stage play, Orfeu da Conceicao, as an adaptation of the Greek legend Orpheus and Euydice. Set in a Rio favela during Carnival, it was made into a film in 1959 that featured a sound track written by Jobim and Luis Bonfa. The sound track album;- “Carinhos Sem Ter Fim/Black Orpheus”, is one of my all time Bossa Nova treasures, and is available on iTunes.
Brazilian Jazz has become better known on native soil since it`s reintroduction to the Brazilian public in early 2000 under Project Black Gold, by producers and instrumentalists Mario Adnet and Zé Nogueira, although Stan Getz did his best to popularise native rhythms when they were written back in the 50`s 60`s and 70`s it was audiences and fellow musicians overseas who brought to fame talent such as Moacir Santos, who played for most of his professional life in the USA and wrote works of real genius.
In Brazil his early career included teaching musical giants such as Nara Leao, Baden Powell, Carlos Lyra and Roberto Menescal. Then in 1965 he recorded the seminal jazz album “Coisas”, but it`s value was under estimated and he moved to Pasadena in 1967 where he worked in Hollywood, writing film soundtracks and recording three albums, becoming an innovative and influentual figure in jazz composition.
Meanwhile in Brazil he was largely ignored up until just before his death in 2006, when he was awarded a medal for his efforts, but ask anyone if they have ever heard “Coisas” or his all time hit “Nana” and a puzzled expression will betray complete ignorance of this fantastic musician and composer. Available on iTunes, why not give it a listen if you like Jazz?
Villa Lobos is becoming more and more popular among classical music audiences abroad, even though the rendition of his fabulously Brazilian music is seldom done justice by foreign conductors. Search for another name associated with the classical repertoire and you will find yourself in the “no results” column. Even in company with Brazilians who might be expected to know better, few will be able to name Laurindo Almeida, Francisco Braga, Luiz Floriano Bonfa, Joao Pernambuco, Dilermando Reis, Roberto Baden-Powell, Radames Gnattali, Claudio Santoro or Garoto, despite their fame internationally.
Laurindo Almeida, born in the tiny coastal hamlet of Prainha,SP, not far from where I live, in 1917, is a good example of a much neglected Brazilian musician and composer. He began his career in Sao Paulo but at just nineteen years old he went overseas, paying his passage on a liner by playing guitar. In Paris he heard Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt, both of whom become inspirational to him. Returning to Brazil he made a name for himself playing both classical and popular guitar, but it wasn’t until he reached thirty years old that one of his hit songs was recorded in the US, and the money he made allowed him to travel and work in California.
In the late 1940`s he began to work on a synthesis of jazz and Brazilian sounds while playing alongside Stan Kenton and Jack Constanzo
In the 1950`s Almeida`s compositions, which later became known as Jazz Samba, attracted the attention of his fellow professionals, leading to sound recordings and public appreciation that made him one of the most famous Brazilian artists overseas.
He was nominated for no fewer than 16 Grammy awards and won on five occasions.
His many recordings, including film and television, made him one of the most important figures in jazz music and when he teamed up with singer Terri Salli and flautist Martin Ruderman in 1958 he made the first classical cross-over album and one of the most successful ever made by a Brazilian musician;- “Duets with Spanish Guitar”.
Despite its innocuous title, it still sells well even today and is available on iTunes. I heartily recommend it to you as a milestone in Classical Crossover music and as a tribute to Almeida`s composing talent and as wonderful music on guitar and flute with songs that will surely touch your heart and soul, especially if you have an ounce of romance within you. Some of the Portuguese pronunciation by Canadian born Terri Salli, may amuse you, but her soaring voice compensates. It was reported that upon hearing her sing “Bachianas Brasilieras No 5” from the album, that composer Heitor Villa-Lobos stated that he considered it to be the best recorded performance of the work.
Sadly Almeida`s work went largely unnoticed here in his native Brazil, although somewhat belatedly, the Brazilian government awarded him the “Comendador da Ordem do Rio Branco” not long before his death in 1995 at the age of 77.
I myself am no expert, and confess to be ignorant of much that has risen to fame in Brazil.
My point is that whereas the music of Lennon & McCartney, Bob Dylan, or
Rogers and Hammerstein, is often heard and recognised as having been written by these well known musical giants, even in Brazil.
Their homespun counterparts are quickly forgotten and perhaps even despised because of their domestic origin.
Foreign music that has reached celebrity status in New York, or London, on the other hand, is an immediate hit in Brazil and often remains among the best sellers for years to come, often made into cover versions and even immortalized by Brazilian imitators.
I enjoy listening to Brazilian music very much and feel a sense of solidarity with the artists who wrote and produced such wonderful contributions to Brazilian culture. It tickles me too, when I chat with Brazilian friends about their musical heritage and listen to their amazement when I talk about artists from their hall of fame, and then play a few tracks, which often they will have heard for the first time!
It has been said that the prophet is despised in his home town, and that may have a parallel with the innovator, who must seek approval abroad before his ideas become currency.
The next time that you are talking about Brazilian music, try this one out on your friends:-
Again available on iTunes, (No I don`t have shares in Apple Inc!)
Claudio Santoro is the composer of this delightful little piece called “Paulistana N.1”, from the album “Music By Brazilian and French Composers” by Ivana Pinho & Wellington Cardoso.
I hope that you enjoy it!
© 2014 Alastair Kinghorn
I have a number of old articles that I wrote a while back that I will begin to post here, as some of them might be interesting but please accept my apologies for the variable quality, as I can’t be bothered to re-write them! I prefer to turn my energies to new stuff!!!
When darkness descends, and the grey grim days never seem to end.
As pain turns to despair, as hope is replaced with fear.
Words offered as advice, never suffice.
No one knows.
Within your hell.
Suffering violence, maintaining silence.
The agony, and the pleasure, begin to join together.
As the madness takes its grip, as you fall and your hold on reality slips.
There is no awakening, no final day of reckoning, no peace beckoning.
Time loses its relevance, space cannot measure distance.
Nothing has a name, everything the same.
Let nothing in.
A soul dissected.
Torn by torment, shredded by dissent.
Polluted by lack of affection, laced with mistrust and rejection.
Fighting devils that live in your brain that cut and stab you, all the same.
No sunny day dawns, and you are free, the other side remains within me.
Just one moment when I understood, the side of me that is good.
The mirror held my gaze, knew my ways.
In your reflection.
Can make amends.
Bearing the scars, fought in the wars.
Surviving against all odds, without any help, not even Gods.
Until you regain your existence, with nothing other than your persistence.
For all who know depression.
© 2015 Alastair Kinghorn
When I began to write this blog, my reason for doing so was the complete absence of information written in English on the internet regarding the area where I live here in Brazil, and my wish to correct this by making information about the Jureia area more accessible to the reader.
As my readers grew in numbers and as I shared my writing through social networks over the internet, my thoughts, views and remarks about wider issues concerning foreigners living in Brazil became popular and so I began to write more articles about life in general.
Most of these were light hearted in content and intention, some quite tongue-in-cheek and some quite cheeky! Poking fun at some of the “sacred cows’ of Brazil, such as ‘aroz e fejun’!
As some of you may know, who have experience of Brazilian’s reactions towards criticism of their culture, not all are keen to accept foreigners highlighting the negative aspects of life in Brazil.
Indeed it is a feature of the relationship between we ex pats and our hosts that is often quite heated and which occasionally reaches incendiary temperatures. I and other Gringos have witnessed reactions to criticism about the more obvious defects in some Brazilians’ character such as rudeness, impatience, lack of customer care, failure to observe regulations etcetera, that can only be described as being in the extreme!
Not withstanding all of this, I found myself to be completely unprepared for an assault on my writing from someone whose opinions I had learned to respect and admire. That was in December 2014, and since then I have found my vontade, ( my wish, desire, intention,), to be lacking.
So, why have I returned my digital pen to the word processor, you may ask?
Partly because I have had time to reflect on my sins as an author who was over fond of glibness, and partly because I came to realise that I had acquired one of the Brazilian characteristics most often criticised by foreigners;- “falta de vontade”. (Lack of determination.)
Now as we approach the end of 2015, I therefore find it appropriate that I should make it one of my New Year resolutions to re-embark upon my journey toward shores yet unseen, to explore parts of Brazil that are still undiscovered by foreign eyes, and to re-aquaint myself with the wishes and recriminations of my readers, whatever slings and arrows that may attempt to penetrate my literary armour.
With all of that in mind, and with all due respect to this great country and it’s incredibly resilient people, whose warmth, humour, vitality and resourcefulness I greatly admire, I raise my glass of Brazilian Champagne to you all, in a toast for the sweetest Christmas, bubbling with effervescence, filled with charm and festive spirit.
May your Brigadeiros be soft and gooey. May your Pastel be crunchy on the outside but filled with sticky cheese. May your Churasco be almost burnt to a cinder and may your Cerveja be throat freezingly gelada.
Brazil I salute you!
Boas Festas para Todos!
One of the most commonly posted topics on ex pat social media websites in Brazil is reaction to what are seen to be criticisms from foreigners.
At first glance, they can appear to be hasty “How dare You!” protests about innocent comments made by the unwary foreigner and some of them are probably no more than that.
A closer look over a longer period will reveal that a rather strange paradox lies between the commonplace and the absurd.
Take the political situation for example, as a subject that is especially of current interest due to the recent elections, and which is often open to criticism and indeed ridicule, among foreign and national discussion groups alike.
Amid the furore of the latest Presidential race there was much derision about Dilma. She had suffered public humiliation early on in her campaign when she attended the opening match of the World Cup in Sao Paulo when she was subjected to taunts, jibes and derogatory songs chanted by a hostile crowd attending the game.
No wonder that she subsequently steered clear of football until her misguided remarks following the 7-1 massacre from Germany, when she meekly said that Brazilian football needed to change.
As the campaigning period drew towards its climax the press became choked with caricatures of her portrayed as a bumbling fool often prone to hysterical fury when caught out. The talk in the bars and padareias was all about getting rid of her.
It seemed as though no one had a good word to say about her and her party, except for ex president Lula, who could be seen each lunchtime on national television in a rather poker faced presentation, imploring voters to re-elect her.
Meanwhile the political and criminal shockwaves from the recent “Mensalao” scandal that had engulfed the PT party, threatened to include Lula, when a demand was made to freeze his assets while further investigations were carried out.
The polls however, continued to show Dilma in front of her rivals.
This appeared to be in direct contradiction with what people were saying on the streets.
What was going on?
Then after a vote that placed her ahead, but short of an overall majority, the election went towards a second vote with the ousted third place candidate, Marina, (an ex PT minister of the environment), throwing her weight behind the “Get Dilma Out!” campaign.
Despite all of this, and albeit by a tiny margin, she won the election, and we Gringoes expressed our dismay, disbelief, and in some cases our determination to leave Brazil before the ground crumbles beneath us.
The reaction from Brazilian commentators who had read our anguish, was rapid and furious!
How dare we criticise the President who had done so much to improve the lives of poor people!
How dare we bitch about things that were far beyond our understanding?
Rich Gringoes should either keep their mouths shut or get out of Brazil!
We could never really appreciate what it is like to be a downtrodden Brasileiro!
It was as if poverty had been invented in Brazil and only Saint Dilma stood between a glorious future or their return to slavery and annihilation!
No one seemed to notice the volte-face that had taken place, except for a few puzzled commentators.
Could this have been something to do with being ashamed of flying true colours?
I raised this as an issue among friends and social media groups in order to discover whether my hunch was shared by others.
The reaction was mixed, as you might expect, with some who just said that we lived among a bunch of no hopers who could never get out from underneath the sloth and corruption due to their own self interest. To others that could see little advantage in electing Aceio, the runner up, to others who just shrugged their shoulders and said lets get drunk!
There was however one persistent fellow who took great umbrage at our comments and who lambasted us all for bitching about something to do with Brazilian culture which we could never hope to change.
He had hit the nail on the head!
The paradox is not about politics or personalities, or economics, or socio economic circumstances. It is about culture, a culture that has a deep rooted sense of insecurity.
In conversation with a well educated Brasileiro, I discovered that it even has a name; – “Complexo de vira-lata.” Direct translation; – Mongrel Complex.
Now I can hear my old friend Tony Patel, wisely shaking his head and murmuring;- “Marshy ground.”
No one likes to be called a mongrel, and what does that have to do with changing your mind about something?
Let me put it this way:-
You want to appear to be successful, bold, confident and self determined, full of “Bravura”!
The talk is about politics with much anger vented due to failures and broken promises made by the current regime.
You join the bandwagon and before you know it, you are adding to the denunciation, due to your personal frustrations.
Frustrations that are built on, a lack of cash, a lack of education and a lack of opportunity, not because you don’t work hard, but because you were not born among a white skinned family of the ruling classes.
You may not even be able to read or write, and you have a skin colour that will always mark you as being of humble stock.
Then comes the crunch with the obligatory vote and your self interests take control and you roll over.
You voted for Dilma.
Your candidate is elected and someone pokes fun at your decision.
Maybe the embarrassment is only momentary, before rage takes over!
© 2014 Alastair Kinghorn