The Quiet Knight

Farewell, João Gilberto,
Master of the Silent Music

João is gone. His passing, on July 6, hit the final chords for Bossa Nova as Brazil’s national musical expression. The precision of his nylon-string playing and subtleness of the nearly mute overtones of his voice challenged traditions and forged a place of his own.
When he, his lifelong musical partner Antonio Carlos ‘Tom’ Jobim and others, took the New York Carnegie Hall stage, in 1962, for a historic concert, it marked the moment when a quiet artistic revolution in Brazil got introduced to the world. It was an instant hit.

Bossa Nova became the very sound of the Portuguese-speaking South American nation, Jobim and João as its top ambassadors. The jazz-tinged but unmistakenly Brazilian melodies of one, seamlessly merged with the syncopated guitar beat and well-timed phrasing of the other.
João was the ultimate perfectionist, and a fiery idiosyncratic performer, whose increasingly rarer appearances would convey an almost cult-like devotion from his audience. Declining physical and mental health though led him to spend his last years alone in his apartment in Rio.
Which was fitting for an artist whose rise coincided with Brazil’s quick urbanization. His art spoke to an ascendant intellectual and politically engaged middle class, even though neither Bossa nor João were integral to the social unrest of the 1960s.
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João Gilberto, a Brazilian treasure, has elevated popular music to a sophisticated art form, capable of expressing the entire soul of a nation. Despite the current president’s refusal to call this a time for mourning, his voice and guitar will forever be the beating heart of Brazil. R.I.P.

Vice to Meat Ya

Eating Animals May
Be Coming To a Boil

The short-comings of public campaigns about bad health habits are well known.  One the best selling foods ever is not even food – cheerios. But despite knowing that full well, those who eat it, eat it. Period.
That may illustrate without explaining why chastising people only makes them double down on their ways. Rightly so. After all, healthy eaters don’t necessarily preach about it. They just, well, eat.
In 2017, Brazil got embroiled in a stinky scandal of rotten meat, which was already packaged to be shipped to schools, and exported to its trading partners. Major plants were raided and low management was paraded like criminals straight to jail. Of course, they’re all out now.
The affair is particularly putrid because involves government corruption, and wouldn’t you know it?, and because it exposes once again a multibillion industry which consistently cares little about public health.
But, like the billions spent shaming people about cigarette smoking, with little impact on global tobacco sales, scandals don’t usually dismantle a malodorous industry. Education and awareness do.
Graphic depictions of terminal diseases caused by some nasty habit, tough rhetoric, and draconian laws restricting its practice, do little to curb social habits. A turnaround in public sentiment is all it takes.

NOTHING TO SEE HERE, SAYS THE FOX
In Brazil, social networks reacted to the ‘Carne Fraca’ (weak flesh, as the scandal was called, for some reason) in typical fashion: blame meat eaters. Meat eaters replied in kind. Nastiness ensued, trolls jubilated.
Meanwhile, then pseudo-president Michel Temer (just released on a five-day jail stint) went to a churrascaria to show buyers of Brazilian steak that all was fine. He would’ve gotten away with it, if he wasn’t dumb enough to eat meat imported from Argentina.
Trade partners pressured on, and prices of the commodity collapsed, which is the least that should happen. But will the crisis lead to tighten regulations and stiffen penalties and jail terms and, shock, the closing of some plants? Not likely, of course.
No one was cast out from society for smoking; they just had to take their business to the curb and open air. And restaurant and service workers thanked it all, very much; finally their underwear stopped smelling like an ashtray at the end of the night.
But in major economies, the tobacco industry did take a hit when smoke was stripped of its glamour, and the price tag of the public health damage it causes came finally into light. That happened only after stricter laws went into effect and were dutifully enforced.
Government officials and politicians who lied and hid they were sponsored by big tobacco, were also exposed and put out of business. As for smokers, it’s their business what they take a drag on. No one else needs to follow suit, or berate them.
At the end of the day, scary tactics notwithstanding, to quit smoking remains a deeply personal decision, akin of choosing a particular diet regime, or becoming a vegetarian.
ARE YOU GOING TO FINISH THAT?
Which brings us to the age-old discussion over whether we should or are we even supposed to have the flesh of dead animals as so central a staple of our food consumption.
Growing criticism of the meat industry has reached strident levels. Beyond the usual health-minded professionals, the anti-meat activist movement, and the slow build-up of awareness about animal rights, the industry now is facing a new, formidable foe: climate change.
Scientists are already compiling comprehensive lists of all other contributing factors to climate change, besides our still all-too-encompassing reliance on carbon fuels for energy.
Topping such lists is usually the cycle of raising cattle for human consumption. All over the planet, millions of herds (more)
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* The Beef Of Going Meatless
* Meatless Time
Continue reading

The Bug Report

A New Unicorn Praying Mantis
& the Rediscovered Queen Bee

Without fuss, our relationship with insects has been wildly changing lately. First, we considered eating them in case of an apocalyptic scenario. Then came the worldwide alert: bugs are disappearing – led by a bee catastrophic fallout. Whatever happened to our lunch?
Then again, the same science that predicts climate change may cause the extinction of critters and humans alike, keeps finding new species to amaze us all. The latest: a stunning praying mantis, and the reappearance of the giant Wallace bee, not seen since 1981.
Bugs’ otherworldly beauty and, based on what we now know, crucial role in the food chain, reassigns our appreciation of these creatures. So utterly distinct from us, and yet, so essential to life. The poignant note about it all is that we may not get to discover them in time.
It was surprising, for instance, to find out that spiders eat in a year the weight of the entire mankind. Or that beetles, with over 380,000 species, are the most biodiverse, making up to 40% of all insects on Earth. Some would say, no wonder The Beatles are still so dominant.
But even before the troubling notion that we’d need to start eating them – ‘for the protein, they said’ -, they began to vanish. It’s still unclear how they’re being affected by the changing climate, but one thing is for sure: if they go, we all go right after.

A UNICORN IN A BRAZILIAN FOREST
Brazil’s Mata Atlântica, near Rio, is one of the world’s most diverse forests. Older than the Amazon, only 10% is now left from its original size. In this doomed place, however, life thrives, and it’s where a magical creature was discovered, among half a dozen new species.
Science has no place for praying, except for the praying mantis (pardon the poor pun). Their alien appearance is not very popular, though, even when looking like a dead leaf, or an orchid. And then, there’s that business of having their heads eaten while copulating.
Maybe that’s how evolution treated such a mortal threat: by developing horns. The hand-sized Zoolea praying mantis has one, along a pair of imposing metallic-red limbs. Thus, next time you see one, before running, check for the unicorn. And make a wish or something.

THE BEE MISSING FOR 38 YEARS
Over a decade ago, what became known as Colony Collapse Disorder was so serious that scientists feared for our food crops, without bees to pollinate them. Luckily, it wasn’t to be, not because of that, anyway. But bee populations are still declining, and now, other insects too.
That’s why the rediscovery of the Wallace‘s giant bee (Megachile Pluto) in Indonesia is so auspicious. Four times as big as a honeybee, it does not produce honey or live in hives. Also, confirming a trend (more)
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Continue reading

Heard That?

New Reasons to Have
Nightmares in October

Times have been so scary that not even Halloween spooks kids anymore. Which is fine and won’t spoil the fun out of it. Fake blood? Phony zombies? Made-up vampires? Bring them all on, for who isn’t in badly need of a break these days?
And yet, unlike the ‘horrors’ summoned on Oct. 31, nightmares do exist to torment us. Having one at sleep is haunting, but it’s worst when it keeps vigil and frightens the daylights out of us when we’re wide awaken. Nicely, we prepared a short list of them.
Let’s let the former lie quietly for now, as no one can foresee what a tired mind may conjure when the body finally finds comfort under blankets. Some dreams rattle on, while others slip by unnoticed. But there’s no telling what they’re really about.
The other kind is all around, though. Disturbing visions that palpable reality urges us to bear from dawn to dusk have the added weight of shared experience. How some react to them has often been the stuff wars are fought for, and children are beheaded.
Here are five of the most petrifying, or almost. Not for the feeble of spirit, if there’s even anyone left with such a luxurious prerogative, the bullets of this season’s list are saturated with the fear that a rabid future biting its own tail lies ahead.
It’s not that All Hallows Eve ceased to be a playful way for kids to get acquainted with their ‘dark side.’ Or that there’s no longer sense in make-believe terror. It’s just that the whole world now has gone well beyond what Halloween used to suggest.

A DARK MATTER GHOST CALLED WIMP
Oct. 31 has also been turned into a celebration of the unseen. So-called Dark Matter, that is. 85% of the total mass of the universe remains invisible and undetected, so what you think you know wouldn’t explain the size of the cosmos. Or yours.
It’s out there, though, and one day, yup, it may get you good. For if for an unforeseen event, you’d come into contact with a field full of Wimps, nuclear forces holding your nuclei and protons together would simply vanish, leaving you looking like, well, nothing.
Without something to hold your cells, organs, and body together, needless to say, you’d lose your you-know-what for the very last time. So keep pretending that what you can’t see can’t hurt you at your own risk; the universe doesn’t give a flying… shooting star.

A SPIDER WEB-COVERED LAKEFRONT
That’s a classic, the creature that shares with bats and black cats the iconographic triad of horror. Except that they’re paralyzingly frightening to over 30% of humans. Now imagine the phobic landing on Aitoliko lagoon, in Greece.
Recently, its lakeside got fully covered by Tetragnatha spider webs. The tiny species, which is not the only one periodically taking over acres of land, does like to spook distracted travelers such as yourself.
Picture yourself sinking your feet into the sticky trends and watching thousands of spiderlings crawling up your legs and calling you daddy. Now, now, they’re not poisonous. And consider it your personal experience of the true spirit of Halloween.

INSOMNIA-INDUCING BUGPOCALYPSE
Speaking of weakly particles, as T.S. Eliot once said, the world ends not with a bang but a whimper. For most of us, the prospects for a mass bug extinction may sound more like a relief, and good riddance at that, and not something to care about.
That is, if you’re not into food. Or wouldn’t mind coming across dead bodies laying all over, unable to decay. Animals starving to death and a global collapse of agriculture. And the end for our last food source in case of a climate change-triggered famine. Apart from that, you’d be fine
So, insects may multiply with global warming, but in the end, just like us, may perish exactly because of it. So be careful (more)
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* Stay Awake
* Everything Must Go

Continue reading

A Cup of Russia

Obscure Blogger Breaks
Silence About World Cup

Many readers – ok, three – have asked about Colltales’ lack of World Cup coverage this year. Flattered that they even care to ask, I can only offer that I’m a lazy bone by nature. Deep down though I could come up with a corollary of excuses to justify my apathy.
Like, this team doesn’t make my heart beat faster (a lie); it doesn’t hold a candle to past Brazilian soccer players (that’s actually relative); their win will boost a terrible government (it always does). The reality, however, is that when they step on the pitch, I lose my mind.
I’m sorry that Germany is out, after what they did to the game, and to us, four years ago in Brazil. Their fine display of football had the rare quality of matching their generosity off the grass. The community that hosted them won’t forget their dignity, and donations, for long.
Also, despite my little faith, I’d hoped for a rematch of their 2014 7×1 thrashing of the home team. The upside for Brazilians, though, is that their premature exit represented a big relief: Brazil’s unmatched five-times world title record will remain unchallenged for another four years.
Apart from them, all teams expected to get this far, have made it into the round-robin stage. On its twisted way, the cup is a predictable affair. Past champions Argentina, England, France, Spain, and Uruguay are still pretty much alive, at least until next week. Can’t wait.

THE TEAMS, THE GAME & EVERYTHING
By far, everybody’s sentimental favorite seems to be Mexico, this time around – albeit there’s a place in my heart for Japan too. They’ve been playing with gusto, and Sweden aside, are hot for a first title. Plus, they play next, and are always reeling to beat, Brazil. You’re on.
Up to now, the best game was the early thriller Portugal 3×3 Spain. And Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo has the edge over Argentine Messi and Brazilian Neymar as MVP. That can change but it’s unlikely. It may not be feasible but a Portugal versus Mexico final would be great.
Speaking of coverage, the media has been predictably biased and disappointingly sparse. News organizations, which have spend lots of ink demonizing Russia, seem set on not showing the country’s so-called human side, as it’s customary in this sort of world class sports event.

THE MYSTIQUE OF THE YELLOW JERSEYS
Disgusting displays of hate and racism happened too, but none from host Russians. Scenes of ugly sex abuse of female fans and reporters, burning of country flags, and xenophobic celebrations went viral and caused the appropriate repulse around the world.
But I daydream, sort of. Despite FIFA’s ingrained corruption, referee mistakes, fake injuries, and some boring games, the cup always manages to thrill those, like me, helplessly hooked on its appeal. My, I even consider those world titles my own personal achievements.
I grew up with Pelé, Garrincha, Gerson, Rivelino, Jairzinho, Sócrates, Zico, Falcão, Renato Portalupi, Careca, Romário, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho Gaúcho, Kaká, – and now, the pickings become slim – Marcelo, Dani Alves, and, fine, Neymar, and Coutinho.
I can’t help it, I’m lucky that way and yes, you may hate me for it. So when friends say they’re rooting against Brazil, I tell them (more)
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Sky-Bound Arrow

The Woman Who Carried
a Son Who Still Carries Her

Gentle Maria Eva of Sagittarius could be a fitting epitaph gracing her tombstone. A code message to strangers to be. Yet, her repouse is all I need to hold a life that expired long ago – squeezed in my hands like wilted flowers and my own past-expiration heart.
At the graveside of an unknown child she chose to speak and weep for her own lost girl, while the boy pretended to pray, her tears dripped ever so tenderly onto the humid grass. At a corner inside me, I now quietly sip the brew of the 12 years since she’s gone.
We’re put to run all over the Earth, bouncing on edges of countries and tongues, yet we all come to dive into a hole on the ground, dug by the few who love us. Mariazinha was the unfinished symphony whose more touching segments were left to be written. Or heard. Or lived.
When she departed, that lifetime well was already open, on the same wall where her love already rested waiting on her. I’ve helped shove her brittle body and mind into that place, at the same echoing gallery we’d walked together just a few years earlier.
There lies the first of the many Marias that ruled my life, where I came from and one day will return. From that deep cave, she still looks after me, trying to honor the justice she longed so hard to shine on her own existence. The very first one, just like Eve, her fitting second name.
I once questioned how much of my mother I carried with me; now I’m not sure where she ended and I started. As my own well approaches, I hope she’ll ease me into the great unknown. It takes long to grow old, then we speed towards the end by receding back to the beginning.
I never gave her a Mother’s Day card, never once thought I was going
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to miss her as I do the parts of me I no longer control. But here I am, wishing I could ask her, at least once, how come she’s now living inside me. Thus this post, this memento I won’t carry any longer with me.
Make room, mother, prepare my bed as you used to. Soon, I’ll be coming over for my last visit, even without being sure I’ll see you there. It won’t matter, I already have you within me, I already have you anytime. Happy may be your day of all the days that came and went. It won’t take long now, Mom. Love you.

Middle Brother

Thanks to Him, I Got My
First Yellow Plastic Bus

Norris Coll would’ve been 68 today. Eighteen years since he’s gone, I still struggle to place his life in a coherent timeline, one that would make him justice, and ease my heartfelt emotions.
Fact is, I could never draw a decent portrait of my brother, whose sharp wit I still hear at times. Like a blade sliding through soft butter, even in the most casual of the moments, there was always a chance for bleedings.
And there were quite a few of them, along with flareups, recriminations, little betrayals, and several years squeezed between our times together and apart.
Fortunately, there were laughter too, and joy, and discoveries shared and explored. And much of what I am today, I thank to Dois, who at least once, played the big brother to my advantage, and chased some bullies away from me.
In the perforated fabric of my memories, none forms a complete picture, but many have an underlying narrative of challenge, of daring to be bold and get away with it, or almost. He certainly would’ve never looked back, like I’m doing now.
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I was there the morning he got married by a judge. And we were together in the afternoon too, when he decided not to show up for his own wedding. Once he made up his mind, I couldn’t change it back.
Somehow, he made me his emissary to the puzzled guests crowding the sidewalk in front of the church. Even though I managed to face them all, I never had the guts to ask his wife why she stood by him as she did. Till the end.
There must be some measure of irony and good karma in the fact that their baby girl is now an accomplished trapezist, an aerial performer, and the only certified artist of the whole family.
***
In the early 1980s, we would often walk down a busy São Paulo avenue, smoking joints and watching thundering planes passing overhead on their way to land at his neighborhood airport.
That’s when his volatility would run the gamut, reaching its highest point even before a single airliner would touch down. But our sibling fights never lasted too long, and we’d wake up the next day with no hangovers.
Because we were so different, they could never be as vicious as the ones he battled with our old man, who was truly his double in candor
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Read Also
* Son & Sister

and determination. I’ll never know who broke the other one first, but neither quite recovered from their clashes.
In hindsight, he must’ve treasured our times together, as I did, since he always knew he could trust me like no one else. Things I’m telling you now I’ve told no soul for all these years. It was a thought I had the day I became ‘older’ than him, too.
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We both also knew when the last of those times finally got behind us. We’ve cried our goodbyes in a cool hospital corner, a few months before he left us. He was gone before the first dawn of the 21th century.
It was the year my first born came to this world, and a decade from Dad’s own passing. Numbers can never make up for missing words, though. And about this great guy, there are so many. In all his youthful eloquence, when the end came, he didn’t care to say much.
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We were with father once when I got one of the toys that defined my childhood, a bus. We used to make constant short trips to the countryside, where Dad would tend to small missions, as a pastor.

So I loved buses back then, and immediately got attracted to one at the children’s section. It was yellow and plastic and, gosh so simple, and so beautiful. Naturally, I had to have it. Not so, said Father Heitor.
That’s when Norris, still a teenager, stepped up and pleaded my case, saying something like, come on, Dad. I think that was my puppy eyes moment, because the pastor looked at me and actually asked me, do you really want this?
And how? I’ve kept it, and played with it even when it’d lost its wheels, was always covered in mud, and its once bright yellow had all but faded. I don’t think I ever got to thank my brother for such a gesture.
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So, if you don’t mind, let me take this moment to say, thank you for that bus, Norris. Thank you for your life, for giving me this moment to share with the world, for having been such a loving and caring partner.
You’ll always be missed. Happy Birthday, my ‘little’ brother.

(*) Originally published on Oct. 4, 2012.