Sleeping Giant


Happy 196th Birthday, Brazil.
Tired of Breaking Hearts Yet?

It’s Independency Day for Latin America’s biggest country. So let’s blow some candles and sing sad songs of disappointment. Just like an unruly teenager, so young and yet so troubled already. The so-called growing pains are here to stay, it seems, but little of growing up.
Few are feeling that independent lately. Or big for that matter. Brazil acts as if it’s all new, and keeps repeating itself over and over. Fatigue and heartbreak is how most Brazilians have been living for so long. We swim and swim and still risk drowning by the shore.
The heart of this country is a centrifuge; try to embrace it and hold on to it, and it’ll toss you like a soccer ball. And yet, we come back for more. Our memory burns to the ground in neglected museums and roach-ridden historical districts. And yet, we keep on rising.
Our idealized future rots in jail, our dreams are ineligible to be elected. We’re bound to pick the wrong thief to run us. But it’s September 7, and but for a special favor of a Portuguese prince, we’ve been given an autonomy that we still don’t know what to do with it.
From north to south, the National Anthem will be sung about us, people who never ‘run away from a fight,’ but live on a land ‘eternally lying on splendid cradle.’ A napping giant, that is. Where up is actually down, that is, the bottom rules the top.

Like most things Brazilian, contradiction is our middle name. We’re big but can’t speak the language of the majority that surrounds us. Our race is mixed, tainted, blackish, but no one identifies as such. White is ‘beautiful,’ rich; black is just poor.
Oh, Brazil, you treat us like orphans, children from a broken home, thrown into the world to fend for ourselves. Meanwhile, a cast of stealers rides the wild mount of our rare soul, without success or grace. They will too be tossed, crash and burn. And we will laugh.
Here’s to you, República Federativa do Brasil. Have some cake and get drunk. We’ll cry a little for that spoiled vision of a glorious future that never comes. Don’t worry, we’re not quitting you, but boy, haven’t you have better things to do than to bust our balls?

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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Read Also:
* Middle Brother
* Unanswerable Prayers

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.

The 29

The Day I’ve Landed & the One
Question I’ve Been Always Asked

People like round numbers and big ‘Os’ are all the rage. Birthdays and anniversaries seem much louder if the date ends with a zero. But not me, I like fractured numbers. Evens are fine, but the odd ones hold a special slot on my book. Like 29, for instance.
It’s been that many years since I’ve arrived in Manhattan, in what was supposed to be a short season at the center of the world, and turned into the skin of a lifetime. 29 was also my roll call in grade school, before a classmate whose initial was ‘Y’. 
Just don’t ask about primes. For this special relationship with digits may be also why two major areas of the human experience have always been hostile to me: Math and lotto. Neither did me any favors, despite the fact that it’d love to be their pets. Numbers are cold that way.
While that’ll likely to remain the same, the New York where I’ve landed has changed many times over, though. And so have I, who lived, died, and reincarnated into so many different lives, none of which I’ve ever thought I’d pick, inherit, own. There may be some stats for those odds.
Here I’ve fell out of love, and fell right back in again; had a few changes of heart, and had it broken many times too, twice over losing my cats, all the while switching my tongue and aging into a cranky old man.
Departed parents, and a brother, and a few friends, could not inform the transformation taking place outside my sore eyes. But all it takes is a glance of that shrinking face staring back at me to see I was not spared: soon enough, my number too will be up.
I got to say, all these pretty pics of Rio and its games, being shown nightly, have made me jealous. A life can be crammed into a few strokes; any body can be stuffed into a piece of luggage. It’s what seeps through and stains the pavement that attracts notice.
I’ve always thought that my footprints were going to lead me all the way back to the Marvelous City. But now it’s another place oblivious to my run. In the end, 29 may number the things I did good while calculating the odds. I can’t think of a single one right now, though.
Why did I leave? I was asked over and over. When I was done dismissing it, I tried to settle the matter. At some point, I wrote a short essay about it. That’s what I’m sharing with you today. Hey, happy anniversary of my trip across the ocean. I have no regrets.

WHY LEAVE?

I left Brazil because I used to feel like a foreigner. Born in Rio but raised in the South, my accent sounds alien. A friend defined it for me, ‘you speak like someone who’s on the go.’ Years of living abroad have certainly not improved my situation. Most likely, I’m forgotten to all but a few, and to most, I never even existed. I left Brazil because we did not speak the same language.

I left Brazil, in part, because my name triggered jokes and personal grief. It’s not Brazilian enough, and people looked funny at me pronouncing it. Spelling mistakes plagued me whenever it there was a form to fill. Worse, some would size me up, suspicious that it was a ploy. As if Dad — an Episcopalian Reverend in a mostly Catholic country — had committed an act of sedition by calling us Norton, Norris, Wesley, and Joyce Mag. And I had to pay for his treason. I had to leave Brazil before someone accused me of unbrazilian activities.

I also left my country because, while most Brazilians are of mixed race, no one likes to admit it. Hot-iron treatment remains a staple of inner city beauty parlors. Living in the South didn’t help it either. Down there, the majority is of European heritage — have you heard of someone named Giselle something? For my blond, blue-eyed class, I was neither white nor black. ‘With a foot in Africa’, they would add, heavy on the innuendo. That I’ve been proud of my black blood was never the case. I had to leave Brazil after one too many, ‘Go back to Africa!’

I had to leave Brazil because Brazilian music is seldom heard on the radio. The country’s exquisite music tradition is today unfashionable. This may sound like whining. Whether contemporary music in Brazil is in a regressive mode or I am the one getting older and cranky, is irrelevant. As an experiment, round up a group of jazz players and question them about their favorite music. I assure you, four out of five will pick Brazilian. Do the same in Brazil and chances are, Justin and Eminem or Kanye will top the list. Not offense but I forced myself to leave Brazil so to enjoy and play Brazilian music.

Finally, I had to leave Brazil because I was unhappy. Simply put, I had a good job but had no money. I was close to family and friends but getting farther and farther from my dreams, which I sill have plenty, thanks for asking. Traveling and living abroad was in one of my first to-do lists, compiled while still in school. I had acquaintances telling me, ‘you lucky bastard, got a good job and a good woman; you’re set for life. Why leave?’ I’ve given myself the right to disagree. I left the job but kept the woman. Most come to America to find themselves. I had to leave Brazil to get lost.

We’ve Kept You Posted

Yearly Recall Takes
a Blurry 2015 Picture

It was a year of record refugee waves, with boatloads of heartbreaking stories landing en masse on European shores. Greeting them, equal parts of compassion and vile political pettiness, and a stunned world reacting as it usually does: with violence.
As usual too, there were plenty of staggering deaths – massive, laser-focused, or undiscriminated – due to terrorism, war strikes, stampedes, and in the U.S., racism and too many guns. And, of course, a fair share of encouraging news about climate change, for instance.
This post hardly covers them all, though. For these Colltales stories we’ve picked are more of a counterpoint to what was going on then. Rather than rehashing what was on everyone’s devices in 2015, they run a parallel track of commentary, criticism, and even comic relief.
Just as global temperatures kept rising, our pulse on the year’s events was better reflected on the weekly editorial Newsletter/Curtain Raiser. So we were free to report another kind of news, neither Pollyanna nor downright depressing. You know, the Colltalers preferable way. Enjoy.

ELVIS, CATS & RIO IN WINTER
The terrorist attack that killed nine journalists at the Paris offices of the Charlie Hebdo, on Jan. 7, was arguably the biggest news of the first three months of 2015. But the following day, we featured Elvis Presley‘s 80th birthday. And never looked back.
Stories about crows, unemployment, that old fave Voynich Manuscript, and a quirky take on Valentine Day followed. A personal darling was the 450th anniversary of Rio, our city of birth. Bandit Maria Bonita, cats, caturally, and life after death, online, completed the bunch.

A SPRING OF RACE & TIME
By then, the biggest refugee crisis of our era was already creeping in, but within the U.S., an old scourge was robbing the headlines: racism. Our own second quarter, though, was deep into Continue reading

Rain & Tears

Mudslides in Brazil or the
Predictability of Tragedy

It’s happening again. Almost every year, incontinent summer rains flood and cause tragic mudslides in and around Rio de Janeiro. Accordingly, headlines could be merely copied over and republished, with changes just in the number of victims and their names.
That’s because, as local and federal governments get elected, fulfill their terms in office, and leave, little is ever accomplished to prevent this sad cycle of despair and grief happening all over again in Brazil. As usual, the epicenter of this still unfolding tragedy is Petrópolis.
Despite the use of terms such as ‘unusual heavy rains,’ and ‘unexpected mudslides,’ the script is all too familiar. Rains come and the mountainous region around Brazil’s ‘marvelous city’ start to turn into a deadly, several feet-deep wave of mud and detritus, rushing down and burying everything on its path.
So far, the death toll (335, so far) hasn’t been as severe as it was in 2011, and we do hope it keeps that way. Still we thought it’d be appropriate to republish an exclusive and dramatic eyewitness report on the floods that affected the same area two years ago. As we said, there’s very little difference between then and now.
You may gather your own conclusions, of course, but since it’s still happening as we speak, we’ll abstain from making judgements or calling for accountability for now. At least until the weather gives a break to those poor Brazilians, and everyone is safe. Then, we most definitely should. In the meantime, here’s the story.

Exclusive

Left With Only Despair & the
Clothes They Were Wearing

Over 500 people got killed in the past few days, as intense rains caused floods and mudslides in five towns around Rio de Janeiro. The death toll is expected to rise as more rain is forecast and an unknown number of victims remains buried under land and debris from collapsed buildings. Here’s a report from a resident of Nova Friburgo, one of the most affected cities.

“Hi Chico,

Things here are really horrible. The rain inundated my mom’s house, she lost almost everything, many barriers broke down, there are many deaths, relatives of Fabio (my husband) lost everything and were left only with the clothes they’re wearing.
We had to leave home because things were getting pretty bad, without running water, power and risking getting sick, for the mud was already at the fourth step Continue reading

Tracking Momoland

The Forgotten Fun
of Brazil’s Old Revelry

Carnival, the world’s biggest party is on, even though it’s hardly the pagan, all-inclusive fun it once was. Whether in its biggest setting in Rio, or in New Orleans, across the Caribbean nations or even in Venice, it grew in form as its substance’s dwindled.
Costumes are flashier, the music got louder, party-goers are bolder (as costs skyrocketed) but somehow there’s also more longing for the lost innocence of yesteryear. We don’t meant to be nostalgic, though; just the typical Ash Wednesday-born party poopers.

But never mind the bullocks. If you’re ready for some fun, by all means, this is the time. Join the samba in Brazil, follow a jazz parade in Louisiana, or waltz to the Italian Bal Masqué; they’re all worthy soundtracks to your sense of abandonment and debauchery.
And check these pics out, from when Brazil’s carnival was measured by how much enjoyment you could pack without spending a penny. See the homemade cross-dressing, the cheap face mascaras, the pedestrian expressions of pure delight. Grandpa knew best.
It’s our humble homage to those lives that went before, and how we can still relate to them partying or having a ball. Bring the kids, call your neighbors, and fall in love. As some used to say in, have the most now, and forget all about the morning after Fat Tuesday.

Ah, Those Brazilians

Crab-Killer Waxing, Showers and the
Economy, & Fake Facebook Girlfriends

Blame it on Carnival. If you were in Brazil right now, you couldn’t possibly miss the countrywide preparations for the pagan celebration-turned-to-multi-billion dollar extravagance, which starts in a month. Since it impacts the whole country, why not its news cycle too?
It remains arguably the biggest Brazilian cultural export, and also the annual excuse for wackiness in the streets, and dreams of redemption and glory in people’s imagination. Either that or something else. Otherwise, how to explain the three themes of today’s post?
We exaggerate, of course. The expensive pre-fab debauchery now known as Carnival has little to do with what was once the cultural confluence of African slaves and their dizzying beat-driven music, and over-dressed Europeans, wishing to get lost (see: Veneza, Carnevale).
If it all sounds like a colonizer’s idealization of an ancient rite he could not understand, preserved by the official story as something the ‘natives’ used to amuse themselves, well, that’s because it sadly was. What’s left of it now is a sumptuous but ultimately kitchy visually massive parade of costumes, best experienced with an American Express expense account card.
So, what does Carnival have to do with the latest news sporting the word ‘Brazilian’ on their headlines? Not much, really, except for the general feeling that if you were in Rio at this time of the year, it’d all make sense. Since you’re apparently not, let’s hope these three stories set you up with the right mood, just in case.

THE INTIMATE ITCH
In public health arenas, the past couple of decades have seen a spate of stories about the supposed negative effects the cosmetic technique known as Brazilian Waxing may cause. Mainly risks of infection, since as it totally removes pubic hair, it can also leave the body open to all sorts of parasites and micro pests.
Allegedly. There’s also a certain resistance to the very concept of going through such an extreme procedure, just to be able to publicly flaunt Continue reading