Bringing People Together: Electronic Voyages to Brazil (Part One)

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Modern technology has been a fabulous boon to our get-it-now society. Just think of all the electronic wonders available to us, and within our easy reach: laptops, routers, Webcams, BlackBerrys, iPods, iPhones, iPads, i-This, i-That, iYi-yi… Why, the list is endless and protracted.

Apparently, there’s nothing better than state-of-the-art, cutting-edge devices to bring people from diverse backgrounds together. It’s almost like taking an electronic trip to a foreign land, but without the discomfort and delay associated with our present-day air travel (ugh).

From a communications standpoint, though, one of the more practical innovations, and a blessing in disguise (to this writer, at least), is e-mail. It can also be a wolf in sheep’s clothing to anyone who’s ever opened an innocuous looking attachment by mistake, only to discover that the health of one’s terribly expensive hard drive has been irreversibly compromised by some hidden virus or other — the high-tech equivalent of a mail bomb.

On the other hand, heretofore-unknown senders of what passes these days for spam can likewise turn out to contain some quite pleasant surprises.

In my own case, I get dozens of messages a month from any number of individuals, some of whom have perused my online content and been sufficiently motivated to write me about them.

Letters, We Get Letters

To illustrate my point, I once received correspondence from an artist manager who resides in the windy city of Chicago. He began his letter by stating that he made regular quarterly visits to my home country of Brazil:

“I read your articles on www.riodejaneiro.com. As always, you are enlightening and entertaining. I especially enjoyed today’s article, ‘Did Bossa Nova Kill the Opera?’ Keep up the great work, and I hope to meet you in person one of these days in New York.”

Another writer possessed the most elaborate résumé imaginable: a consultant to Lockheed Martin Corporation near the nation’s capital, he claimed to have had a 30-plus-year relationship with Brazil as a career diplomat, a naval officer, and well-heeled business traveler.

Interestingly, this gentleman wrote me on July 4th after having participated in an Independence Day gathering at nearby Reston, Virginia:

“Yesterday I saw a show of Brazilian music and was surprised by the enthusiastic response of the audience to a program of bossa nova and MPB, and equally impressed by the number of Brazilians and Brazilian-wannabes present.

“The next time you come to Washington, give me a call and we’ll get together for lunch or dinner and shoot the breeze.”

That’s two invitations in a row for yours truly — and I didn’t even know these guys! Still, the unusual aspect of this American’s friendly demeanor was his excellent written Portuguese, which put my own stale efforts in that department to shame.

One of the most touching compliments I came across, however, was this fairly moving one sent to me on New Year’s Eve:

“Last night a dozen friends came by for pasta, wine, a couple of Jeannette MacDonald-Nelson Eddy films. After which I pulled up your delightful writings of Carmen Miranda and Bidu Sayão [‘Two Brazilian Charmers’ and ‘The High Price of Fame in Brazil’].

“We all have a little bit of film, jazz music, and opera awareness and it made for a wonderful roundtable discussion… I, of course, included more of Ms. Sayão’s second husband. It made for a special evening of old friends. Many thanks. Have a great New Year and my best regards. Fred Danise, Oceanside, California.”

I found out later he was the grandson of Italian baritone Giuseppe Danise, who was indeed spouse number two to the little Brazilian nightingale, soprano Bidu Sayão.

Coincidentally, just before Fred sent along his e-mail, another of Danise’s relatives wrote me about the same pair of Carmen-Bidu pieces. To be exact, he was interested in anyone who could provide him with information leading to missing or lost Danise family members. Immediately, I referred the writer to long-lost relative Fred, and the Internet Website dedicated to his grandfather’s operatic legacy.

I truly hope they were able to make the electronic connection and “link up” at some point. But that’s not the least of my e-stories. It was around this same period (November 2005, if I recall correctly), when avant-garde theater director Gerald Thomas — the perennial “enfant terrible” of the contemporary Brazilian stage — took it upon himself to make contact with me as well:

“Dearest, I’ve just read a very impressive article you wrote [‘Getting to the ‘Bottom’ of Gerald Thomas’], and would love to have more info about you and how to obtain a hard copy, if there is such a thing… Would love to hear from you. LOVE, G.”

He left me his telephone number to call. Naturally, I simply had to oblige and buzz Thomas back. One thing led to another, and within a relatively short time he graciously consented to be interviewed for a longer follow-up piece (“Brazil’s Brightest ‘Prima Donna’: A Candid Talk with Gerald Thomas”) — a rare opportunity for a budding author such as me.

Not only that, he went so far as to publish my original article on his personal Website, www.geraldthomasblog.wordpress.com, and even sent me a complementary video compilation of some of his best-known theater presentations. Bravo, Gerald! Since then, we’ve been friends. In addition, I’ve seen Gerald on several occasions, once in Brazil and again in New York City.

Along different but no less memorable lines, there was this poignant message from a reader, written in delectable Brazilian Portuguese:

“I just finished reading, ‘Brazil: A Fever Called Corinthians,’ with tears in my eyes, for I am the daughter of Professor Júlio Mazzei [the former coach of the New York Cosmos and mentor to Pelé and countless other Brazilian sports figures].

“My father now has Alzheimer’s disease and no longer recognizes me or even speaks, much less talks about futebol. Can you believe it? I try looking for anything at all about him para matar as saudades [‘to satisfy the longing’].

“I loved what you wrote about your father. I’ve always wanted to do an homage to my father, but do not write well in either language. God bless your talent for writing! Your dad is very proud of you, wherever he is. As my dad used to sign off: ‘Your friend in soccer,’ Marjorie Mazzei Raggo.”

No amount of rhetoric on my part could possibly have captured the feeling of satisfaction I sensed after having been the recipient of such a positively glowing testimonial. I thanked Marjorie for her warm words, especially concerning poor Professor Mazzei, who my dad once met and spoke to back in the mid-1980s.

I then told her about my own father’s troubles with debilitating stroke and dementia, and his eventual passing in 1993, to which she replied: “I feel you know exactly what I’m going through. To lose such a wonderful dad whose passion for soccer may no longer live in his memory, but will never be forgotten… I’ve always admired writers because they can keep memories alive forever so that other people can share in [them].

“Please add me to your list of fans and keep me posted on news about your wonderful writings. If ever we decide to write a book about my father we will call you!” (Sadly, the much-beloved sports figure Professor Mazzei passed away, on May 10, 2009, at the age of 78.)

I was most flattered. Not to be overlooked is the fact that I, too, have often wound up on the sending side of the technological equation.

Yes, in fact, it was probably due to my long-winded retort to Scottish journalist John Fitzpatrick’s eye-opening exposé, “For Job Seekers Brazil is No Eldorado,” in April 2003, and its subsequent appearance on various Internet Websites — which led to a well-received series of writings devoted to my experiences as a teacher in South America’s largest city, São Paulo (“How I Taught English in Brazil and Survived to Tell the Story”) — that my “career” as a cultural commentator took off in earnest.

Thanks, John! By the way, we still have a long-standing commitment for a tall, cold one in Sampa. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for that.*

(End of Part One)

Copyright © 2012 by Josmar F. Lopes


* I finally got together with John Fitzpatrick in downtown São Paulo one late afternoon in July 2008. The nearest I can recall, though, is that we had much more than just one cervejinha (“beer”) between us to enliven our conversation.

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