It was another record-breaking week here in Brazil. I had the opportunity to do things I’ve only ever dreamed of, so let’s lead off with that.
In 1992 I bought my first Brazilian record, “Rio Revisited,” by Antonio Carlos Jobim. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, “Tom” Jobim, as he is known to Brazilians, is probably the best-known Brazilian musician outside (and inside) Brazil. Among jazz musicians, he’s even more well-known, because his music makes up a good chunk of our repertoire. On that record that I bought thirty years ago is a vocalist named Gal Costa. I loved the way Gal sang Jobim’s music, and really, she’s the first Brazilian singer I came to know. She was already a big name in Brazilian music in 1988 when this recording was released. Well, thirty years later Gal Costa is still performing, including right here in our city of Uberlândia. I never imagined I’d get to see someone like Gal Costa, much less here in her native Brazil. I have to tell the story of how this unlikely event came to pass, because once again it shows the goodness of the Brazilian people.
An unexpected and surreal experience seeing Brazilian legend
Gal Costa at Teatro Municipal right here in Uberlândia
Shortly after we arrived in Brazil a couple of months ago, I saw the billboard for Gal’s concert. It was happening on a night I already booked a gig. I come all the way to Brazil with the opportunity to see Gal Costa, but I have to work. What are the chances? Pretty good, apparently. So, I kind of wrote the whole thing off. Fast forward to earlier this week. I found out that some of Gal’s musicians were giving a clinic at UFU, so I sent the announcement to my guitar students and encouraged them to register for it, as space was limited. On the poster were two dates for Gal’s shows in Uberlândia— one on the night I had to work, and the second on the previous night, which I had off. I hadn’t noticed the earlier date on the billboard. I quickly hopped on the website, but the tickets were sold out. Ugh! The second chance of seeing Gal Costa down the tubes. I was really beating the odds here. If I were a gambling man, this might have been the week to play the lottery. So I included in the message to my students that if they knew of anyone who had tickets but couldn’t go, I would buy them.
Tickets that have now become a treasured souvenir
The following day I ran into one of my students who had seen my message. He said registering for the clinic entitled him to one free ticket to the show. That was really cool, but I wanted to be able to take my wife. One of my UFU colleagues overheard and offered to help. Right on the spot, she made a phone call to the promoter of the show, the person who brought Gal to Uberlândia. She explained that I was a visiting professor at UFU and really wanted to see Gal. Five minutes later, tickets were waiting for my wife and me at the box office... at no charge. I was completely blown away. Never in a million years did I expect this.
Of course we went to the show, and it was great, and it was amazing to see Gal. I also got to go to the clinic the next day with Gal’s band. But what might even eclipse the greatness of seeing Gal Costa was how many kind people went out of their way to help us. They didn’t have to help, but they did. Seeing Gal would never have happened without them. The warmth of the Brazilian people is real, and we are very grateful for it.
Limma, Gal Costa's pianist, giving a clinic at UFU
On the academic side, I arrived for class one day, and a student said, “You look really American!” I chuckled and asked what he meant. He said that my shoes, button-down shirt, and undershirt gave me away. This is how I dress for my job in the U.S., and most of my colleagues dress similarly. “Nobody dresses like that for work here,” he said. "They dress much more casually." It’s true. I have colleagues at UFU who wear shorts, sneakers, sweatpants, and so on, and it’s completely normal. He mentioned that the undershirt especially was a giveaway. I guess it’s just too hot here most of the time for layers. He said Brazilians watch shows with American professors in them, and that my look perfectly matched that image. This wasn’t the first time I was told I looked “American,” but the specificity was enlightening. By contrast, when we went to see Gal Costa, we were dressed casually, jeans and such, but we were in the minority. Folks were really dressed to the nines. For Brazilians, going to a concert is a special occasion and demands special attire. For Americans— unless it’s the symphony, perhaps, and sometimes not even then— going to a concert is a time to wear comfortable clothes and let loose!
I know it's the opposite in Brazil, because a few weeks ago on a weekday I had lunch with a friend who is a lawyer for a city councilman, who also came to lunch. I would have never guessed he was a politician: a big hulking guy with shaved head, tattoos, and a scruffy beard, dressed in a short-sleeve t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. To me, he looked like a biker. A U.S. politician wouldn’t be caught dead dressed like this at the office.
Brazilians have to spend most of their week at work. They want to be comfortable, so I guess the thought process is that they might as well dress comfortably. Perhaps the bureaucracy and other complications of Brazilian life cause them to simplify the areas they have control over. What is interesting is that in the U.S. we seem to view professional settings— like work— as requiring professional dress, attire that communicates respect for the occasion. The idea is that when we dress up, we are more productive. Of course, there are workplaces in the U.S. that have done away with professional dress, or at least they have a dress down day. Some places, particularly thanks to the pandemic, don’t even have a physical office anymore. People just work from home in their pajamas. But I’d venture to say that in many cases, the paradigm of professional dress is still the standard in the U.S. I’d be curious to know if the casual dress code in Brazil contributes to more productivity.
Speaking of American things, we grabbed shakes this week from a place in the mall called “Milky Moo.” They have quite a long list of milkshakes, including some with alcohol. It certainly was an unexpected juxtaposition of elements seeing bottles of hard liquor lining the display case at the milkshake shop (see photo). I was feeling like peanut butter, so I asked the worker if they had anything with peanut butter in it. She pointed to a particular item on the menu, which I wound up ordering. I guess I didn’t grasp the other ingredients in the description of the milkshake, because one sip in and I felt like I was drinking a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I glanced back at the menu and saw that this shake was called “The American.” Of course! I have to say they nailed it. It really tasted like PB&J on Wonder Bread. And of course they were capitalizing on an American stereotype, with good results. They did their homework.
Look closely... not what you expect to see at the milkshake joint
PB&J in liquid form
I had a gig at Libertas in Uberlândia this week. This was my second time at Libertas. Thiago Righi, a guitarist from the neighboring state of São Paulo, was on the gig. He was in town to do a presentation at UFU on his masters thesis about a song in the folk music style caipira called “The Mineiro and the Italian,” by the duo Tião Carreiro e Pardinho. It’s a metaphor for the political struggle between various classes of native and immigrant peoples in Brazil. What a fascinating topic. I’m looking forward to reading more of Thiago's work.
Ate mais gente!
At Libertas in Uberlândia. L-R: Jack Will, Thiago Righi, me, Raphael Ferreira