Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Final Rio | Lefsetz Letter

It’s controlled chaos.

That’s what my driver told me yesterday. A Brazilian who spent twenty three years in Texas, illegally, he came home to see his dying dad and now he can’t go back to the U.S. for ten years, maybe he’ll emigrate to Portugal, right now he’s living with his dogs working seven days a week as a driver, in the U.S. he was a pilot, he flew King Airs and Citations.

Doesn’t he need time off? To see his girlfriends from the favelas?

That’s right, he met them on WhatsApp, only in America does that app not dominate, it’s Brazilians’ entire life, they form groups, that’s where my driver met his girlfriends. He’ll let them come to his house, he won’t go to theirs. And he won’t stop at red lights at night. But he’s not complaining, you see Brazilians are optimistic.

You feel alive because so much is at risk. In the U.S. you’re somnambulant, sleepwalking through life, in Rio you’re on high alert.

The highlight of Friday was going to Gilberto Gil’s studio, to do a podcast. Gil is a superstar in Brazil. He was jailed and exiled by the government in the sixties, living in London he drank up the culture, it infused his politics when he returned three years later.

Music was everything. That’s what Gilberto told me. Now he has a hard time making sense of the scene. I told him anyone who tells you they know what’s going on is lying.

So we drove up the hill to just shy of the favela. On our way home, we had to detour, there was a shooting. There’s an app for that. My drivers were getting alerts all the time.

And when I descended the steps into Gilberto’s studio…

It felt like fall in L.A.

How to describe it… It’s not like the east coast, with the nip in the air, it’s more about the light, it’s gray and warm and you can feel the seasons changing and I felt snow was coming to Colorado…only in the U.S. it’s spring.

So Gilberto succeeded by being different. He had nearly immediate success. He was called to provide songs for a singer with a TV show, and she liked him so much, she put him on and overnight he was known. That’s the power of uniqueness, that’s the power of listening to your own heart. And as we talked about Nesuhi, how he got him into the Montreux Jazz Festival, and all the other movers and shakers who have passed but were icons, I got energized, by what once was.

It was also fascinating hanging with Moogie and Cherney. They’d debate microphones, this is their language. Credits would come up and they’d search their phones, wanting to get it right, expand their horizons, like that old Bad Company song, they live for the music.

And when I got to the Miami airport I didn’t expect the security guard to speak English. Live in a foreign land for only a brief time and it changes you, I was used to the language barrier, but now it’s gone.

I had lunch in an upscale restaurant in a good neighborhood and one in a not-so-good neighborhood. I ate the Brazilian national dish of… Well, they serve a big pot of beans and beef and sausage which you pour over rice, collard greens, orange slices and pig ears, then you douse it all with farofa, look it up. I mean if you’re gonna go to a foreign country, you might as well have the realistic experience.

And Moogie took us to a Portuguese restaurant. I wish I could tell you the appetizers I ate, which were delectable. Chicken that tasted like sausage but wasn’t, little beef balls, and the main course was cod, the national dish of Portugal. They salt it, they ship it, and then in Rio they soak it and then cook and serve it. To tell you the truth, I still felt it to be a bit salty. And the funny thing is you eat so late, maybe ten, and I overate.

And on the drive back to the hotel, Moogie was talking about security, that’s what everybody talks about, politics and safety. Everyone’s had a bad experience. Gilberto’s family was held up at gunpoint, then he moved into a high-rise. And Moogie says the smart thing to do is to have a fake bag, to give to the criminals. One with an old cellphone and thirty or forty dollars. And then the driver raised her hand, she had one, ready to deliver if detained.

And driving while drunk is a zero tolerance situation. They have checkpoints on the weekends.

And like I told you, gun ownership is illegal. But the criminals have guns.

And what is the solution?

Many said education, giving the underclass a leg up. I was told education is not mandatory, there are people living in the favelas who have never gone to school. Ninety plus percent of them are good, but the neighborhoods are controlled by the gangs, by the drug dealers.

Scary, I know!

And I’m not the paranoid type.

But when you put the idea in my head…

Brazil is a big country, with two hundred million people. It’s got an economy based on beef and minerals and…corruption is rampant. The mayor of Rio skimmed tons off the construction of light rail and then escaped to New York, so far he’s not been extradited. You wanna get rich, you become a politician.

And I don’t know if I’ve got it all right. But everywhere I went I asked the same questions. And got similar answers. I was there, I got a taste of what was going on.

And what is happening is you’ve got an upbeat people living for the music and the partying despite the challenges.

I literally saw how the other half lived.

My eyes were opened in Rio.

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