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tribesonthebrink

Photo: The Explorers Club

You remember the great marine explorer Jacques Cousteau? Well, his granddaughter has grown up to be an explorer of vanishing cultures, and recently she made a movie about endangered tribes in the Amazon.

The film by Céline S. Cousteau is called Tribes on the Edge, and according to its website, it’s “more than a narrative of tribal reality in the Amazon [as it] suggests the universal story of our human tribe and how our future is interwoven with each other and with nature. This is a story that invokes the critical importance of respect and care – for land, culture, and humanity. …

“[The film] explores the timely topics of land threats, health crises, and human rights issues of indigenous peoples, expanding the view to how this is relevant to our world. More than a film, it has grown into a movement driven by a passionate effort to enact tangible impact in the Javari [Valley of Brazil] through education, advocacy, and activism. …

“Spanning more than 85,000 km2 (an area the size of Portugal), the Vale do Javari is the second largest indigenous territory in Brazil and is home to 5000 indigenous peoples from 6 tribes as well as the largest population of people living without any contact with the outside world in the entire Amazon and some say the world.

“Though the Javari has been designated for the tribes living there, there is looming pressure to increase harmful resource extraction which in other parts of the Amazon has led to environmental degradation. … It is estimated that the Amazon produces 20% the world’s oxygen and releases 55 gallons of water into the Atlantic ocean every second.”

Read more at the website, here, about what the International Union for Conservation of Nature calls “one of the irreplaceable areas of our planet.” And at the website for New York’s Explorers Club, which screened the film this past April, you can also can read about speaker Beto Marubo. A Marubo Indian, he has served with the national Indian foundation of Brazil, FUNAI, an initiative threatened by the likely election of someone Wikipedia calls “a polarizing and controversial politician” to the country’s presidency.

The movie is more timely than ever.

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Photo: YouTube/Field of Vision
Karollyne, who works at the dog-rescue nonprofit founded by Glenn Greenwald and David Miranda in Brazil, is shown with one of the homeless dogs she cares for in an abandoned building.

Nothing humanizes homeless people more for us than seeing them interact with a pet. The panhandler who used to set up a blanket with his dog near Providence’s Kennedy Plaza always seemed cheerful whether he got money or not, and many passersby stopped to pat the dog and exchange a few friendly words. I haven’t seem him lately and can’t help wondering if his dog helped him to get it together and move off the street.

Consider a couple articles I’ve been reading on homelessness and the power of a pet. In the first article, reporter Candace Pires gathered the stories of four homeless people for the Guardian.

Heather, 22, told Pires, “Before we found Poppy, I didn’t feel like I had anything to wake up for. I was going through a rough time in my life and didn’t care about myself. I’d been homeless since my parents told me to leave our family house in June 2016 and was so miserable in my situation. Everywhere I go people shun me and tell me to leave.

“Then, last March, I was walking around downtown Seattle with my boyfriend when we saw a group of guys with two dogs. They were yelling at one of them and she was shivering and obviously scared. I went into a store and when I came out my boyfriend had the dog. I was confused. He said to me: ‘I made a life choice without you; we’re keeping the dog.’ He’d paid the guys $5 for her. …

“We moved from sleeping in a doorway to a tent. I stopped stealing food from stores when we were desperate; I didn’t want to go to jail for something dumb and risk losing her. I’ve applied for food stamps and now have a case manager helping me get on a housing list and get Poppy registered as a service animal so that we’re protected from being split up. …

“She wakes up so excited every morning and gets so happy about the littlest thing, like rolling around in the grass or even just the weather being nice. Seeing her like that reminds me to stay happy for simple things too. In my mind she’s a little angel that saved me as much as I saved her.”

Pires wrote up three more stories by homeless pet owners in America here.

Meanwhile, the journalist Glenn Greenwald has written at the Dodo about the dog-rescue nonprofit he and David Miranda founded in Brazil, where homeless people who love dogs are hired as caregivers.

“In the last two years,” Greenwald reported, “our work with animals has taken on a new focus: working with homeless people who live on the streets with their pets. At first glance, this situation can seem grim and depressing: Many assume that animals who live on the street with homeless companions are mistreated or deprived.

“But, far more often, the truth is the opposite: The bond that forms between homeless people and their homeless pets is often [more] strong, deep and more profound than many can imagine. The mutual need, and resulting intense devotion, that homeless people and their animals develop for one another is inspiring and can be unlike what one might find in any other context.

Leslie Irvine, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado, has devoted much of her academic career to studying this unique relationship, and even named her book on the topic, ‘My Dog Always Eats First.’ ”

Greenwald wrote more here.

Did you ever see a person you thought you couldn’t relate to until you saw the person’s relationship with a pet? I’d love to hear stories.

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Illustration: Ben Kirchner
Raduan Nassar was 48 and at the height of his literary fame when, in 1984, he announced his retirement. He wanted to become a farmer.

I liked a recent article in the New Yorker about a Brazilian who left the writing life to become a farmer. Did literary perfectionism stress him out too much, or did farming just seem more real?

Alejandro Chacoff has the story.

“In 1973, the Brazilian writer Raduan Nassar quit his job. After six years as editor-in-chief at the Jornal do Bairro, an influential left-wing newspaper that opposed Brazil’s military regime, [he left] and spent a year in his São Paulo apartment, working twelve hours a day on a book, ‘crying the whole time.’ In ‘Ancient Tillage,’ the strange, short novel he wrote, a young man flees his rural home and family, only to return, chastened and a little humiliated, to the place of his childhood.

“ ‘Ancient Tillage’ was published in 1975, to immediate critical acclaim. … In 1978, a second novel appeared in print; Nassar had written the first draft of ‘A Cup of Rage’ in 1970, while living in Granja Viana, a bucolic neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. It, too, was received euphorically, winning the São Paulo Art Critics’ Association Prize (ACPA). …

Last year, Nassar’s two novels were translated into English for the first time, for the Penguin Modern Classics Series. …

“Nassar was forty-eight and at the height of his literary fame when, in 1984, he gave an interview with Folha de São Paulo, the country’s biggest daily newspaper, in which he announced his retirement. He wanted to become a farmer. … The following year, he bought a property of roughly sixteen hundred acres and began to plant soy, corn, beans, and wheat. …

“Nassar said that farming had always been his main occupation, whereas writing had ‘just been another activity.’ But his life in agriculture did not begin smoothly.

“ ‘For the first six years, we got killed; there were only losses.’ … Like his characters, he appears to have found solace in manual labor. ‘My life now is about doing, doing, doing,’ he told an interviewer, in 1996, when asked how he was faring after his literary retirement. …

“Both [Luiz Schwarcz, the editor-in-chief of Companhia das Letras, the country’s main publishing house,] and [Antonio Fernando de Franceschi, a poet and critic who became a close friend of Nassar’s,] believe that Nassar’s decision to quit came not from a waning of interest but from literary perfectionism. ‘He’s a guy who devotes himself so much to the craft that I think it’s hard for him to feel rewarded,’ Schwarcz said.” More here.

I intend to track down his books.

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Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

So, actually, he was an artist first and only did gardening to support himself as immigrant with no connections.

Los Angeles Times reporter Carolina A. Miranda wrote about him in July, around the time of the “Made in L.A.” biennial at the Hammer Museum.

She says, “When artist Kenzi Shiokava received a telephone call from a pair of curators organizing [the biennial], he says he had little clue of the meteoric effect it would have on his life.

“ ‘I’d never seen “Made in L.A.,” ‘ says the 78-year-old sculptor. ‘I’ve always been off the art establishment.’

“But as he does with anyone who is interested in seeing his work, he invited the curators — Hamza Walker and Aram Moshayedi — to his studio so that they could have a look at his totemic wood sculptures, junk-art assemblages and curiosity boxes featuring orderly, patterned displays of old toys, plastic fruit and discarded religious ephemera.

“Shiokava says he was buoyed by the visit but subdued in his expectations. ‘Lots of shows come and go,’ he says. …

” ‘I didn’t know it’d be like this,’ he says with a resplendent grin. ‘The response has been amazing.’…

“[Walker] says that from the moment he and Moshayedi stepped into Shiokava’s studio, early in 2015, they were sure that this was an artist they wanted to include in the show.

“ ‘It was pretty immediate,’ he says. ‘We were both speechless within 10 paces of the entrance. There were all of these totems right up front and we were like, woooowwww.’ …

“ ‘What’s always kept me going is people coming to my studio and enjoying the work,’ [Shiokava] says in his deeply accented English. ‘But now I know my work will have a legacy. My work will live.’ ”

Read about the artist’s early life as a Japanese immigrant in Brazil, how he ended up in LA, and how he began to develop his art while working as a gardener for Marlon Brando and others (here).

Photo: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Kenzi Shiokava in his studio.

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The concept of paying it forward has been flourishing in Naples, at least with regard to buying a cup of coffee for someone who can’t afford one.

Recently, reporter Gaia Pianigiani interviewed Neapolitans about the “suspended coffee practice. Coffee shop customer Laura Cozzolino explained, “ ‘As a Neapolitan who tries to restrict herself to four coffees a day, I understand that coffee is important. It’s a small treat that no one should miss.’

“The suspended coffee is a Neapolitan tradition that boomed during World War II and has found a revival in recent years during hard economic times.

“From Naples, by word of mouth and via the Internet, the gesture has spread throughout Italy and around the world, to coffee bars as far-flung as Sweden and Brazil. In some places in Italy, the generosity now extends to the suspended pizza or sandwich, or even books. …

“In a time of hardship, Italians can lack many things, but their coffee is not one of them. So it may be the most common item left at many cafes, as a gift, for people too poor to pay.”

More at the NY Times.

Photo: Gianni Cipriano for The New York Times
Receipts are left to be claimed by those who are unable to afford a cup of coffee. 

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We watched Only When I Dance on Netflix last weekend, and afterward my husband did a Google search on the dancer who won the awards.

(The other dancer was heartbreaking. She was told that because she was black, there would be no opportunity in Brazil to join a company and she’d have to win a place abroad. Abroad, they told her she weighed too much — even though she was quite slender. Her family was poor and sacrificed everything for her.)

Dancer Irlan Silva ended up at the Boston Ballet.

James H. Burnett III wrote about him for the Globe. “At 23, Silva is a rising talent with Boston Ballet. But six years ago he wasn’t sure whether he’d even live long enough to see his dream of a career in ballet come to fruition. …

“Where he came from — a gritty favela in Rio de Janeiro — was documented in a critically acclaimed 2009 documentary called Only When I Dance, in which Silva and another dancer from the slums of Rio, Isabela Coracy, battle the odds in pursuit of their careers. Favelas, shanty towns that surround the city, are rife with poverty and violence. …

“Silva’s interest in ballet developed when he attended a professional performance at the age of 10. ‘I was hooked immediately,’ he says.

“He says his natural flexibility and leaping ability carried him until he was able to receive formal training, but not every flexible would-be dancer in Brazil was able to land a spot in Centro de Dança Rio, the nation’s premier ballet school.

“ ‘My teacher — a great teacher — Mariza Estrella  is responsible for inspiring me and pushing me on my way, out of the nest.’ …

” ‘Ballet can be expensive,’ he says. ‘My mother ran a cafe from her home. She still does in the same place. And she just made sure I had whatever I needed, like ballet shoes. …

“His father … Irenildo Santos, a factory worker in Rio, said through an interpreter in a recent phone interview that his son’s dancing ability was what convinced him that ballet was a worthwhile pursuit.

“ ‘We live in a very tough community. It can be very dangerous. There is crime. And there are even people who wish to harm you if you don’t behave in a certain way or fit a certain mold. … But when I saw him dance the first time, I was very moved. And now I am his fan. I am his biggest fan.’ ” Read more.

Photo: Essdras M Suarez/Boston Globe
Dancer Irlan Silva

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Today I want to highlight Taylor Barnes’s story in the Christian Science Monitor about the transformative effect of volleyball among poor Brazilian children.

But first an admission that the topic of volleyball reminds me (incongruously) of the movie A Thousand Clowns, in which an out-of-work writer goes around New York City fulfilling lifetime ambitions such as  standing on Park Avenue at dawn and hollering, “All right, all you rich people; everybody out in the street for volleyball.”

OK. Got that off my chest. Back to Brazil.

“Roberto Bosch’s volleyball school was getting nowhere,” writes Barnes. “Then he invited kids from the slums to join for free.

“The gangly [Bosch] joined his first volleyball club at age 12; before he was old enough to drive, he was already under contract and being paid for playing the sport. In college, Betinho, as he is known [in Rio], dropped out of his classes in economics to travel with a professional team. When he competed in the youth world championships in Italy at age 20, he was considered the best player on earth.

“But health concerns made him leave pro volleyball just as his peers were graduating from college. Soon he found he was struggling to find a new direction for his life. …

“His wife suggested he start his own volleyball school.

” ‘Given that I was really depressed, really low at the time, I didn’t think I was capable’ of running a school,’ he says. Still, he set up a volleyball court on Rio de Janeiro’s glamorous, celebrity-studded Leblon Beach.

” ‘In the beginning, it was one old net, three old balls, and one student, which was my wife,’ he recalls. …

“Then Betinho had an idea … Why not go to the public schools and offer volleyball lessons to students free of charge?”

Students from the favelas and shantytowns jumped at the chance. As the school’s reputation grew, wealthy children signed up, too. Volleyball became the great leveler in Rio. And Betinho found a purpose in life, better than the first.

More here.

Photograph: Jimmy Chalk
Roberto Bosch teaches beach volleyball on Leblon Beach in Rio de Janeiro. His students come from both local slums and wealthy neighborhoods.

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