Posts tagged with International Affairs

Rio, The Happiest City? No Surprise There

“My Soul Sings/I See Rio de Janeiro I miss it so much/ Rio, your sea, endless beaches/Rio, you were made for me” Antonio Carlos Jobim,

I can't say that I was surprised when I heard that Rio de Janeiro was voted “the world's happiest city” by Forbes Magazine earlier this week (runner-ups including Sydney, Barcelona and San Francisco). From what I've seen from my various visits to the former Brazilian capital, there is a certain feeling of happiness that comes from that town. It is little wonder that Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote so fondly about it in songs like “Corcovado” and “Samba do Aviao.” Rio de Janeiro is really a wondrous city, not only because of its natural beauty, but also due to their friendly, amiable inhabitants.

Just last May, my wife and I took a two-week vacation to Brazil, and spent the first half of that in Rio. In addition to checking out the usual tourists spots, we were also able to check out some of the music spots there, and also made a few friends at a boteco (corner bar) close to our hotel , where between several glasses of beer we were able to chat with the locals about life there.

Through those conversations, we could feel that in spite of the crime, poverty and political corruption and other problems that afflict the nation, Cariocas (as we call the people from Rio) are really content with their lives in a way that is unimaginable to Americans.

The first thing you get there is the weather: temperatures are always mild, and unlike Florida, there are no hurricanes or any other natural disasters to speak of. And the city has a pretty reliable public transportation system. And of course there are the miles and miles of beautiful beaches. I remember that on our first day there, we went on a stroll after drinking cafezinho (espresso-like coffee) at a nearby food stand. We walked about half of the extension of Copacabana beach, stopping every now and then for a chopp (draft beer) at one of the many food kiosks located near the sand.

There is also the Carnaval, when for four days revelers throw their cares to the wind and enjoy the never-ending samba parties, lazy mornings and pretty much everything else the city has to offer.

Who wouldn't be happy with that?


New York Celebrates Brazil on Labor Day

The 25th Anniversary of Brazilian Day in New York

by Ernest Barteldes

Sunday, September 6 W 46th Street and 6th Ave. 12-6 PM

Ever since I moved to New York almost nine years ago (though it doesn't seem that long – time really flies), I have looked forward to Labor Day weekend, when the annual Brazilian Day Festival takes place. It is an opportunity to reconnect with the spirit of the country I left behind through its music, food and language.

Among the most memorable moments I can recall was Daniela Mercury (2001), who at the time was touring in support of her crossover pop album Sou de Qualquer Lugar, a disc that broke from the usual Axe music content she'd been doing until then. It was a rainy afternoon, and the crowd was not as numerous as it had been before, and it was great fun. Another was when Ivete Sangalo serenaded the crowd (2003) with a mix of dance-friendly songs and also some tunes that reminded all of us of lazy, sunny days by the beach.

Not all the memories were that great, though. I recall cringing in 2003 when the US National Anthem was interrupted by an unruly crowd who screamed the Brazilian anthem over it – which prompted the event's organizer, Mr. Joao de Matos to take the microphone and admonish the audience, who had to be reminded that they were in American soil after all, and that they owed respect to the nation that had received them so well.

But such incidents were isolated. As I have written in numerous publications in the past, the Brazilians who come to the party are mostly well-behaved. Few arrests (if any) are ever made during the day, and everybody has lots of fun as the day goes on – and also during the various after-parties that take place all around Manhattan – which makes Brazilian Day a must-see festival for those who happen to be in New York that long weekend.

The lineup this time around - the 25th anniversary of the event – includes samba/soul diva Alcione, percussion innovator Carlinhos Brown (who has worked with various big names in the industry both in Brazil and abroad), controversial punk rocker Marcelo D2 and singer Elba Ramalho, one of the principal acts that helped northeastern music reach mainstream radio during the 1980s.

As for myself, I will be skipping Brazilian Day this year. Instead, I will be paying a visit to Cleveland, the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of fame. Their local alternative paper, the Cleveland Scene, has been continuously been publishing my work for quite a long time, and I think it's due time for me to get to know it...


New York Culture Beat: The Brazilian Film Festival in NY

Not many Latin American films make it to US theaters these days, so it is always with great anticipation that I wait for the Brazilian Film Festival (, an ongoing circuit that makes an annual stop in New York, starting at Central Park Summerstage and then on to Lower Manhattan's Tribeca Cinemas.

The festival opens with a live concert by Rio de Janeiro-based Silvia Machete, an up-and-coming singer-songwriter who is yet to become a household name either in Brazil or abroad. In previous editions, the Festival showcased more “name” artists like Maria Rita and Margareth Menezes, but this year they apparently went for a change in musical direction.

Following the concert is a screening of “If I Were You 2,” a sequel to a highly successful comedy in which a couple (played by Tony Ramos and Gloria Pires) accidentally get their minds swapped after an electrical storm and as a result learn to understand each others' private worlds better.

Another interesting feature is Budapest, an adaptation from the eponymous novel by Chico Buarque de Hollanda. The plot follows Jose Costa (Leonardo Medeiros) , a ghostwriter who accidentally lands in Hungary during an emergency landing while enroute from Istanbul. Fascinated with the language and culture, he later decides to spend some time there and learn how to speak Hungarian – the one language that – as the narrator explains, “the Devil respects.” Shot on location both in Rio and Budapest and spoken in Portuguese and Hungarian, it is one of the must-sees this time around.

Documentaries are also plentiful during the event. One that has sparked my curiosity is Wandering Heart (Errante Navegante), an account of Caetano Veloso's international tour in support of 2003's English-language CD A Foreign Sound, which received mixed reviews back then and much criticism from more purist Brazilian fans who considered the disc a sell-out.

There are countless shorts included this year (my personal pick being Cleansing of Bomfim from Bahia to New York, about the ritual cleansing of Manhattan's 46th St. before Brazilian Day) in addition to dramas, comedies and various other genres – which just might please the most avid movie fanatic.


Thoughts on The Passing of Michael Jackson

When I heard about Michael Jackson's passing a week ago, I was naturally shocked, but somehow the news did not really surprise me. I can't really say why I felt this way.

Although I can't say that I was a Michael Jackson fan (I never owned any of his discs save for Thriller and a handful of Jackson 5 tracks from Motown compilations), I must admit that his songs were an integral part of both my childhood and teenage years. I recall vividly the first time I saw John Landis' elaborate video for “Thriller,” and I still remember the controversy generated by the violence on the original version of his “Black and White” videoclip. However, as his strange behavior seemed to become more important than the music, I pretty much stopped following his career.

What drew me to Thriller back in 1983 (when I was 15) was Eddie Van Halen's twisting solo on “Beat It.” I was in a guitar band phase back then, and really admired what he did to that song. The fact that Paul McCartney was also on the disc was a bonus – even though I thought “The Girl Is Mine” was way below par (was never impressed by their second collaboration, “Say, Say, Say” either)

I think Jackson's music began to suffer because he just tried too hard to top Thriller, the record that would ultimately define his career. I mean, who but the devoted fan can name a memorable track from his last couple of discs? The only thing I can remember about Michael Jackson in the past decade is his slow transformation into a sort of pop-era Howard Hughes.

Hopefully when all the hysteria over his death passes and the tabloids find a new pet scandal to exploit, the public will be able to stop and really listen to the music. It is then that we'll know which legacy he's leaving behind: that of a highly talented musician or just another tragic superstar who was unable to cope with his own fame – or mirror image.


Goldman Case: The CBS interview

Watch CBS Videos Online

Many of us were surprised last Tuesday when Sean Goldman's Brazilian family appeared on CBS' early Show to tell their side of the story. I myself was not aware of the interview until someone I know wrote a comment about it on Facebbok, but I quickly logged on to the network's website to check it out. Now, I am not going to talk about supporters' reactions on either side of the debate. My own position about this case is pretty well known by now – I believe the boy belongs with his biological father. But I will give my impression of what I saw. The Brazilian family is well aware that the American public opinion is largely against them, and it was clear that they change that by appealing to viewers' emotions. I noticed that when host Harry Smith mentioned the Hague International Treaty, all stepfather Joao Paulo Lins e Silva and grandmother Silvana Bianchi had to say was that Sean wanted to stay in Brazil with his half-sister and that he was well adjusted to life there. Those words were accompanied by current images of the boy participating in a basketball match and playing with his half-sister (the network had conducted an interview with Sean, but it was scrapped for legal reasons). Now, if they flew for nine hours to get our sympathy, I must say that they failed miserably. Lins e Silva's arrogance was palpable when he said that Sean had spent sixty percent of his life in Brazil and that he felt loved there – you could see that this was an exhausted lawyer who was doing nothing but buying time in order to stall an inevitable verdict. Harry Smith cleverly extracted from Bianchi that her late daughter acted surreptitiously by announcing her desire to divorce her first husband from almost ten thousand miles away. He was also smart when he let family lawyer Sergio Tostes blab on about what happened in the Brazilian courts when Bruna Bianchi was alive – but then cutting him off with the letter of the law. CBS was really aiming for ratings when they aired this interview. But contrary to what most have said, I do not think that the interview damaged the the case for David Goldman – in fact, it might have helped him, for this is a rare opportunity for American viewers to see what kind of people Goldman has been forced to battle with: these are individuals who – because of their economic power – truly believe they are above the law.


On Tianamen, 20 years later

It's been two decades since the Chinese government sent tanks to confront thousands of unarmed students who were protesting for more political liberty and democracy in their native country.

It is interesting to notice that because so many countries do business with China, not one pushed for sanctions against its communist government. Had it been, say, Castro, I am sure that there would have been an all-out invasion to depose those who ordered the massacre. But no, China means business and revenue. And so there is silence.

What a shame.


Blind Justice?

Recent MSNBC broadcast on the case

Among all the bad news this week – beginning with the murder of Dr. George Tiller last Sunday, the tragedy of Air France flight 447 and the shooting of an off-duty African-American police officer by another (Caucasian) cop in New York, the one that sparked the most outrage was the new setback on the Goldman abduction case.

For those unfamiliar with what is going on – five years ago a Brazilian woman named Bruna Bianchi traveled to Brazil with her son with her New Jersey husband David Goldman. The trip was intended as a three-week vacation, but as soon as Bianchi arrived in her native Rio de Janeiro, she announced that she was not returning to the US. From Brazil, she got an unilateral divorce and got – from the Brazilian courts - for sole custody of the boy. In the meantime, David Goldman filed a petition in New Jersey to have Bianchi return to the US to resolve the matter as prescribed by the Hague Convention, which both countries have signed.

Back in Brazil, Bianchi remarried and became pregnant. Tragically, she died from complications after childbirth (how that happened at this day and age, I don't know). David Goldman has since intensified the fight to recover his son, but he has found fierce opposition from Bianchi's moneyed family and the connections that her husband, a well-known lawyer in Brazil, have with the Brazilian government.

Earlier this week, Federal justices in Brazil finally awarded David Goldman the right to have his son returned to the US with him, but then a senator from a minority political party (of course connected to Bianchi's family) filed an appeal to halt the current order based on the premise that the 9-year-old Sean has adapted to Brazil and has said that he does not want to come back to the US. Another argument is that since the kid has Brazilian citizenship (through his mom), he cannot be 'repatriated.'

The case now rests in the hands of the Brazilian Supreme Court justices.

What drives me nuts about Brazilian courts is that money talks louder than it does in the US. Had Bianchi's family been dirt-poor, this story would have been over a long time ago. But they are quite rich, even for US standards (for instance, their assets include a condo in the Jersey shore), so they have the means to fight this as long as they want. To make matters worse, Brazil's courts are seriously underfunded and overworked – which causes justice there to be served very, very slowly.

Let's hope that this setback is indeed the last one in this sad story.


Weekly Articles Digest

Hi all,

With Memorial Day behind us (the weather was great in New York, but has since deteriorated), we start focusing on the summer activities – in the meantime, there is a lot of turmoil going on --- today, the New York Times did a feature on the battle over Proposition 8 in California – two lawyers who were at opposing ends during the Bush-Gore debacle almost a decade ago have joined forces to try and overturn the law that made same-sex marriage illegal in that state. According to that piece, David Boies and Theodore B. Olson have set their political differences aside to fight together for something they believe is right. And by the way, so do I.

I have also just learned that there has been a dramatic shift in the Goldman case in Brazil. According a report on O Globo newspaper, a prosecutor there has given an official opinion that Sean Goldman – who was illegally taken to Brazil by his mother about five years ago – belongs with his father, now that the mother has passed. The Brazilian family has been battling to keep the boy in Brazil – but the battle is definitely not over --- If you haven't heard about the case, here is a good resource:

Finally, I am happy to announce that I have started a blog with musings, short stories and some more material – it's a low-key thing that I have done in order to stretch my creativity and also to post things of mine that are outside of the realm of music and arts --- I have posted a few thoughts there, and there has been a lot of controversy – the blog is hosted by a newspaper in Lawrence,KS, where I have relatives. If you ask me what the blog is about, I'd quote Seinfeld and say that is really about nothing specific... Check it out at

Anyway, here are the goodies for this week:

Houston Press

Mariachi Real de San Diego, reviewed

Cedric Burnside & Lightin; Malcolm perform in Houston

Broward New Times