Tag Archives: Brazil

Book review: 1808 Flight of the Emperor


1808: Flight of the Emperor Image by Laurentino Gomes on Wikipedia’s Creative Commons

I’m a sucker for a well-researched history book, especially one where it feels and “sounds” like the author is sharing all of his own passion and excitement for the topic with me. This is exactly how Laurentino Gomes’ 1808: Flight of the Emperor comes across and flies with his subject matter.

This was an incredibly interesting book to read – not only as a reflection of colonial Brazil (some of which is still so recognizable there today), but also as a reflection of European aristocracy and how very short the Portuguese model fell compared to the Golden Age of Europe’s French, Spanish and German royals, just to name a few. Of course in the early 19th century you couldn’t do everything right by our standards today, but some of their outrageous ways made me cringe and laugh just as much as I imagine the author did on finding these nuggets of not-so-appropriate-for-the-dinner-table information. For example, Gomes tells of how Portugal’s sewage system was so far inferior to the rest of European civilization, they actually still emptied their “night soil” and chamber pots from their windows (yes) directly into the street. Jeez. Another one that has stuck by me is how the Emperor (Dom) Joao not only refused to bathe, his tailors had to wait for him to go to sleep in order to repair the clothes he would likewise refuse to take off. Laurentino Gomes mentioned that there are a myriad more such stories that he didn’t have space to fit into this book… I don’t even dare to imagine.

Besides the Portuguese-Brazilian royal family, Gomes had a lot to say about the politics between England and France at the time, the state of labour and slavery in colonial Brazil as well as some trickle through effects that have shaped contemporary Brazilian culture and politics. Wow, all that in a non-fiction, conversational super-book. I loved every second of it.

Apparently others agreed – the book won 3 awards; one from the Academia das Letras and two Prêmio Jabuti awards.


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Book review: Bodies, Pleasures and Passions

A book by Richard G Parkerbodies pleasures passions

I’ve been living in São Paulo, Brazil for about 18 months now and decided it was as good a time as any to read something with an anthropological bent and what could be more interesting and exciting than reading about something that plays a big part in shaping Brazilian identity: sex. That is not exactly what I was combing the Internet for, but when I saw a mention of this book it was immediately on my list. I have finally finished reading it, so here’s what I think…

It’s a great mix between academic paper and historical narrative; it doesn’t really feel like a linear narrative, even though it follows the evolution of Brazilian culture (especially with regards to sexual life and sexuality) in a chronological way. However, it’s not as dense (read “impenetrable”) as an academic paper. It’s like I’m talking to the author about his research results, which to me is incredibly interesting. Richard Parker weaves a coherent and consolidated picture with both qualitative research and anecdotal inserts. The anecdotes don’t necessarily give a scientific basis, but they give colorful illustrations and explanations for what he found in his studies.

Of course Parker starts from the era where the first written records can be found – the explorers who initially arrived in Brazil. They wrote reports and diary entries about meeting the local people, about their shameless promiscuity in dress and behaviour. What they don’t mention in their reports, but what the author makes clear, is how that influenced the explorers’ behaviour and how the sexual expression of the native Brazilians not only impressed the explorers themselves but also the repressed European society they came from and shared information with.

Then he jumps to the colonization period, with land owners and their slaves (involuntary concubines?) and of course this had a profound and lasting impact on modern sexual attitudes. There is an interesting mix between European and Brazilian sexual attitudes, however the European model being the “correct” one at that time, dominated sex and society for a very long time. I would argue it is still very much present in contemporary Brazil.

Besides the historical side of sexuality, the book explores eroticism and present day socialization / initiation into sexual life, along with specific Portuguese terms and expressions full of sexual ambivalence. Though he mentions specific cases of erotic socialization to illustrate a segment of Brazilian culture, I’m not sure how representative that is of all Brazilians from all walks of life. The religious, medical and hedonistic perspectives which all helped shape sexuality and how people talk about sexuality are very interesting beyond the Brazilian model. I think many of those conclusions are valid for my own culture as well.

Last but not least, Parker scrutinizes the spirit and debauchery of carnaval and where that fits into the sexual identity of the modern Brazilian. This is an interesting chapter, because to me it seems like carnaval is a big contradiction… People say they are very conservative Catholic (even though they rarely put that into practice); however, during carnaval there are near-naked bodies not only plastered on every television, advertisement or poster, but it’s celebrated by young and old alike. As he says: “[Carnival] has become a metaphor for Brazil itself – or at the very least, for those qualities that are taken as most essentially Brazilian, as the truest expression of Brazilianness”

A book worth reading!

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Here’s to butchering the beautiful language of Portuguese… ;)

At the recommendation of my Portuguese teacher I am attempting to communicate on my blog, in Portuguese. If anyone reads this and understands, good luck to you 🙂 I promise to revise and correct after my patient teacher or Portuguese-speaking friends have given me some notes.
(Corrections have been made 🙂

Feijoada accompaniments

O primeiro sabor do Brasil

Brasil é um país muito grande (na verdade é enorme), então é lógico que aqui também tem muitos tipos de comidas…

O Nordeste é conhecido pelas comidas apimentadas e quentes. Além disso tem um alimento muito famoso chamado “moqueca“: é um tipo de ensopado/guisado com caldo denso, com sabor rico. Moqueca me lembro de “bouillabaisse” da França, porque os dois usam frutos do mar (gostoso!). Mas bouillabaisse tem mais água.

Tem as pessoas que falam que os alimentos de Minas Gerais são melhor que todas as outras locações. Eu ainda não visitei este estado, então ainda não posso julgar. Por agora a única comida de Minas que eu provei foi “pão de queijo“, mas eu espero que pão de queijo autêntico seja melhor que alguns que eu provei. Logo eu vou à Minas Gerais, e depois vou te dizer o que eu penso.

Uma outra culinária que eu gosto muito é a do sul do Brasil. As pessoas do Rio Grande do Sul (especialmente duas de Porto Alegre😉 ) têm orgulho do churrasco deles. Churrasco é bastante similar ao “braai” na África do Sul – os dois usam carne de alta qualidade (como picanha ou contra filé), misturam com temperos particulares e preparam na grelha. A grande diferença entre churrasco e braai é: no churrasco a carne já preparada está cortada, e logo todas as pessoas comem juntas descontraído os pedacinhos; no braai os peços de carne inteiro são preparados e logo todas as pessoas pegam as porções de carne, vegetais e pratos extras, para juntas desfrutarem o alimento.


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First taste of Brazil

Well, not Brazil actually… just São Paulo so far 🙂
After four months in Sampa, as it’s called, we’ve had one or two opportunities to try something new. The first two things that Brasileiros mention when I ask about eats to try is Feijoada and Brigadeiro, both of which I think are an apt representations of Paulistanos (people born in São Paulo), if not Brazil: welcoming and sweet.

Feijoada is a thick, stewy, meaty dish served with rice, ground mandioca and fragrant couve. Besides the rice, everything else on the plate was a new experience the first time… The stew was traditionally made of throw-away bits of meat, and while you can still find that the modern version has tender red meat and bacon bits. Kiernan and I were invited to a birthday party where they had both the traditional and more popular version; they were both super tasty! One thing that is a staple of Brazilian food and always plentiful in a Feijoada pot is beans; since the pot of food is literally stewed for hours you get a thick, tender dish out of it that, to me, whispers “comfort food” in a voice like a soft blanket 🙂
Wednesdays and Saturdays are “feijoada lunch” days and I would not be surprised if people really eat this twice a week, every week. It even encourages your social, sharing side, since a meal of feijoada served at lunch restaurants (or lanchonetes) are big enough to feed two grown men, comfortably!

Feijoada pot

Feijoada accompaniments

Brigadeiro is like caramelised, chocolate condensed milk, rolled in more chocolate sprinkles! Yes, it’s very sweet… one bite is quite enough to give you a tweaky sugar high! 🙂 the first Brigadeiro we had was at a friend’s house – his girlfriend threw together a can of condensed milk, a tablespoon of butter and a generous helping of cocoa powder and kept stirring at it on the stove til it was thick and sticky. Yum!! I tried my own version of this, but in an effort to survive with all my teeth, I witheld cocoa powder and rolled the white caramelised condensed milk in cinnamon powder – nice and spicy. 🙂 and very nice with a glass of velvety red wine.

Sweets in Brazil tend to be very sugary and very sweet! It seems like a substantial portion of the population likes chocolate (not just girls); I routinely see people (guy, girl, old, young) polishing of a huge slab of chocolate on the metro! At another birthday party last night they had about four jars of nutella on the counter, spoons jutting out invitingly of the creamy chocolate spread; one jar was being passed around enthusiastically and all indulged 🙂 True, this is merely anecdotal of one sweet experience (pun intended), but I’ve heard that many foreigners complain that sweets here are indeed super sweet.

This was bought at a bakery as opposed to homemad.

This was bought at a bakery as opposed to homemad.

Soft, sweet, creamy brigadeiro

Anoter big activity here is churrasco (like BBQ, and actually surprisingly close to braai, especially in the south). Chunks of spiced, marinated meat are threaded on kebab sticks and roasted over a fire; yum! We have yet to try the traditional version of this, but we have had really good meat in Brazil! Not really at restaurants, but at people’s homes or at get-togethers.

The next couple of foodie must-do’s we’re aiming to cross off our list, are trying food from Minas Gerais and Bahia – two places with their own, unique and distinct food cultures. These are just Brazilian eats; São Paulo is well-known for the city you can find any kind of food. While that’s not totally the case (they don’t have biltong, but that may just be nit-picking;), Kiernan and I have had the most deliciously mouth-watering “African food”, in a mostly Cameroonian restaurant; dainty, light and refreshing Columbian cerviche & arepas. The closest you can get to sushi is a fusion of California rolls, cream cheese & fruit… I’m not kidding: cream cheese and strawberry or mango, wrapped in rice & seaweed. o.O ok. It wasn’t bad, but it’s not sushi! 😀

Cameroonian restaurant

The drinks, cocktails, beer and wine are in a world of their own; perhaps I’ll get enough letters together to write about that soon…


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