O SABEDORIA DO BRASIL: A work in progress

I’m just back from Brazil where I’m continuing work on a project that seeks to find the roots of a vast culture at a time of massive change. Check out some of the images below. These are just a few from a small segment of the project about the Jangadeiros of the Northeast, traditional fisherman who risk their lives everyday in simple boats. I expect this to track over a few years and will post new material as time allows.

A Sabedoria do Brasil project traces a visitor’s journey (me) through a vast country with a singular mission: to gather the favorite proverbs, idiomatic sayings and stories of diverse people from all walks of life in every region. These sayings and proverbs, while sometimes trite, often provide real comfort and meaning while revealing the hidden roots and collective wisdom of the Brazilian psyche. It’s a simple idea that yields a fresh way to look at the culture.

Brazil is on fire with change. Beaches, Samba, Carnival and fútbol, although still fundamentally part of the culture, are moving into a supporting role as business is booming. Just as the country declared energy independence they found one of the world’s largest reserves of oil. The Olympics and World Cup are coming and real estate is off the hook expensive. The economy grew at something like 7.5% last year and although down closer to 5% this year is still smoking the US and Europe. The world is watching as the previously tagged “country of tomorrow” is fast becoming the country of today. Although the infrastructure remains challenging, crime and poverty are still massive problems, there is a new expanding middle class and lots of manufacturing, technology, financial and business jobs.  Brazil’s first female president recently took office and is continuing the trade practices of her predecessor.

Yet traditions remain, as you can see in these images of the fisherman of Flecheiras, Ceará. Orson Welles began a film about them in the early 1940′s that was never finished. The cinematography was stunning, and I took that as a good enough inspiration to make the trek up there to meet and visit. One older man told us a story about his grandfather out to sea and trying to drown a cat they discovered on board eating their bait. They pulled up the line later and were shocked to discover the cat tangled in their line, but amazingly grasping dozens of fish in its claws and teeth. Shocked but happy, they kept the cat going at this and came back with double their usual catch. As I listened at first I completely accepted this story as I’ve seen a lot of mysterious stuff in Brazil at this point. But then as I questioned the fisherman he then said that he heard this from his grandfather as the god’s truth.

And then his grandfather told him: “O pescador  não mente; ele aumenta, mas não inventa.”   “The fisherman doesn’t lie–he might embellish, but doesn’t invent.”

Thursday
06
October 2011

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.38

From “Blur: A Memoir,” an ongoing and random series of stories, dreams, and memories from my life as a photographer. This is #4 in a continuing series from “Tesão,” about my wife Tereza and our life together.

©2009 Doug Menuez, from "Tesåo"

©2009 Doug Menuez, from "Tesåo"

I should not have been surprised to see her husband rushing out the door of our house as we pulled up with the groceries.

He’d been calling us for months from New York at all hours, threatening and harassing Tereza until she refused to answer the phone. Six months back he’d convinced her to marry him, then kicked her out after a month to get back with his previous girlfriend. Tereza was devastated and not eating. She was down to 85 pounds when I asked her to move to San Francisco and start over with me.

Now he wanted her back and had secretly planned this trip for weeks. Before I could even park, he was pulling Tereza from our car and pushing her into his. He hauled ass down the hill, going the wrong way, toward the bottom of the hill and a dead end. I knew I had a few minutes before he would discover his mistake and come back past me. I called my friend M. who skidded into my driveway less than two minutes later in his new Porsche. I hopped in bringing M’s 38 caliber revolver which he had forgotten at our house weeks ago. Frankly, I was scared of Tereza’s husband and made a clear, conscious decision that whatever it took, she was going to be safe.

His car zoomed past us, up onto the narrow cliff road with a 1000-foot drop on the passing side. M. was a war photographer, loved the action and gunned it. We easily caught up, passed by and forced him off the road. He started insulting me as I jumped out of the Porsche and approached but his ranting was incoherent and his threats rang hollow. I realized I’d won without a fight. I put the gun away and stood back. He got out of the car and tearfully begged Tereza on his knees to come back with him, offering her half a million in cash. She stayed.


Thursday
03
September 2009

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NOTHING CHANGED

From “Blur: A Memoir,” an ongoing and random series of stories, dreams, and memories from my life as a photographer. This is #2 in a continuing series from “Tesåo,” about my wife Tereza and our relationship. A recurring theme in any photographer’s life is how to maintain some semblance of family life, or to even keep friends. This story reflects parts of my personal evolution and naive attempts to balance my work and family and make my second (and hopefully last) marriage work.

©2009 Doug Menuez from "Tesão"

©2009 Doug Menuez from "Tesão"

After we broke up I drove cross country to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, determined to lose myself in photography. Tereza quickly tired of America and moved back to Brazil in 1977, entered University, got married, got divorced, graduated, moved back to New York to work for Globo TV eight years later, got married again, and in a devastating setback got separated from her new husband within a month.  She began looking for me. Not knowing where I’d moved, she was calling around the US for two years, city by city, finally in late 1985 finding my number in San Francisco with the help of her sister.

I had suffered night after night in those ten long, sad years we had been apart, listening to Brazilian records and memory-etching each detail of that summer together. She found me in California and left a sweet message, which I played upon returning from a shoot. I’d been flying all day in a helicopter with Wayne Newton at the controls, his german shepherd barking continuously in the co-pilot seat as Wayne roared through canyons near Vegas, inches from the red rock walls.  Exhausted, I arrived home and hit play on my answering machine. Her soft voice barely audible with my cocaine-fueled wife screaming for a divorce behind me (“OK, you got it!”).Then I flew all night to New York City full of elation, adrenaline and dread. Laying in bed that first day back together, it was then, looking into her eyes, that I experienced true peace of mind for the first time. We’d found each other again and nothing whatsoever had changed between us.

I was always flying in those days for the magazines and was able to start making weekend trips to New York to see Tereza from wherever I was shooting. We slowly got to know each other again over five months of visits. I started secretly grabbing some of her stuff and putting it into my suitcase to bring back to Sausalito, while slowly trying to convince her to leave New York.

The last weekend before she finally decided to move with me to California, Tereza remembered her visit to a psychic who made some predictions on a tape that she had put in a drawer and never played. She had just forgotten about it. As a young journalist, I was pretty skeptical of psychics but was willing to listen.

Tereza found the tape and put it on her little cassette player. We sat together and listened. The psychic spoke in a calm, even voice. He said that in two years time Tereza would meet a man from her past with the initials “DM or MD” and that he worked for the magazines. We both got chills as we realized it was two years to the month since she had been given the tape. We looked hard at each other. I knew she was deciding that moment to go with me, to trust me. Well, there are just some things that can’t be explained in life. Some force is at work we can only guess at. This then, our meeting again after all this time, was fate.

©2009 Doug Menuez from "Tesão"

©2009 Doug Menuez from "Tesão"


Sunday
21
June 2009

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Beach House '76

From “Blur: A Memoir,” an ongoing and random series of stories, dreams, and memories from my life as a photographer.

When Tereza arrived in New York City from Brazil in 1976, her older sister Magda got her a job in a sweatshop on 23rd Street sewing leather bags for Carlos Falchi. Magda was representing the hot new Brazilian designer, filling orders she’d taken from Bloomindale’s and trendy boutiques downtown.

tesao_021

Every day at lunch the women would rise from their sewing machines and gather by the huge windows on the 10th floor. Across the street, like clockwork, they would see this freaky old guy jerking off on his rooftop, looking over at them as they laughed in amazement and disgust.

At night, Tereza and Magda would go to huge parties downtown wearing black leather mini-skirts. There were East Germans, Russians and Poles who’d escaped through the Iron Curtain, Brazilian diplomats and musicians, French filmmakers, Italian playboys, heroin dealers, dancers, painters, and a few Americans trying to dance the Samba, with everyone high on Capirinhas, shouting over the music in a Babel-like cacophony of miscommunication.

It wasn’t long before the sweatshop job wore Tereza down and she quit, retreating to the calm of Magda’s beach house on Eaton’s Neck, not far from where I grew up in Northport. On Easter Sunday I was making a rare visit home when Magda called me from the city. For three years Magda had been telling me her younger sister would come to live with her as soon as she could arrange things. And finally her sister had arrived, was alone at the beach house, and needed cheering up. I was busy and still a bit mad at Magda for some long-forgotten reason, made some excuse and hung up. Five minutes later, Maria Tereza Pires Machado, 21 years old, called and asked in very broken English why I would not come and see her. Her voice was soft and sexy as hell. I grabbed a bottle of wine and my Nikkormat and hitchhiked the 30 miles to see her. Although I did not understand her Portuguese, language was not an issue that night and we talked for hours. She insisted I stay the night, pulling me into bed. I watched her cross the kitchen into the back bedroom. With a quick, graceful gesture she simultaneously dropped her sun dress revealing her naked, perfect brown body, while slapping her hand on the bed, and said “You stay.” I did.

This utterly blew my 18-year-old, Long Island mind. The night became a week. I was overwhelmed, transported to another planet, converted to a new religion––the religion of her––with the total devotion and hallucinatory intensity of a convert, and in way, way, way over my head. I’d had girlfriends; this was a woman.

We began an affair that lasted almost six months until she abruptly broke up with me. She got bored and wanted to see older guys. On our last date I tried to impress her and took her to Fire Island in my “new” ’65 Opel and we ran out of gas on the highway. She didn’t really speak to me after that, although I continued to visit her sisters. Devastated, I moved to San Francisco determined to forget her and dedicate my life to photography.

Sunday
07
June 2009

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