Tristeza não tem fim, felicidade sim.
(Sadness never ends. Happiness does)
-Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes, “A Felicidade”
The early visit of Carnaval this week made me pause and reflect on Brazil, and how this one moment in the year is a window for the world into a unique and changing culture.
Culminating on what Americans call Fat Tuesday, and building up during the entire week before, Carnaval is an annual opportunity for Brazilians to go wild, stay up all night, and dress up in lavish costumes.
But the culture of Carnaval in Brazil is much deeper than the hedonism that the world sees in the news. It is a time when Brazilians, rich and poor, black and white, rural and urban, put on a fantasia (the whimsical Portuguese word for costume) and become one with each other.
A felicidade (Happiness) is the song that best captures this moment, its lyrics painting how the high of Carnaval ultimately comes off like a costume, returning people to their lowly lives.
A felicidade do pobre parece/
A grande ilusão do carnaval/
A gente trabalha o ano inteiro/
Por um momento de sonho/
Pra fazer a fantasia/
De rei ou de pirata ou jardineira/
Pra tudo se acabar na quarta-feira/
A poor man’s happiness is like/the big show that is Carnaval/we work all year long/for a moment to dream/and create a disguise/as a king, a pirate, or gardener/for all of it to end on (Ash) Wednesday
My friend and fellow Latin American observer Patrick McGuinness wrote last year about he has seen Rio de Janeiro (where Brazilian Carnaval is best known) change through the years. Part of the point he makes centers around the peculiar concept of “saudade”. As Patrick puts it, saudade is “about longing for the past and for places and people who have left or who are no longer with us”. It made me wonder how the requisite tristeza that comes with being Brazilian is changing now that Brazil is going through such good times.
The once and forever lampooned “Country of the Future” is finally seeing its future arriving. And, for better or for worse, it may be slowly putting to rest the popular imagination reflected in “A Felicidade” of what it means to be Brazilian.