INTRODUCTION
Around the worlds, our legend. Even if we never learn it. I will teach you to make
lacework. What more can I teach you? I have no other talents. I know only how to
give life a vain intrigue. Caetano Veloso, “Tenda”
At home in São Paulo, we turn on the tele vi sion set. A portentous pundit
ensconced in an abc studio1 stares xedly at the camera and inquires,
“Have you ever seen a nordestino reach over ve and a half feet in height?
Or perhaps an intelligent one?”2 Of course, this pundit is himself barely
ve and a half feet tall and also holds himself the judge of what intelli-
gence is. Is there an implied connection between height and intelligence?
We change the channel. In some unidentifi ed northeastern city,
the June festivals are underway.3 Two metropolitan humorists enter
the crowd, searching for friends of the long- dead northeastern bandit
Antônio Silvino (1875– 1944). They spot an older man and buttonhole
him to wisecrack: “Old Antônio was a tough old goat, eh? Tell us all about
it!” Later, we see someone in a white robe impersonating Antônio Con-
selheiro,4 lending the preacher a goggle- eyed intensity as he jabbered
doomsday visions and brandished a large stick at passersby. Our hosts
also treat us to a group of blind women in colorful skirts singing tradi-
tional song, as well as a devout pro cession for Saint Antônio. Finally, and
incongruously, we see a modern- day Lampião and Maria Bonita running
through beachfront Rio de Janeiro, shooting at everyone, shooting every
which way, because there is indecency everywhere (and, presumably, they
really just love to shoot people).5
Let’s try another channel. The eve ning telenovela once again is set
in the Northeast, with an anonymous yet instantly recognizable interior
city, stock types such as the col o nel (local ranch boss and power broker)
and the bible- clasping priest, as well as gunshots, mules, and so on.
Everyone speaks in “nordestino,” a distinct accent and dialect supposedly
characteristic of the region and almost impenetrable to those outside
it, based on archaic colonial Portuguese and spiced with curious slang.
Scriptwriters rely heavily on folkloric dictionaries.
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