I thought I was leaving for Brazil on October 10th. But I had trouble getting my visa—for reasons too complicated and too boring to explain— and I’ve been stuck in Los Angeles. After three long weeks, my passport finally came in the mail, and I’m hoping to be in Fortaleza by next week. So for my first blog entry, I figured I’d tell you a little bit about myself and my relationship with Brazil and the state of Ceará.
Each of my family members has deep connections to Brazil. If I wanted to, I could start the family history about forty years ago—when the Silvers’ love affair with the land of Pelé, Xuxa, and Lula began—but instead I’ll just clarify that my parents aren’t Brazilian. My brother, who is a Brazilian citizen by birth, married a woman from Ceará this past summer.
I decided about a year ago that their Brazilian wedding (they had two: a small Jewish one in Arizona and a medium-sized Catholic one in Ceará) would provide the basis for a chapter of my dissertation. It probably won’t, but it will be the subject of the rest of this blog post.
They got married in June during the festas juninas, the June festivals, a period that’s become a symbol of the Brazilian Northeast. Even though the three holidays, São Pedro (St. Peter’s Day), Santo Antônio (St. Anthony’s Day), and São João (St. John’s Day), were once Catholic holidays, they’re now generally secular holidays where people drink, dance, and dress up in hickface. In the big cities throughout the Northeast, the festas juninas poke fun at rural backwardness. In the Southeast, the festas juninas poke fun at the Northeast. People roast corn over bonfires and eat a sticky cake made of cornmeal. Women paint freckles on their faces, tie their hair in pigtails, and wear patchwork skirts, outfits more reminiscent of Dorothy from Kansas than any Brazilian I’ve met, while the men wear straw hats and plaid shirts and blacken their teeth. Bands fill the cities with forró music, a jaunty rhythm played on the accordion, triangle, and zabumba bass drum, and couples do the typical side-to-side shuffle, described in a 2006 New York Times article as “a dance that is at once sensual and herky-jerky, a combination that could have emerged only from Brazilian cowboy culture.” In plazas, performing ensembles spend the month of June competing with elaborate square dances, accompanied by a forró trio. Quadrilhas, as these dance routines are known, come from an upper-class French tradition, but are danced in Brazil as part of this pseudo-celebration of rural poverty. Most quadrilhas include the reenactment of a wedding. A man in a top hat and a woman in a white dress dance through the aisle of brightly costumed square dancers. They’re sometimes met by a man in a priest costume who marries them, and then the music and dancers join in.
My brother and his wife planned a wedding within a wedding. They invited a quadrilha to perform after the ceremony. They asked a forró trio to play. Their wedding melded the ceremony with a typical São João party, an unheard of combination in Orós, my sister-in-law’s hometown, famous for its reservoir—once Brazil’s biggest—and for a well-known singer named Raimundo Fagner who grew up there and mentions the town whenever he wants some rural cred. With the quadrilha and the possibility of hickface costumes, I expected it to be life imitating art imitating life. Or something to that effect. A wedding that included a reenactment of a wedding, and a party of rural townspeople dressed up as urban stereotypes of rural townspeople. It was sure to be rich.
But when June came, the wedding was simply beautiful. It offered my sister-in-law’s family an opportunity to share their local traditions with foreign guests. During the day, her family took us to the dam and on a boat ride around the impressive reservoir. We ate lunch at a restaurant surrounded by banana trees and farmland, and we dined on a hearty peixada, a fish stew. The wedding, held at a community center supported by the musician Fagner, was a huge success, and I heard people in Orós call it the “wedding of the year.” The forró trio kept me captivated and smiley. The quadrilha dancers got my parents and their friends out on the dance floor. And the flowing caipirinhas, the official mixed drink of Brazil, the endless grilled steak and chicken hearts, and the sweet cornmeal wedding cake helped me forget about any lingering desire to view my brother’s wedding through the lens of social theory. I’ll save that for this coming year.
Here’s a slideshow of some of my photos from the wedding and of Orós.