Elections and Carnival

KEENE, NH - FEBRUARY 02: Audience members cheer for Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at a "Get Out the Vote" rally at the Colonial Theater on February 2, 2016 in Keene, Sanders is in New Hampshire campaigning ahead of the state's primary on February 9. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images

In Brazil, it is common knowledge that the year only starts once Carnival is over. Or maybe a little after that, why not extend the “grace” period until the following Monday, right?

True. Brazilians in general love Carnival, the holiday, the Samba in the streets, the drinking, the proverbially liberated love-making. Even those who don’t like Carnival so much actually love it, because of the opportunity to escape anything that you hate for a whole week, regardless of the consequences.

So Tuesday night, while watching the victory speeches from New Hampshire primary — let’s face it, even the defeated candidates delivered “victory speeches,” so to speak — an insight hit me: Americans love election time just as much as Brazilians love Carnival. I couldn’t help comparing the jumping crowds in New Hampshire to the exhilarating ones 4,000 miles away.

With very few exceptions, such as the outstanding holiday I had once, when I enjoyed Carnival in Salvador, Bahia, with all its passion and nuance — which, on the spicy side, included the sexual pleasure highly ill-advised this year, due to the Zika threat — I’m not the Carnival type, never was. Especially now, when something deep is morphing inside me.

I was never the type to get carried away by national pride either. And I shouldn’t confess, all right, but maybe this happened because I long lived in a country where there is too little to be proud of, and diminishing. Better leave this for later.

Therefore, I was taken by surprise on Sunday night, when, just for the fun of the opening show — I apologize for being such a bore, but I’m definitely not a big fan of sports, sorry, folks — I was watching the Super Bowl on TV, while in my faraway homeland the best Samba Schools were parading for the annual prize.

It was Super Bowl 50, a landmark. And although as a foreigner I can’t understand football at all, I could very well fathom the emotion that hovered over the crowded stadium, the perfectly choreographed performances, culminating in a much more mainstream-than-usual Lady Gaga dressed in red, singing the national anthem — the pride, the devotion overwhelmingly expressed by hands over chests and teary eyes.

Mine included. Yes, that’s correct. When I came to my senses, I was standing deeply moved in a corner of the room, on the verge of tears for a land (and a game) that is not yet mine.

What was going on? How weird was that?

Honestly, I have never experienced this “patriotic” feeling, not even close. As a Brazilian writer, I have developed a kind of “defensive” style, rarely understandable abroad, always ironic, looking for the pun and for the detestable traits, in order to avoid possible, probable disappointment. Maybe this approach is a kind of superstition to keep failure at bay, I don’t know, not that it could ever work. What I do know is that my fellow Brazilians cultivate a self-mocking style, an internal certainty that, although our country is very cool, it is very doomed as well. In Brazil, everything that can go wrong will certainly go wrong, and if it’s doing pretty well at some point, it will surely break down in the near future.

And so it did this time, voilà, a time which appears to be worse than ever in the course of my lifetime, and I’m fortunate enough to be out of there.

Nothing is that simple, of course. Every exile knows that nostalgia is part of the game, and to be away does not protect you from the possible shame caused by so many disasters at once.

And yet, at some point your psyche starts to change.

I’ve always seen myself as a political being, and for a writer, especially for a Brazilian writer, it is far more inspiring to be in the opposition — on the kvetch side, if you know what I mean. Except that the kvetch side has grown too wide, embracing a large percentage of the population — social media being the kvetch media par excellence. But for a political being, for whom politics speaks much louder than any Samba song, the American election season is a veritable feast.

And here I am, taking joy in all these empty speeches, passionate rallies, mobile crowds, even if I cannot truly feel what they feel, get what they get, vote like they do. I’m infected to the point of convincing myself that all these hours in front of the television, listening to the endless discussions and the changing opinions of the so-called “pundits,” will help me improve my English once and for all. At least, I seem to have learned enough to point out the mistakes they make on the air and laugh out loud:

“Alan, why do these enlightened people make so many mistakes in English? What a difficult language, my God! Even the best cannot speak it properly!”

If it’s any consolation, a good laugh. And that too shall pass.

Different from well-informed Brazilians, who daily exercise their national — albeit well-justified — contempt, Americans in general are very outspoken when it comes to the love of their country. And let me tell you: This feels really good, and very unique from a foreigner’s point-of-view.

Well, maybe I’m really morphing, after all. And guess what: I’m now living in a place where the democratic game appears to be the local Carnival, a most appreciated show. It lasts much more than an extended four-day weekend, almost a whole year, the last in a four-year period. And even if the work never stops here, and the holidays are scarce, it is a lot of fun, indeed. Notwithstanding its very serious consequences.

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