Swan Song


I must confess, while searching for inspiration, I came across a delightful piece by David Brooks about the deeper meaning of Passover — deeper than the feeling and desire for freedom: The willingness to overcome fear, according to Brooks, through “kissing, storytelling and singing” (loose interpretation).

I’m a fan of David Brooks, the NY Times Op-Ed columnist. Another confession, I even have a sort of crush on him. The other day on TV he said he was divorced, lonely, and looking for a partner. Temptation! Alan had better watch out! He’s safe, of course, until I get my Green Card. After all, as you already know, it’s the only reason for putting up with my American husband for over ten years — long term planning, if you know what I mean. There! I said it!

This upcoming Green Card will represent a further step towards a greater freedom, don’t ask me why, or how, perhaps allowing me to be here or there, according to the tide, to the meandering politics and economics of each of “my” countries — Brazil and the US.

One of the things I most appreciate in the US is the idea of a pluralistic society. The other day, while waiting to be fingerprinted for the American identification system, I saw a USCIS official video, informing me that no one should be subject to discrimination due to their looks, origin or accent (watch out, Alan!). Providing they have a work permit and permanent residency, of course — it’s not as simple as it seems. This would include, for example, the ease of keeping Jewish traditions — and Chinese, and Vietnamese and Mexican traditions, among others, all on the same supermarket’s shelf under the label “Ethnic food.”

In Petropolis, where I lived for 6 years, there is no matzo available. One is literally forced either to drive 80 miles down the hill to Rio or putting one’s hands in the dough, literally — what I’ve done for the last two years. It was kind of fun, but here in the US matzos is tastier, and effortless. After all, did we come here to eat or to make Alan happier?

It’s really cool to be a Jew in the US; just between us, no offense, a good portion of the American intelligentsia, mainly in New York, is composed of Jewish intellectuals, such as David Brooks. Ok, I admit it, I’m totally shameless today. Maybe it’s due to Passover’s bravery, or wine, although I haven’t started drinking yet, I’m just stumbling through writing for now. Back to New Yorkers, they’ve even got some Yiddish words incorporated into the local, even national parlance, such as schmuck (idiot) and kvetch (complain).

On the other hand, I mean, in my neck of the woods, it’s been the first time in many years that I’ve passed Passover in full bloom — no pun intended, not even mentioning the word “Pesach”, Hebrew for “passage” (from a hard life to one even harder, although with some hope of improving). And I can finally associate the traditional cleansing of chametz with the heralded “spring cleaning”— and all its promotions on Amazon.

Chametz, for those who are not aware, is all the foods forbidden to Jews during Passover; throughout the week, we’re only allowed to eat matzo, a kind of unleavened, unsalted, almost tasteless, cracker-like bread with little holes, that is milled to produce the matzo flour used in all other recipes. Get it? I know. It’s not easy. Even Alan, the know-it-all, did not know, for instance, that it’s traditional to gather the leftover chametz and “sell it” on the cheap to a non-Jew, who can enjoy it with no ideological limitations — although I threw ours out, naturally.

Another thing I found fascinating was a text in the same NY Times where some girl comments how Passover traditions influenced her throughout her life. And it truly moved me to realize that the Jewish flock, scattered around the world since the exile from Babylon — that, by the way, became present day Iraq — keeps the same recipes wherever they are; recipes for life, recipes for food. Even in locations where you must improvise; what could be as hard as putting up a stock of bread overnight — enough to last for 40 years?

Ok, nobody figured that crossing the desert under the leadership of Moses and the protection of Adonai — “Our Lord” — would take that long (or that keeping the Promised Land so arduously conquered would be so hard). 40 years! The meditation of Jesus only lasted 40 days!

As to the rising insecurity issues that trouble us daily, I decided not to mention them. Moving to another country is much more painful than people admit, almost like plastic surgery, for example. Nobody tells you how bad it hurts, how it keeps you bruised for weeks, months, years, an entire life when it comes to exile — even a voluntary one, motivated by a subtle feeling neither expressed nor understood; as the intuited affliction that catapulted us out of Brazil on Election Day. Who could imagine it would get this bad?

Fine. Now I contradicted myself. The truth is, the adventure of immigration (for me), firstly motivated by Alan’s desire for comfort and family, after ten years (wasted?) in a foreign country, ended up being a life-saver (for us), no plan intended. Although we’re not that safe, I mean, from all the threats contemporary life kindly offers — nothing new under the sun.

This week, for example, I had to explain a joke in English about the nuclear agreement, go figure; and despite all my fear of never again being able to linguistically improvise, or to be witty without translating each thought, I started, automatically, to improve my skills in English. Alan even paid me a compliment the other day: “Look, this columnist is saying exactly what you wrote in your cronica last week!”

Ok. I’m not so comfortable to confess that, in spite of all of my efforts, I’m still unable to find a better translation than “essay,” or “chronicle,” to describe my beloved craft during these past few years: writing cronicas — a Rio de Janeiro tradition best performed by mineiros, writers from Minas Gerais, oh, my, how to translate that? Something like a Californian tradition best rendered by Iowans… so to speak. It gets much worse in my case, as I consider a frustrating and almost impossible task: I used to dream of being published in O Globo — and I was once, by the way, on the front page. Now, I aspire to the unattainable and much more sophisticated NY Times.

My only hope is to sing all these troubles away.

Have a great Sunday, folks!


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