10 September 2012
The Obligatory Mention
No question but that nowadays Mark and I are very alert to any mention of Brazil in movies, books or magazines, or in any other medium, since Brazil is now our personal reality show. Maybe if we lived in Thailand we'd be sensitive to all the references to that country ("Hey, Mark, The King & I is on TV again.") But let's face it, what we've come to call the "Obligatory Mention" of Brazil is so pervasive that half the time most people don't know it's there. Walk into any restaurant in New York, Los Angeles, Vienna or Tokyo and I promise you, you're likely to hear Bossa Nova playing in the background. You may not know that's what you're listening to, but it is. After all, Bossa Nova is great dinner music. It's also great elevator music, and you've heard it there, too, many times.
We've lost count of the number of times we're watching a movie and there's a sudden, unexpected mention of Brazil. A few months ago we were watching Alain Resnais's La Guerre est Finie, a movie set in France and Spain, with lots of talk about Italy. I was dozing off when out of nowhere came the throwaway line, "Bill's going to Brazil." Mark and I looked at each other in solemn acknowledgment of the Obligatory Mention. And just last week we were watching Howard Hawkes's To Have and Have Not. At one point, Lauren Bacall's character, "Slim," explains how she washed up on the shores of Martinique into the arms of Humphrey Bogart. She lists one, two, three countries before pausing dramatically . . . here it comes . . . "and before that I spent a few months in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil."
Read Annie Proulx's Shipping News and you'll find one of the characters at the end of the book say, "No, I've decided to smile, forget and fly to Brazil. Warm. No fog . . . balmy breezes." In Chester Himes's All Shot Up, a detective potboiler set in 1950s Harlem, a character who has to get out of town fast follows the usual route in such cases: "At eleven o'clock that morning Roman Hill shipped out on a cargo vessel bound for Rio de Janeiro." Here's a more subtle reference, in Tony Parsons's Man and Wife: "She seemed to be in high spirits, blasting a plastic football . . . claiming against all the evidence that she was Pele." And then there's a strange, if not wholly incorrect, reference in Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire: "Matilda is a hurricane that formed off Brazil a few weeks ago." Gee, when was the last time any hurricane formed off the coast of Brazil? For that matter, when was the first time? A second reference in the same book ran truer to form: "‘Maybe he got on a plane to Brazil after shooting two people in Enskede,' Bublanski said." (By the way, there's a recurrent theme here, the Escape to Brazil after Committing a Crime, and I'll be talking about it in a future blogpost.)
There was a great Obligatory Mention in an August 28th Op-Ed piece in The New York Times by David Brooks, titled "The Real Romney." With delightful irony Brooks wrote, "Mitt grew up in a modest family. His father had an auto body shop called the American Motors Corporation, and his mother owned a small piece of land, Brazil." But my current favorite Obligatory Mention came on the last night of the Democratic National Convention. Thirty minutes into President Obama's acceptance speech the cameras panned the audience and stopped on a woman carrying a huge sign proclaiming: "Brazilian-Americans for Obama." That's not just an Obligatory Mention, that's plain smart.