The Life and Times of Baby

Below, a Time magazine article from 1950

“Of all the roughriding industrialists whose energy and daring have made Sāo Paulo one of the world’s fastest-growing cities, by far the most untrammeled is Francisco (“Baby”) Pignatari. At 33, Baby has already built an industrial empire worth some $25 million. In his spare time he has enjoyed life with a free-spending gusto that has won him the undisputed title of Brazil’s champion playboy.

Almost nightly, when Baby is in Sāo Paulo, his Cadillac pulls up outside a plush nightclub known as the Oasis. The Oasis’ bartender keeps a special highball glass ready with “Baby” etched on the side. There, not long ago, Baby used a whisky bottle to etch some less formal inscriptions on an uncooperative trombonist’s brow.

Whistle at the Door. After one Oasis evening, Baby and a brunette playgirl, roaring down a Sāo Paulo road at 70 miles an hour, veered away from an-unmarked excavation, slowed down with brakes screeching, then smacked into a telephone pole. Peering past the sedan’s crumpled nose, the girl complained: “The telephone pole is still standing.” Without a word Baby backed up, stepped on the gas and demolished both pole and Cadillac.

One night last week, while socialites gathered around the illicit green gaming tables of the recently reopened Quitan-dinha Hotel at Petropolis, Baby stepped to the door, blew a shrill blast on a police whistle. As the guests scampered out, Baby tipped his straw hat to them. Another time, when he visited New York, he booked a suite of eight rooms in a Park Avenue hotel, rang up various girl friends and gave a continuous house party.

But neither his pals, parties nor weekends—which have sometimes been spent overturning speedboats at Santos or buzzing a Beechcraft over apartment houses—seem to interfere with Baby’s business affairs.

His Italian-born father started him at 19 in the family metals plant in Sāo Paulo. Not long afterwards, the father died. Taking over the business, Baby resolved to build an industrial empire. He drove himself hard from 7:30 a.m. till the Oasis opened at night. He showed an extraordinary mechanical bent. He wore old clothes, worked in the shops, ate with the men. His war-booming Laminaçāo.ao Nacional de Matais grew into the largest non-ferrous rolling mill in South America, employing 20 times as many men and doing 40 times as much business as in his father’s day. Soon Baby was making the army’s machine guns, buying copper and bauxite mines, opening retail stores to sell the pots & pans his factories made. When friends brought him their planes to repair, he began building light aircraft.

Experts in the Shop. By 1948, Baby was badly overexpanded. He hired U.S. experts from Westinghouse International to modernize his setup. They found that Baby had never had his books audited; he had simply poured his surplus into likely new enterprises, taking out his expenses as needed. The experts worked hard (and ran up some sizable expense accounts themselves) trying to reform the Pignatari operations. After a year, Baby kicked them out and took over again himself.

Last week, with a few new grey flecks in his crewcut hair, Baby was in Rio for a relaxing round of cabaret crawls and pre-carnival binges. Lounging in his suite at the Copacabana Palace, he boasted that business was better than ever now that the experts were gone. Actually, by slicing off a couple of his unprofitable enterprises, the U.S. advisers had done him a real service. His assets, he figured, were now higher than they had ever been. Said Baby: “1949 was a good year for me. Gross sales won’t be far from $25 million when the figures are added up.” Before he left Rio Baby hoped that $1,000,000 worth of new U.S. equipment would reach his Sāo Paulo brassworks, and that $2,000,000 would come through from Aluminium Ltd., of Canada. With the money he plans to open an aluminum smelter in Minas Gerais. – Time

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Elizeth Cardoso – Barracão do Zinco

I’m going to do it old-school today and present two songs by Elizeth Cardoso, an actress and one of the great divas of Brazilian bossa nova and samba who left us with 40-something albums of her work. The first song (Barracão do Zinco) was one of her biggest hits and the bonus is the second song (Naquela Mesa).

The Thirty Valérios – Brazilian ‘Photoshopping’ in 1901

The photographer Valério Vieira (1862-1941), in the beginning of the 20th century, performed a study in photo montages of his own image with many negatives in which he played every role. The result was “Os Trinta Valérios”, his self-portrait from 1901 – which won the silver metal in 1904 at the International Fair of Saint Louis, in the USA.

It seems that Brazilians were ‘photoshopping’ long before anyone else!

Juca Pato – The Politics of Humor


(His slogan: “Podia ser pior” – “It could be worse”)

Juca Pato was a creation of the cartoonist, illustrator, painter, historian and journalist Benedito Carneiro Bastos Barreto, known by his pseudonym Belmonte. From the 1920’s to the 1940’s, he had his satirical illustrations shown in the newspaper Folha da Noite (later called Folha da Manhã and now known as Folha de São Paulo). From the start of the 30’s and the coup d’etat led by Getúlio Vargas, the DIP (Dept. of Propaganda) prohibited Belmonte from critisizing the Brazilian government through the use of humor, something he had been doing quite successfully throughout the 1920’s (and which was ironically also temporarily prohibited in the current 2010 Presidential race in Brazil).


(Belmonte)

Belmonte’s signature caricature was Juca Pato and the only role that characterized protest for more than 20 years. Juca Pato was the voice of the non-conformists, of the ‘Zé Povinho que sempre paga o pato” (Joe Blow that always gets blamed for everything), he was the common citizen, the worker, the honest one, the tax payer. Juca was often perplexed and irritated at the cost of life, at bureaucracy, political corruption and the exploitation of the people.

The well-humored figure known as Juca Pato spoke the language of the people – he became the name of a race horse, brand of notebook, cigar, bleach, coffee and the unforgetable Juca Pato Bar, in downtown São Paulo, the meeting point for the bohemians of the city, mainly theater actors, radio personalities and soccer players. Back in the late twenties up until the 1940’s, one could ask popular opinion on the streets of São Paulo who best represented them and the answer was likely to be ‘Juca Pato’. I think it’s time Juca gets brought into the 21st century.

Short Documentary (in PT)
Article on Belmonte & Juca (in PT)
Archive of Belmonte texts (in PT)
Banning Political Humor in Brazil – Time

Alex Atala – Brazil’s Top Chef

He is seen as one of the most exciting chefs of his generation, and the first Brazilian chef to become well known outside his own country. Alex Atala is a mega-celebrity in Brazil, and his name there is a synonym for fine food.

He was a punk and a DJ, with tattoos and an irreverent attitude, working in a night club in São Paulo. He was restless, curious, and wanted to see the world. When he was 18 years old he saved a little money, sold his records and left his country to backpack through Europe. In Belgium, he first worked as a wall painter to survive, washed dishes in a restaurant, until he was convinced by a friend to enrol in a catering school. This was not a career choice, but an easy way to get a work permit. He never thought that this accidental choice would give his life a new direction! After graduating, Atala was in Italy, France, and in Belgium where he worked at Jean Pierre Bruneau’s Restaurant and with the legendary Chef Bernard Loiseau at the Cote D’Or Hotel. In 1994 he returned to Brazil with a solid foundation in French cuisine, and with a great desire to find his own culinary identity. He developed this identity in the following years after his return. In 1999 he opened the restaurant D.O.M. (an acronym for a Latin phrase meaning “God, the best and greatest”). Thus began a new era in the Brazilian Gastronomy. – Source (article by Luciana Bianchi)

There is a reason why Alex Atala’s D.O.M. is rated the top restaurant in São Paulo, Brazil and Latin America, year-after-year… and this year, D.O.M. is ranked #24 in the World by Restaurant Magazine. Alex now has a new restaurant in the same neighborhood in São Paulo. The restaurant is called Dalva e Dito, a culinary tribute to 100% Brazilian food.

More Info

Bloomberg article

The House that Soiled Books Built

“Benedito da Silva used to scour the dumps of Sao Paulo looking for anything of value. But after discovering an enormous volume of books that are destroyed every day he started his own collection and now, with the help of others, he is donating the discarded works to local schools and libraries.

In this first person account Bene talks about the ambitious project and what he hopes it will accomplish.”

Now let’s duplicate this program nationwide! Here’s more (in PT)

Mãe Menininha – Notable People

Born in 1894 and baptized as a Catholic as Maria Escolástica da Conceição Nazaré and in candomblé as Mãe Menininha do Gantois, she was the most respected mãe-de-santo (spiritual leader) of Bahia. Aside from having followers in the candomblé religion, by way of her spiritual powers and personal charisma, she managed to bring together people from many religions on her terreiro (gathering place for Afro-Brazilian religious festivities), including personalities such as Dorival Caymmi, Caetano Veloso, Tom Jobim, Antônio Carlos Magalhães and Vinícius de Moraes, all of which were known to only make important decisions after consulting her.

As the grandchild of African slaves from the Kekeré tribe of Nigeria and while still a child, she was chosen as a mãe-de-santo (or ialorixá in candomblé) by the candomblé saints from the terreiro of her great-grandmother, known as Axé La Masse. By 28 years old, she had reached the top of the religious hierarchy. Abiding by the rules and comanding the terreiro, known as Gantois, she earned much respect and acceptance within the candomblé religion and in others through her political power. Her merits also helped in the modernization of candomblé: even opening doors to members of and people from other cults and religions and at the same time, not allowing space for folkloric nor touristic exploitation. A model of vitality and good will, she streamlined the activities of the terreiro with the family and all the while, doing acts of charity.

Below, one can see a song about her which Dorival wrote in the 1970s, being sung by Caetano and Maria Bethânia, accompanied by their mother, Dona Canô, and Mariene de Castro.


Lyrics (in PT)

The Song of Exile – Gonçalves Dias

The Song of Exile
by Antônio Gonçalves Dias
translated by Nelson Ascher

My homeland has many palm-trees
and the thrush-song fills its air;
no bird here can sing as well
as the birds sing over there.

We have fields more full of flowers
and a starrier sky above,
we have woods more full of life
and a life more full of love.

Lonely night-time meditations
please me more when I am there;
my homeland has many palm-trees
and the thrush-song fills its air.

Such delights as my land offers
Are not found here nor elsewhere;
lonely night-time meditations
please me more when I am there;
My homeland has many palm-trees
and the thrush-song fills its air.

Don’t allow me, God, to die
without getting back to where
I belong, without enjoying
the delights found only there,
without seeing all those palm-trees,
hearing thrush-songs fill the air.

The original can be found here and the translation above is here.

Antônio Gonçalves Dias

Antônio (born in the state of Maranhão) was a Brazilian poet. A respected ethnologist and scholar, he lived much of the time abroad but drowned at age 41 on his way back to Maranhão. His songs, collected in First Poems (1847), More Poems (1848), and Last Poems (1851), which display both exuberance and longing, are a celebration of the New World as a tropical paradise and a glorification of the indigenous people. While in Europe, he wrote a dictionary of the Tupi language. His “Song of Exile” (Canção do Exílio, 1843) is known to every Brazilian schoolchild, and he is regarded as the national poet of Brazil.

Fernanda Young – Don’t irritate her

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Fernanda Young is an intelligent Brazilian author, scriptwriter, actress and television presenter. She was born in Níteroi and never really finished school even though she attended various universities. She is most well-known as a scriptwriter and more recently, as a television presenter. Her works have included successes such as the TV show and movie Os Normais, the series A Minha Nada Mole Vida, the talk shows Saia Justa and Irritando Fernanda Young. In the latter, she presents a show where she discusses all the things that irritate her and asks her guests to discuss the same things. During the show, a number of irritating interuptions occur, some of which are funny and others only a little. Considering the theme of the show, she does a good job conveying irritation. Click the numbers to see part 1, part 2 and part 3 of the episode (in PT) with actor Luiz Fernando Guimarães.

You can find some excerpts from her fifth book O Efeito Urano here (in PT).