Some Festal Food For Thought


Near the end of the talk I had with Cliff and Yarrow a few weeks ago about the Carnaval tradition, they’d said some really good things that, reluctantly, I decided to leave out of the final edit for reasons of continuity with the talk as a whole. I regretted not being able to find a way to include those words in the transcription of the interview, but they are so worth putting out there for your consideration and so well articulated, I thought I’d just post them up as sort of a standalone commentary on society, festal culture, and the celebratory life. Enjoy!

We’d been winding down the discussion of Carnaval with Yarrow showing us a video clip on her phone-cam of a parade she attended during her recent stay in Bahia earlier this year (they seem to have parades and festivals almost non-stop over there), and we pick up the last part of our conversation in progress with some comparisons between approaches to Life here in the States and in Brazil.




Yarrow: What I realized is that people wanted to parade. They didn’t want to just stop and play music and have people gather around and watch. It’s like they want to parade.

Cliff: They want to walk together.

Yarrow: They want to walk together.

jhon: They’re not just spectators, they’re participators.

Yarrow: Right, yeah. And also that it takes a lot of endurance. These people have endurance. It’s like, oh my god, how can you do it?! They’re singing, and marching along…..

Cliff: I actually think the physical endurance part of it is another hurdle to get over.

jhon: What do you attribute that endurance to, though? You can say it’s a cultural thing, but what does that really mean? What’s the difference between here and there?

Cliff: It means people get up there and they walk. There, they engage themselves physically to a degree that we’re not even used to.

Yarrow: It’s true. I was using the city buses, and still, they don’t just drop you off in front of where you need to go. I did a lot of walking. And I feel like people in general there are just more active. They’re a festival culture, and whatever that means, I don’t know, but one aspect of it means that you’re up for it, it’s part of what you do. Like me with the dance class, it’s like, I’m going to go for it.

One thing I felt this morning was apathy kind of coming in a little. Something I experienced in Brazil was this shift, and I don’t think I knew it til I got back. But this morning I could feel this apathy and hopelessness. And I think the culture (here in the States) has that, and I need to personally choose to not be in that, and then if I feel it in the culture, I don’t need to take it on. There’s just not the same kind of apathy there.

Cliff: They know what the medicine is for that. They know what the antidote is for that. And even though there’s lots of personal expressions of it, like we could be in the same family, and you would go to an evangelistic church and I would go to a terreiro and practice Candomble; completely accepted, it doesn’t matter. We know that there’s a medicine that connects us.

jhon: And they don’t buy that medicine, they create it themselves.

Cliff: They know in a way that we don’t. I think we might be in a place right now where we’re moving as a culture toward the possibility of getting to things like that, of understanding our responsibility for creating that.

Yarrow: And I don’t want to idealize it, I’m sure there’s plenty of apathy in Brazil. But there’s just….

jhon: A different lifestyle, and that’s what makes the difference?

Yarrow: Sure.

Cliff: In Brazil, the Caribbean, there’s a physicality and a sense that there’s always a possibility to celebrate in the body. I mean, whether most people here would consciously know it, we’re pretty repressed.

Yarrow: Yeah, imagine if we started singing right now (we’re in the middle of a coffee house –jhon). People would just stop and look.

Cliff: Whereas there, someone might join you. And that’s not blowing the place up, that is what it’s like.

Yarrow: It is what it’s like!

Cliff: We had our minds blown by going to Brazil Camp, which happens up in northern California over the summer. And one of the things that I, at least, realized, was how much of a wimp I am when it comes to being a party animal. Because the Brazillians there at Brazil Camp, dude, at four o’clock in the morning, they’re still, “jeh-jeh-jeh, jeh-jeh-jehjeh (Cliff’s making party/dancing sounds and gestures). And the rest of us are like, “It’s 10 o’clock, man, I gotta go to sleep”….(laughs).

So you know, I think that everything that you want to do well, requires practice. And I think there are many cultures that practice the art of celebration. They have those muscles.

Yarrow: That’s very right on. Right on!

Cliff: And we can do that, too. We can become one of those.

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