Reinventing Brazil
Laura P.Z. Izarra



Representing as it does the ideology of an essentially agrarian country, and associated with the colonial system of mercantile capitalism as being a colony for exploration/exploitation, verdeamarelismo does not disappear with modernism and its attendant processes of industrialisation and urbanisation, as Chauí effectively delineates. It will remain throughout cultural developments and will represent the bridge between the ideology of national character and that of national identity: 'If in the past the culture of ‘verdeamarelismo' corresponded to the celebratory self-image of the dominant classes, now it operates as imaginary compensation for the peripheral and subordinate condition of the country' (36), in regard to the Brazilian people. Racial democracy is maintained on the basis of a new image of the 'people' who are 'overall, on one hand, the bandeirante [6] or taming sertanista [7] of the territory and, on the other hand, the poor, that is, ‘the hard workers of Brazil'.' (38).

Durcan poetically represents these differences among the people, as in for example, the nine-year-old shoeshine boy, at Congonhas airport, wearing a t-shirt that reads 'Pacific Waves', or the popular wisdom of the native of São Paulo who says that: 'Life is a game of the hips' ('A vida é um jogo de cintura'). [8] The poet deconstructs the bridge between the 'national character' and the identity of the Brazilian people and questions the image that still lasts in relation to the devoted, honest, orderly and gentle family, where there are opportunities for all, as in the soccer myth.

In 'Recife Children's Project, 10 June 1995', the poet shows the determination of the governing social system that does not allow changes in the condition of marginalised people, when he mentions that the day care centre managed by Irish priest Frank Murphy was meant for children whose mothers worked on the streets as prostitutes because they had no other choice. Durcan ironically describes how the Irish priest from Wexford reproduced the Brazilian sign of 'everything's OK' with a thumbs-up gesture when he finished reciting the verses 'Rage for Order' by his fellow poet, Derek Mahon, and stated: 'This is what we do in Brazil.' The aesthetic power of the poetic discourse is completed when it crosses boundaries and associates religious work in the streets of Recife with Che Guevara:

Father Frank Murphy, Founder of the Recife Children's Project,

Thirty years working in the streets of Recife,

For whom poetry is reality, reality poetry,

Who does not carry a gun,

Who does not prattle about politics or religion,

Whose sign is the thumbs-up sign of Brazil,

Who puts his hand on your shoulder saying

'This is what we do in Brazil.'

Che? Frank!

No icon he –

Revolutionary hero of the twentieth century. (16)

Racism and discrimination continue to be erased in the present system as an effect of the founding myth; and due to this, Marilena Chauí finishes her book, at a time when the country is to commemorate its 500 years of existence, with the question 'Celebrate?, is there in fact anything to celebrate?' She affirms that Brazilian society still retains the marks left by the era of the colonial slave society with its highly hierarchical structure, where 'social and inter-subjective relations always occur in relation to a superior person, who commands, and an inferior person, who obeys' (89). In the poem 'Fernando's Wheelbarrows, Copacabana', Durcan recovers the asymmetries of invisibility and rearranges them using the aesthetic power of irony:

Fernando's forebears were slaves from Senegal.

Fernando is a free man, proudest of the proud.


I have requested that Fernando

Be my guide in Copacabana:

My guide, my governor, my master. (20)

Nevertheless, such inverted hierarchy is just an illusion.


I rejoice in the remote way Fernando shakes my hand.

I rejoice in the comotose stars of Fernando's eyes.

I rejoice in the reticence of Fernando's laughter. (20)

All the naturalised portrayals of people as generous, happy and sensual, even in times of suffering, are nullified by the climax of the poem when the major 'silenced' differences feed a utopian desire to emigrate, to escape from misery, 'to make it in America', but the destiny is North America: Phoenix, Arizona.

The only time Fernando breaks his silence

Is at the midpoint of our giro;

Fernando reveals to me his dream

Of emigrating to Phoenix, Arizona.

Fernando has a young wife and children.

He explains by means of his hands

And by two words – Phoenix, Arizona.

His hands with rhetorical ebullience exhort:

Phoenix, Arizona is the good life! (21)

Sport, the third element of the verdeamarelismo cultural tripod, is deconstructed in the poem after which the book is named, 'Greetings to Our Friends in Brazil'. Durcan describes a certain Sunday that could be any ordinary Sunday were it not for an invitation received from his friend Father Patrick O'Brien to watch the Irish football finals between counties Mayo and Kerry. The iconic nature of sport as a symbol for the Brazilian people, unleashed a process of superimposition of two or more cultures when Durcan transcribes in a poetic way the comments made by the [Irish] reporter during the final minutes of the game, 'We haven't had time to send greetings to our friends in Brazil / Proinnsias O Murchu and Rugierio da Costa e Silva'. This greeting bears the hallmark of the popular Brazilian sport, here identified with the Gaelic football finals. The translational effect (Bhabha) of the greeting unites both sports transforming them into a global myth. Durcan, however, in the process of appropriating the myth, debases its intrinsic value and, ironically, the national sport that saves a subservient people from anonymity, is transformed into the last resource of someone in a state of psychological depression who confronts the meaning of life through the smile of an indigent woman, to whom he gives a lift on his way back home:

For the remaining nine miles I held on to the driving wheel

As if it were the microphone on the bridge of a ship going down;

Going over the tops of the crests of the blanket bogs;

Navigating Bunnacurry, Gowlawaum, Bogach Bawn;

Muttering as if my life depended on it:

Greetings to our friends in Brazil.(10)

The local routes taken on that Sunday intersect the paths of memory that give life to 'others' - to strangeness or the uncanny - throughout the poem; for example, the German soldier who used to live in a house on Achill Island, now his own home; or, George Steiner's autobiography read by the friend who lent him his book Jerome. The references to deserted places such as the Sahara, Siberia and Gobi appear side-by-side with the same landscapes of the West Coast of Ireland (Bunnacurry, Gowlawaum, Bogach Bawn), that open up other paths for his interior journey, evoking genocides, ethnic cleansings, improvidences, and exegesis of the word mercy that leads him to pray at the end of the poem 'Greetings to our friends in Brazil': ('Let me pray/Greetings to our friends in Brazil').

Boland analyses this poem and concludes that Durcan proposes a global human experience instead of an insular one when he writes about different cultures. He believes that this overlapping of experiences is the global vision of the poet that brings together diverse experiences 'through a shared history of conflict, suffering, and, potentially, friendship' (126). However, I suggest that Durcan in fact transcends this polarity of the local and the global by means of an aesthetics of simultaneity of space and time, disrupting the paradigms of linearity and logical processes of thought. The centrifugal and centripetal movements of his creative mind reflect a process of expansion of the poetic consciousness, of a vision that goes beyond the global experience and promotes a surreal experience of the quotidian, of the daily life of the universe, of a journey through unknown geographic spaces that provoke the `transcendence' of experiences of the place of origin, and the realisation of distant roots.


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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2006

Online published: 1 July 2006
Edited: 07 May 2009

Izarra, Laura, '
Reinventing Brazil: New Readings and Renewal in the Narratives of Irish Travellers' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" Vol. 4 N° 3 (July 2006). Available online (, accessed .


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