Longe de casa

Lyrics from “Longe de casa” by Paulo Vanzolini and Eduardo Gudin

Good Audio Version (Dona Inah)

Far from home, I cry and want nothing
Because off his land, no one wants nor can do anything
I miss São Paulo, miss hearing, in the wee hours, low guitar strings
And a flute crying its choro notes like silver (repeat)

Pain from love doesn’t wound me
This longing for the drizzle is what kills me
And I go out on the street, whistling intently
An impassioned samba, that Silvio Caldas might sing
And I pretend the drizzle comes to wet my face
But it’s tears, and I cry so much
How I wish I could return today to that land that I love
Because far from home, I cry, and want nothing

— Interpretation —

Renowned sambista and zoologist Paulo Vanzolini. Photo via VejaSP.
Renowned sambista and zoologist Paulo Vanzolini. Photo via VejaSP.

Paulo Vanzolini (b. April 25, 1924) is such a renowned zoologist in Brazil that many people who know him from that field find it hard to believe he’s also the composer behind some of the country’s most beloved sambas. (Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello identify Vanzolini’s 1967 hit “Ronda” as, without a doubt, the most  frequently played song of the São Paulo night.) Similarly, fans of Vanzolini’s music who have little contact with the world of zoology are often unaware of his stature as a scientist. (Sixteen species, mostly reptiles and amphibians, carry his name.)

Vanzolini was born in São Paulo and spent most of his childhood and adolescence there, where his father, Carlos Alberto, was an engineering professor at the University of São Paulo.  When he was ten years old he made his first visit to the snake pits at USP’s biomedical research center, Instituto Butantan; fascinated, he began visiting three times a week to watch poisonous snakes being delivered in crates from all over Brazil. He memorized details about the snakes as they were being unloaded, and decided he wanted to work with reptiles.

Vanzolini in the lab. Photo via mpbnet.com.
Vanzolini in the lab. Photo via mpbnet.com.

Vanzolini’s father’s colleagues from the medical school convinced Paulo that if he wanted to study zoology, he should first study medicine. So he completed his medical degree in 1947, married in 1948, and  in 1949 he went to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to work toward his PhD at Harvard.

He recalls suffering intense culture shock at Harvard — a feeling that he’d “have to read two books at a time, one with each eye,” to catch up to his counterparts in Cambridge.  The dark, cold weather and often dreary surroundings were also a shock to him, and inspired him to write these verses one winter night there.

Vanzolini always preferred the field to the classroom. He spent decades collecting reptiles and amphibians for the University of São Paulo’s Museum of Zoology, where he was director from 1963 to 1993.

He has remarked that the great advantage of this career was that it allowed him to travel all over Brazil and foreign countries without having to spend his own money. He is proud to have covered more than eleven thousand miles of rivers in the Amazon on his research trips. And his collections benefited from his congeniality during the frequent stops on these boat trips: “I’d arrive and announce to the people:  ‘I’m buying little lizards, toads, and snakes!’ The price varied by region; that was a good strategy because it allowed me to be well-received by the locals. I bought their animals at an honorable price.”

But he clearly missed São Paulo when he was away. In the song, Vanzolini makes reference to São Paulo’s reputation as  a cidade da garoa – the city of drizzle – and to Silvio Caldas, one of Brazil’s most famous singers, who was at his height in the 1930s and 1940s. A flute crying “choro” is in reference to the musical style choro, or chorinho. The music for the song is by Eduardo Gudin.

At 88, Vanzolini still plays occasional shows around São Paulo. He is usually accompanied by his companion, Ana Bernardo, who does some of the singing while Vanzolini charms the crowd with his spirited storytelling. In spite of his small body of work – with fewer than fifty songs recorded – he is regarded, alongside Adoniran Barbosa, as one of São Paulo’s greatest sambistas.

Lyrics in Portuguese

Longe de casa eu choro e não quero nada
Pois fora do chão ninguém quer e não pode nada
Sinto falta de São Paulo
De escutar na madrugada
Uns bordões de violões
E uma flauta a chorar prata

Dor de amor não me magoa
A saudade da garoa é que me mata
E eu saio pra rua
Assobiando comprido
Um samba comovido
Que Sivio Caldas cantasse
E me iludo que a garoa
Vem molhar a minha face

Mas é pranto e choro tanto
Quem me dera que hoje mesmo
Eu voltasse pro chão que eu adoro
Pois longe de casa
Eu choro e não quero nada.

Unlinked source for this post: A Canção no Tempo: 85 Anos de Músicas Brasileiras, vol 2: 1958 – 1985, by Jairo Severiano and Zuza Homem de Mello

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