“Viena fica na 28 de Setembro” & “Tempos do onça e da fera (Quarador)”

Lyrics from “Viena fica na 28 de Setembro” by Aldir Blanc and João Bosco (1982)

Morre a luz da noite // The evening’s light dies
O porre acende pra me iluminar // The liquor lights up to illuminate me
Numa outra cena…// In another scene…
Zune o vento e valsam os oitis // The wind howls and the oiti trees waltz
No velho boulevard // On the old boulevard
Bosques de viena! // The Vienna Woods!
Escrevo carta a uma desconhecida // I write a letter to some unknown woman
Com quem tive um flerte, um anjo azul…// With whom I had a little dalliance, a blue angel
Pobres balconistas de paquete // Poor saleswomen on the rag
de ar infeliz // with an air of discontentment
São novas Bovarys…// Are new Bovarys
Já perdi o expresso do oriente // I’ve missed the Orient Express
Onde sempre sou // Where I’m always
Vítima e assassino… // Victim and assassin
Tomo a carruagem e o cocheiro // I take a coach and the coachman
De tabela dois // On Table 2 (late-night fare)
Diz que é vascaíno… // Says he’s vascaíno
Ah, triste figura, don quixote // Ah, sorry character, Don Quixote
Quer mais um traçado // After another quest
– cadê o sancho? // — Where’s Sancho?
Dá pro santo, bebe, e o passado // He gives a little to the saint, drinks, and the past
Volta a desfilar // comes marching back
Pierrô de marcha-rancho: // Pierrot of a marcha-rancho:
Com as bronca do Ary Barroso, sem elas… // With Ary Barroso’s rebukes, without them
Com a bossa do Ciro Monteiro, sem ela… // With Ciro Monteiro’s bossa , without it
Com o copo cheio de Vinícius, sem ele…// With Vinicius’s full glass, without it
Com nervos de aço Lupicinio, sem eles…// With Lupicínio’s “nervos de aço,” without them
Com as mãos do Antonio Maria, sem elas…// With Antonio Maria’s hands, without them
Com a voz do Lamartine Babo, sem ela… // With Lamartine Babo’s voice, without it
Com a rosa Dolores Duran, sem ela…// With the rose Dolores Duran, without her
Com a majestade da Elis, sem ela…// With the majesty of Elis, without her

Lyrics from “Tempos do Onça e da Fera (Quarador)” by Aldir Blanc and João Bosco (1977)

Saindo pro trabalho de manhã // Leaving for work in the morning
o avô vestia o sol do quarador // The grandfather wore the sun of the quarador (bleaching ground)
tecido em goiabeiras, sabiás // woven in guava trees, song-thrushes
cigarras, vira-latas e um amor // cicadas, mutts, and a love
E o amor ia ao portão pra dar adeus // And the love would go to the gate to say goodbye
de pano na cabeça, espanador… // With a headscarf on, a feather duster…
Os netos.. o quintal… Vila Isabel // The grandchildren… the yard.. Vila Isabel
Todo o Brasil era sol, quarador // All of Brazil was sun, quarador
Hoje, acordei depois do meio-dia // Today I woke up after noon
chovia, passei mal no elevador // It was raining; I felt sick in the elevator
ouvi na rua as garras do Metrô // I heard the metro’s talons on the street below
O avô morreu // The grandfather died
Mudou Vila Isabel ou mudei eu? // Did Vila Isabel change or did I?
Tá em falta o honesto sol do quarador // We’re missing that honest sun of the quarador 

— Commentary —

Todo mundo é carioca. Mas Aldir Blanc é carioca mesmo.
Dorival Caymmi

Aldir Blanc at age seven in Vila Isabel.

rua-dos-artistas-e-arredores-de-aldir-blanc-557101-mlb20271391652_032015-fAldir Blanc was born in Estácio — one of Rio de Janeiro’s neighborhoods known as the “cradle of samba” — in 1946. When he was six*, his family moved to Vila Isabel (another “cradle of samba”) to a house on Rua dos Artistas. The yard of the new home provided a perfect natural playground for a young child, with its guava, orange and banana trees. These trees, and the sounds associated with them – like cicadas and song-thrushes (sabiás, the Brazilian national bird) – became an indelible part of the imagery of mid-19th-century Vila Isabel that Aldir passes on through his songs, poetry, and stories (crônicas).  Aldir weaves together the scenery, sounds, and slang from the era, elegantly recreating Rio’s Zona Norte of his childhood.

Vila Isabel was one of Rio de Janeiro’s first planned neighborhoods, laid out by the abolitionist Barão de Drummond in the early 1870s. (Drummond is better known for having created Brazil’s widely popular, albeit illegal, animal-based gambling game, Jogo do Bicho, to promote his new zoo in Vila Isabel.) The thoroughfare, named for the date in 1871 that Princesa Isabel decreed the Law of Free Birth,  earned the distinguished designation of “boulevard” because it was most painstakingly modeled after Parisian boulevards. In the song, the store clerks on the boulevard, like their French forebear Madame Bovary,  exude disappointment with their monotonous lives; nearby, oiti trees waltz, as if to Strauss’s famous “Tales from the Vienna Woods.” While Boulevard 28 de Setembro was lined with pau-ferro (“iron wood trees”) in 1910, oiti is another favorite native tree for urban arborization that was planted around Vila Isabel and surrounding Zona Norte neighborhoods in the beginning of the 20th century.

Aldir Blanc in a Vasco jersey.

Agatha Christie’s novel Murder on the Orient Express was first released in 1934, and the “victim and assassin” line makes reference to this mystery. I imagine that with Orient Express, Aldir is referring to the tram that ran in Vila Isabel until the mid-1960s, or the bus line.  Blanc, like the late-night coachman of the song, is vascaíno – a die-hard fan of Rio’s Vasco da Gama football team. To “give some to the saint” is a practice of pouring a little bit of alcohol on the ground before drinking. In this line, though in the translation it sounds as though he’s still talking about the coachman, here he actually seems (to me) to be back to talking about himself.

Closely associated with the melancholy pierrotthe marcha-rancho is a slower, more richly melodious style of Carnaval marcha that was most popular from the 1930s – 1950s. Aldir’s mention of the pierrot of a marcha-rancho sets the stage for the reminiscence that follows,  a wistful tribute to a series of beloved masters of Brazilian popular music of the 20th century who had passed away over the preceding 25 years, and who were known for the characteristics he mentions: Lupicínio’s famous song “Nervos de aço,” for instance, Vinicius’s full glass of spirits, and ultimately, Elis’s overwhelming majesty. The song was composed shortly after Elis Regina’s untimely death in January 1982, which had left Aldir stunned. The two had been devoted musical partners, but they’d recently had a falling out, of sorts. Aldir laments that he hadn’t properly gotten the chance to reconcile.

“Tempos do Onça e da Fera”

Example of a “quarador”, or bleaching ground. Sometimes clothes were laid on wire drying racks.

“Nos tempos do Onça” (in the days of the Jaguar) is an old-fashioned carioca way of saying a long, long time ago. The saying derived from references to the Portuguese administrator of Rio de Janeiro from 1725 – 1732, Luís Vaia Monteiro. Monteiro’s harsh, irascible nature earned him the nickname of the “onça,” or jaguar.

The quarador — also known as quaradouro or cuarador — was an especially sunny plot in the yard or courtyard where clothes were laid out to dry, and is usually referred to as a drying ground or bleaching ground in English.  Here Aldir recalls the quarador in his childhood home, where his dear grandfather’s shirts soaked up the “honest sun” of the olden days together with elements of the natural surroundings.

Aldir has said that by and large his lyrics and writings are built of the recollections of the little boy who lived in Vila Isabel, where he could hear Benedito Lacerda’s flute floating in from nearby, and where he was likely first enchanted by the sambas of his predecessor in the Vila, the “poet of the Vila” Noel Rosa. To this day, when asked to choose “the most beautiful song,” he gives a few responses – all by Noel Rosa.

These two songs clearly express Aldir’s love and pining for the neighborhood as it was in his early childhood, or even before. Aldir’s grandparents helped raise him — in part because his mother suffered from debilitating depression — and his close relationship with them may have helped him develop his rich repertoire of old-time sayings and manners of speaking, along with his robust sense of nostalgia.

For more on the Aldir Blanc – João Bosco partnership, see these posts.

* The ages that he lived in Vila Isabel change slightly in different accounts. In this recent interview with O Globo, he recalls that it was from ages 3 – 11. In A poesia de Aldir Blanc, Melodias e Letras Cifradas… he recalls that it was from ages 6 – 13.


“Bandalhismo” by Aldir Blanc and João Bosco, 1980

Meu coração tem butiquins imundos // My heart has squalid taverns
Antros de ronda, vinte-e-um, purrinha // Dives of ronda, blackjack, purrinha [pub games]
Onde trêmulas mãos de vagabundo // Where the trembling hands of vagabonds
Batucam samba-enredo na caixinha // Beat samba-enredos on matchboxes

Perdigoto, cascata, tosse, escarro // Splutter, swagger, cough, phlegm [also can mean a low-down person]
Um choro soluçante que não pára // A sobbing cry that doesn’t stop
Piada suja, bofetão na cara // Dirty joke, a blow to the face
E essa vontade de soltar um barro… // And that urge to take a dump

Como os pobres otários da Central // Like the poor suckers at Central Station
Já vomitei sem lenço e sonrisal // I’ve vomited without a handkerchief and antacid
o P.F. de rabada com agrião… // The P.F. (prato feito) of oxtail with watercress…

Mais amarelo do que arroz-de-forno // Paler than baked rice
Voltei pro lar, e em plena dor-de-corno // I went home, and in the heat of jealous passion
Quebrei o vídeo da televisão // I broke the television screen

— Interpretation —

João Bosco and Aldir Blanc
João Bosco and Aldir Blanc

“Bandalhismo” showcases poet-lyricist Aldir Blanc‘s refined literary side – and how it meshes with vulgarity and humor in his lyrics – and his exquisite portrayals of Rio de Janeiro’s carousing lower classes. The song is a revision of Augusto dos Anjos’ 1902 poem “Vandalismo” (Vandalism, translated below). The symbolist poem begins with “My heart has immense cathedrals” — which Blanc turned into “squalid taverns” — and ends with “I broke the image of my own dreams,” which Blanc twisted into “I broke the television screen.” Blanc deftly adapted Anjos’ sonnet – set in a bygone aristocratic Brazil – into a present-day, hair-raising depiction of a bum’s life at a bar, ending with a comment on the vulgar centrality of the television.

Bandalhismo comes from the word bandalho, which means screw-up or good-for-nothing; bandalhismo essentially refers to the goings-about of a bum.  The soft samba is the title track of João Bosco’s 1980 album, and includes a guest appearance by Paulinho da Viola.

prato feito – referred to in the song by its abbreviation, P.F. – is a generally cheap plate served at lower end restaurants and bars, with rice, beans, meat, salad and fries (with variations of course).

The poem:

“Vandalismo” by Augusto dos Anjos (1902)

Meu coração tem catedrais imensas // My heart has immense cathedrals
Templos de priscas e longínquas datas // Temples of Priscas and far-off dates
Onde um nume de amor, em serenatas // Where a numen of love, in serenades
Canta a aleluia virginal das crenças // Sings the virginal aleluya of beliefs

Na ogiva fúlgida e nas colunatas // In the shining ogive and in the collonade
Vertem lustrais irradiações intensas // Rush intense purificatory radiations
Cintilações de lâmpadas suspensas // The sparkling of hanging lamps
E as ametistas e os florões e as pratas // And the amethysts and finials and silvers

Como os velhos Templários medievais // Like the ancient medieval Templars
Entrei um dia nessas catedrais // I entered one of these cathedrals
E nesses templos claros e risonhos … // And in these temples bright and cheerful…

E erguendo os gládios e brandindo as hastas // And raising the swords and branding the spears
No desespero dos iconoclastas // In the desperation of the iconoclasts
Quebrei a imagem dos meus próprios sonhos! // I broke the image of my own dreams

Main source for this post: Masters of Contemporary Brazilian Song MPB 1965 – 1985, by Charles A. Perrone

“Fantasia” and “Catavento e Girassol”

Lyrics from “Fantasia” by Aldir Blanc and João Bosco

Olhando na quarta-feira as ruas vazias// On Wednesday, looking out on the empty streets
Com os garis dando um jeito em nossa moral// With the street-sweepers tidying up our dignity
Custei a compreender que fantasia//It took me a long time to understand that a costume [mask]
É um troço que o cara tira no carnaval//Is something a guy takes off during Carnival
E usa nos outros dias por toda a vida// And wears every other day in his life
Dizendo: “Olá! Como vai?” e coisas assim// Saying, “Hello! How are you?” and things like that
O nó da gravata apertando o pescoço// The knot of the tie choking his neck
Olhando o fundo do poço e rindo de mim//Gazing into the bottom of the barrel and laughing at myself
Ria, rasguei a fantasia, ria// I laughed, I tore up my mask, I laughed
Queimei a garantia, ria// I burned my throat, I laughed
Tô solto por aí// I’m on the loose
Doido, eu danço de Pierrot, triste// Mad, I dance as Pierrot, sad
Morrendo em meu amor, ria// Dying in my love, I laughed
Vendo você morrer de rir// Watching you die laughing

“Catavento e Girassol” by Aldir Blanc and Guinga (1993)

Meu catavento tem dentro // My pinwheel has inside it
o que há do lado de fora do teu girassol // What’s on the outside of your sunflower
Entre o escancaro e o contido // Between the boundless and the restrained
eu te pedi sustenido // I asked you for sharp
e você riu bemol // And you laughed flat
Você só pensa no espaço // You only think of the ether
eu exigi duração // I demanded duration
Eu sou um gato de subúrbio // I’m a cat from the outskirts
você é litorânea // You’re a coastal girl
Quando eu respeito os sinais // While I obey traffic lights
vejo você de patins vindo na contramão // I see you coming on skates, against traffic
mas quando ataco de macho // But when I come on as a tough guy
você se faz de capacho // You play the doormat
e não quer confusão // And don’t want any trouble.
Nenhum dos dois se entrega // Neither of us gives in
Nós não ouvimos conselho // We don’t listen to advice
eu sou você que se vai // I’m the you that’s sucked through
no sumidouro do espelho // The drain in the mirror

Eu sou do Engenho de Dentro // I’m from Engenho de Dentro [neighborhood]
e você vive no vento do Arpoador // And you live in the wind of Arpoador
Eu tenho um jeito arredio // I’m withdrawn by nature
e você é expansiva // And you’re expansive
(o inseto e a flor) // (The insect and the flower)
Um torce pra Mia Farrow // One sides with Mia Farrow
o outro é Woody Allen… // The other with Woody Allen
Quando assovio uma seresta // When I whistle a seresta
você dança, havaiana // You dance the Hawaiian hula

Eu vou de tênis e jeans // I go in sneakers and jeans
encontro você demais // And find you overdressed
scarpin, soirée… // Stilettos, evening gown
Quando o pau quebra na esquina // When we fight on the street corner
você ataca de fina // You put on airs
e me ofende em inglês // And insult me in English
é fuck you, bate-bronha // It’s ‘fuck you, screw off’
e ninguém mete o bedelho // And no one dares interfere
você sou eu que me vou // You’re the me that’s sucked through
no sumidouro do espelho // The drain in the mirror

A paz é feita no motel // We make peace in a motel
de alma lavada e passada // Souls washed and pressed
pra descobrir logo depois // Just to realize right after
que não serviu pra nada // That it was all for naught
Nos dias de carnaval // During Carnival
aumentam os desenganos // The disillusion grows deeper
você vai pra Parati // You go to Parati
e eu pro Cacique de Ramos // And I go to Cacique de Ramos (2x)

Meu catavento tem dentro // My pinwheel has inside it
o vento escancarado do Arpoador // The boundless wind of the Arpoador
Teu girassol tem de fora // Your sunflower has on the outside
o escondido do Engenho de Dentro // what’s hidden from the “Engenho de Dentro” [mill within]
da flor // the flower
Eu sinto muita saudade // I ache with saudade
você é contemporânea // You’re modern
eu penso em tudo quanto faço // I think carefully about everything I do
você é tão espontânea! // You’re so spontaneous!

Sei que um depende do outro // I know each depends on the other
só pra ser diferente // Just to be different
pra se completar // To complete one another
Sei que um se afasta do outro // I know we distance ourselves from one another
no sufoco somente pra se aproximar // During hard times, only to grow closer
Cê tem um jeito verde de ser // You have a green way of being
e eu sou meio vermelho // And I’m more red
mas os dois juntos se vão // But together we go
no sumidouro no espelho // Through the drain in the mirror

Aldir Blanc (L) with João Bosco, 1976.
Aldir Blanc (L) with João Bosco, 1976.
Aldir Blanc during Carnival at age 9, dressed in Chinese costume.
Aldir Blanc, Carnival, age 5: dressed as a bullfighter.

Aldir Blanc was born in Estácio neighborhood,  a samba hotbed in Rio de Janeiro named after the city’s founder, Estácio de Sá. In the same neighborhood just about 20 years before Aldir’s birth,  sambistas came up with the name “samba school” for their group, and the rhythm Ismael Silva defined as “bum bum paticumbum prugurundum” (samba that can be marched/danced along with in a Carnival bloco). Blanc grew up in another samba stronghold, on Rua dos Artistas in Vila Isabel – Tijuca, and became not only one of the most renowned lyricists in the history of Brazilian popular music, but also perhaps the city’s favorite cronista (a writer of short newspaper narratives about day-to-day life). His humorous tales portray Rio de Janeiro’s precious peculiarities  through characters he swears were exclusively based upon people he knew growing up– except Penteado, the character who makes the final joke at the end of the crônicas, weaving separate story lines together. One of Rio de Janeiro’s most traditional Carnival blocos took its name from Aldir’s character Esmeraldo Simpatia-é-Quase-Amor. Blanc is most well known for his songs written together with João Bosco, who was studying engineering in Ouro Preto in 1969 when Aldir’s friend Pedro Lourenço Gomes saw him play some of his compositions and suggested he partner with Aldir.

Aldir was surrounded by fragility growing up. He says his birth after 10 months of gestation and 24 hours of labor left his mother, Helena — known in his crônicas as “a formosa Helena” (the beautiful Helena) — with “permanent post-partum depression”: “She had pre-menstrual depression, menstrual depression, and post-menstrual depression. Not many days were left over.” Meanwhile, Aldir’s father, Alceu — called Ceceu Rico in Aldir’s literature — suffered from severe asthma, and Aldir too often found himself holding his father’s hand as they hoped for an ambulance to arrive in time. Likely largely in response to these circumstances, Aldir studied medicine and became a psychiatrist.

But these circumstances growing up also contributed to Aldir’s keen sense of observation and singular sense of humor, and he was always writing and composing. In his early 20s he started out as a percussionist; he cites the influence of bossa nova as an inspiration to learn more about harmony. In 1970 — just around the time he met João Bosco, who would become his inseparable musical partner for over ten years — Aldir Blanc and Sílvio da Silva Junior decided to give a chance to a two-year-old samba they’d written while on vacation in Paquetá, “Amigo é pra essas coisas.” They submitted the song to the Festival Internacional da Canção; it didn’t make the cut for the national phase of that festival, but it made it into the Festival Universitário, and was a sensation with the crowd, becoming Aldir Blanc’s first big hit.

João Bosco, L, and Aldir Blanc, late 1970s.
João Bosco, L, and Aldir Blanc, late 1970s.

In 1971, Elis Regina recorded a beautiful rendition of Aldir’s song “Ela” — composed with César Costa Filho — on her album by the same name. Meanwhile, Aldir was becoming a closer partner of João Bosco, and Elis Regina began to get first dibs on the pair’s songs; she released whichever songs she chose, and later on, in some cases, João Bosco released his rendition. Elis recorded 20 songs by the pair, including some of her (and their) biggest hits, like “Dois pra lá, dois pra cá,” “Mestre-Sala dos Mares,” and “O Bêbado e o Equilibrista.” (More on these songs in upcoming posts.)

Through 1973, Aldir was still a practicing psychiatrist, but in 1974, after the death of his newborn twins, Aldir abandoned medicine; he said if he couldn’t save his first-born children, he no longer wished to try to save anyone. Since then he has dedicated himself fully to writing and composing.

Moacyr Luz and Aldir Blanc discovered they lived in the same building on Rua Garibaldi, in Tijuca, in 1984. This made it very easy for them to compose together!
Moacyr Luz and Aldir Blanc discovered they lived in the same building on Rua Garibaldi, in Tijuca, in 1984; their physical proximity made it very easy for them to compose together.

Around 1980, Aldir and João Bosco had a falling out, though neither likes to comment on the matter. During the 1980s and 1990s, Aldir grew closer to Moacyr Luz, with whom he composed Saudades da Guanabara,  a gorgeous anthem to Rio de Janeiro, together with Paulo César Pinheiro, and the popular anthem to bohemian life, “Pra que pedir perdão?,” with the refrain, “Why ask for your forgiveness if I don’t even forgive myself?” He also began composing with the songwriter and virtuoso guitarist Guinga, with whom he composed the second song in this post, one of the most beautiful from the pair: “Catavento e Girassol.”

Main source for this post: Aldir Blanc: Resposta ao Tempo by Luiz Fernando Vianna, and the documentary Aldir Blanc: Dois pra lá, Dois pra cá.