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Posted: August 16

Copacabana Rhythm

(Rio de Janeiro) The woman in charge of the visa desk in Brazil’s Rome embassy asked where I live when she saw my brand-new U.S. passport with no entrance stamps. When I replied that I live in Rome, she asked for my Italian “soggiorno” –the long-term residency permit. There she saw the words, “per motivo religioso” and became suspicious that I was trying to sneak into Brazil to do some public ministry or other business. She remained firmly suspicious as I explained that I wanted to go to Brazil to visit friends. Then I pointed out that everyone in Rome left the city during summer holidays. Still no change. Finally I delivered the clincher: “Wouldn’t you rather be in Rio than in Rome during August?”

Wham, bam! She stamped my application and sent it on the way. “Thank you,” I thought to myself a few days ago as I walked down a street near Copacabana Beach. Lots of people were strolling about in the deliciously cool evening air of what passes for winter in Rio. I was headed for a restaurant with several members of “Ora pela Arte” or Prayer through Art, a group that Fr. Casimiro Irala founded 31 years ago. Casimiro is a Jesuit musician I first met in Guadalajara, Mexico in the early 70s at an institute for Jesuit artists. In Rio he was helping several musicians from the group practice the hymns for a Mass they would sing for the group of Jesuits I came to meet. After the practice he invited me to accompany them to a restaurant.

The restaurant featured a selection of snacks typical of Rio, and it was a comfortable place to sit and talk in a mix of languages, mostly Spanish, but also Portuguese and English. All of the people at the table were involved in music as well as other arts, and the conversation touched a wide variety of topics. Although I find the nasal sounds of many Portuguese words difficult to understand, an interest in art provided a language that we all shared. Of course, the beer helped a bit, but our common interest brought people from such different backgrounds together.

Earlier in the evening I took many photographs of the music practice but quit after awhile because the rhythm of the music was too inviting to ignore. I found myself wishing that I had my mandolin with me because it blends so well with a guitar. Without a mandolin I took off my sandals and used them to clap out a rhythm. Bia Gross, one of the singers, noticed my desire to take part and saw some pieces of metal sitting on a chair. She gave them to me and finally I had the right instrument to play rhythm and join in the music which is a language I understand no matter what the accent. Who would not want to be in Rio with friends like these?

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