There seem to be two phrases I’m contractually obligated to mention on a blog about Brazil: “Brazil is not for beginners” (coming soon to a travel blog near you!) and “everything ends in pizza.”
Tudo acaba em pizza is a common refrain in Brazilian politics. It’s a complaint that nothing ever changes, that scandals and corruption aren’t punished so much as forgotten. This pattern is the result of a number of cultural and legal factors I’m still working to understand, but when over 100 of the country’s top politicians are being investigated for corruption (and in 2016, over 350 of Brazil’s almost 600 members of Congress were facing charges or investigation), it’s easy to see why people are frustrated.
I gather tudo acaba em pizza was originally used more positively—a way of recognizing that, at the end of the day, things get worked out. The phrase was first used in the 1960s, when a sports journalist described the celebration after a São Paulo soccer club resolved some intense organizational disputes. “We’ll have our disagreements,” the phrase seemed to say, “but we’ll also have our party.”
You might be picking up on the central tension here. As far as stereotypes go, Brazil is a famously laid-back culture, warm and resourceful and celebratory. But what happens when that culture of friendliness means politicians are expected to grant favors? Or when that attitude of inventiveness is applied to circumventing the law? Or when the country’s generally easy-going air either excuses or commutes corruption and graft?
(Well, probably something like modern Brazil, but that’s a topic for yet another blog post.)
In any case, I got to experience this warmth and celebration firsthand this weekend. I turned 24* on Saturday, and Barbara and Elaine planned two separate surprise parties for me. The first was Friday night as I was flossing before bed, when they brought back a few friends to ring in my birthday with a toast at midnight.
* Both my host mom and one of my professors have joked that I should actually be saying I’m turning 23 and 12 months, given the stigma around the number 24. I’m still getting a read on that particular joke—it’s the sort of thing that could be offensive in the US, but when one of my students heard my professor say it, he practically twirled and said he was always 24.
The second party was Saturday afternoon, featuring gifts and champagne and a brigadeiro cake! Brigadeiro is a famous Brazilian dessert, referring to balls of sweetened condensed milk and cocoa powder rolled in chocolate sprinkles. Barbara knew I liked chocolate, and Elaine wanted to make sure I had something Brazilian—so this cake was the perfect mix.
To my surprise, I was also given a number of gifts, including a snazzy new scarf, a copy of the Chronicles of Narnia in Portuguese, and some new t-shirts from a famous Brazilian brand. Barbara, knowing my family’s obsession with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, also got me a box set of the first five books of Diário de um Banana.
The evening then ended in pizza at Rodapizza Giordani. If you’ve ever been to a Brazilian steakhouse in the US, you know that servers circle the tables with skewers of meat, and you have a little card you can flip to indicate whether you want to be served or not. Here that serving style is called rodízio, and some restaurants do it for pizza.
Rodapizza Giordani is a dangerous place, mostly because it is very easy to fourteen slices of pizza there. We had a little wooden marker we could flip to “salty pizzas,” “sweet pizzas,” or “no thank you,” which in retrospect we probably should’ve utilized much earlier. The flavors were so much fun to try—like spinach/egg/bacon, or baked apples/ham. The sweet pizzas (like cinnamon/banana/cheese, or chocolate/coconut, or dulce de leite, sometimes with ice cream) were really good, too.
It admittedly got to the point where we might’ve thought our lives would end in pizza, but given some time to digest, I’d definitely go back there again.
So thank you to all my friends and especially my little family here who made my birthday so special. And shout-out to Barbara for capturing the day for posterity, including little gems like this:
Evidently, ending in pizza is not always a good thing—and I don’t mean to make light of a dire situation affecting tens of millions of Brazillians. But insofar as we can come together and laugh at the end of the day, I’m glad my birthday could end in pizza.