“Be careful in Brazil, because that country increases in everyone the spirit of ambition, and the relaxation of virtues”
— Marquis de Pombal, Portuguese Foreign Affairs Minister, 1750-1777, in a letter to his newly arrived brother in Brazil
Sitting here in the departure lounge at Lisbon Airport, preparing to fly to Brazil, I can’t help but wonder how those pioneering Portuguese sailors must have felt as they first voyaged across the Atlantic. Apprehensive? Probably. And their journey was considerably more adventurous than mine now!
I like to think that a little of the plucky spirit of those original explorers lives on in the Brazilian DNA. I’ve been to Brazil before, and can attest to their grit and determination in the face of adversity. They refer proudly to something called “jeitinho Brasileiro,” loosely translated, their ability to pull together to make the most of a bad situation.
This positive, “can-do” attitude is embedded their very language. Take, for example, the Portuguese verb for ‘to notice’: ‘reparar’. It has the same Latin roots as the English word ‘repair’, and in fact carriers some of the same meaning too. In the lusophone world, to notice and to repair are often one and the same thing.
In Portugese, the same word is used for both ‘observe’ and ‘repair’. I’m sure this reveals something about their mindset.
Such resourcefulness is something the Brazilians have needed a lot of in recent years, as they’ve faced a political crisis, economic meltdown and found themselves centre-stage one of the most threatening viral outbreaks in recent history (the Zika epidemic).
I noticed too, that Brazilians will defiantly laugh, have fun and joke in the face of tough-times. The clichés are true, Brazilians can often be caught smiling and are some of the friendliest people I have ever met.
Oddly, perhaps they’re not so dissimilar from us Brits in many respects, what with our “keep calm and carry on” attitude. Except the Brazilian equivalent would have to be “keep calm and have a bloody good laugh about it”.
De Pombal was right. The Brazilian “spirit of ambition” is contagious. I felt it when I was there last and I’m sensing it again just thinking of the place.
Still, I’m left wondering what de Pombal meant by “the relaxation of virtues”. I’ll take that to mean that Brazilians like having fun, which is certainly true and something I’m all up for… but I’ll heed his word and try to go too wild over the next few weeks!
That’s plenty of day-dreaming for now. I’m being called for my flight. Hopefully, I’ll make de Pombal proud and adopt that “spirit of ambition” that makes Brazil so special, without caving in too much to “the relaxation of the virtues”!
Wish me luck!