A Love Letter to José Carioca, Rio de Janeiro

In which the past catches up with me

My dear Joe,

We met at least twenty years ago, so I’ve always considered you a friend, but it’s different now. Aside from the standard byproduct of aging that causes one to see the hallmarks of childhood in a new light and with a new appreciation, I happen to have spent much of this year cornered in my apartment by the impossibility and/or fear of travel, calling on the far reaches of the internet to transport me to those childhood haunts. See, we have these things called streaming services and—oh, but all this means nothing to you in early-1940s Brazil. The point is it led me back to you.

And boy, am I glad. You haven’t changed a whit, you’ve only shown me how I have. The diligent animators paint you to life in the final few minutes of Saludos Amigos, and Donald Duck encounters you and wonders who you are and what’s going on in his barely-intelligible manner, and it takes me about ninety seconds of screen time to fall head over tail feathers in love with you. Your pronunciation of your own name and hometown, by way of introduction, is possibly the sexiest thing I’ve ever heard. (I was disarmed. I had to rewind.) And you puff up a little with pride as you do so, but it’s still modest? A modest pride? I don’t know. Evidently all my powers of language fail where you’re concerned. Anyway, then you realize this hapless duck you’re talking to is a movie star, whose work is familiar to you,* and you exclaim, “O Pato Donald? O Pato Donald!” and go off in rapid overexcited Portuguese, and by the time you start strumming your umbrella like a cavaquinho** I’ve lost track of where I am. What’s more, you’re tenacious: you manage to sustain a friendship with said hapless duck, carried over into The Three Caballeros, in which you spend an even longer stretch of time with him and somehow hang onto your patience despite his endless questioning and skirt-chasing. I mean, we all knew Donald was obnoxious, but he comes off almost irredeemably so beside such a gentleman as yourself. You, sir, can handle your cachaça. But then, if you can’t be a healthy influence on him, who can?

Honestly, you should see the look on my face as I write.

Even just laying eyes on you overwhelmed me with what you call saudade. A very romantic nostalgia indeed. You are the best-dressed bird I know, more debonair than you’ve any right to be in that hat and bowtie, and if I were ever to smoke a cigar it would be because you make it look effortlessly cool (I do have perfectly cool human friends who smoke cigars, but none has been sufficient to persuade me). I love how whatever you touch becomes a musical instrument, most often your umbrella (proof that the best characters carry umbrellas—see also: Mary Poppins, Jiminy Cricket), and how the art of duplicating and harmonizing with oneself is apparently second nature to you. All handy talents when paired with an impeccable taste in music. I love your natural and shameless bilingualism, which sets you apart both in and beyond Disney. You switch like it’s nothing, you normalized it before normalizing things was a trend. I love how taken with Bahia you are: your perspective of it left an impression on me back before my brain was developed enough to grasp the concept of place. Speaking of, I love that you live in an actual location which I could conceivably visit (someday). The Disney universe is full of lovely fake kingdoms. Thank you for giving me a lovely real one.

Also, that one-eyed thing you do. Irresistible.

I love that you’ve seen stuff, you know? You’re not some innocent. You’ve been around the block; you’ve learned where to be and when to be there. You have no reason not to be sure of yourself, and so you are.

I may love your sense of adventure the most, your knack for sweeping us up into shenanigans while we’re none the wiser. Any man who can do that is a keeper in my book. If that man is a charming, well-spoken, properly stylish parrot, so much the better.

Wait, though, it might be your dancing that I love most. Do you understand my dilemma? Ugh. I’d just pick you up and squeeze you if I could.

I’ve since been blessed with real-life friends who reflect a more detailed and practical—and admittedly up-to-date—picture of the culture you described to me. I’ve also had the good fortune to experience more of the world at large. But please take my gratitude for guiding me early on, for planting the seed so long ago. And if you want to take my heart, too, well, why not. You’ve earned it.



*Audience aside: I love an in-universe reference. Characters recognizing each other from elsewhere in the canon is something I am a fan of.

**Portugal’s answer to the ukulele, important to me for personal reasons.

Image: Really, people, how can you NOT?

Published by Cecilia Gigliotti

Cecilia Gigliotti (she/her) lives in Berlin with a beloved ukulele named Uke Skywalker. She co-hosts and produces the music commentary podcast POD SOUNDS. Her free time goes toward dancing, reading books new and old, drawing cartoons, taking city walks, and devoting too much thought to the foibles of her heroes. Connect with her on Instagram (@c_m_giglio, @ceciliagphotography, @pod_sounds_podcast) and see what else she's up to (linktr.ee/ceciliagigliotti).

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