Brazilians Have a Name – and Culture – for Obama’s Party Crashers: Pirate’s Parrots

A pirate's parrot There is an expression in Portuguese to define the couple that crashed into Obama's party and that appears smiling victorious by his side. We call them "papagaios de pirata" (pirate's parrots). It is a reference to the bird that, despite its secondary role in the piracy endeavors, makes sure to appear on the picture with the boss.

In Brazil, there is a fully developed culture of papagaios de pirata. The king of them all is José Alves de Moura, also known as the Beijoqueiro (the Kisser). This cheerful middle-aged gentleman became famous in the 80's, when he would make flash appearances whenever someone famous was around.

He stole a kiss from Frank Sinatra during a show in Maracanã, the huge soccer stadium in Rio. He did the same to Roberto Carlos, the Brazilian superstar, and Tony Bennett, and to several politicians and to the soccer players Garrincha, Zico and Falcão.

By the way, when he showed Falcão his love, he was arrested by the police and heavily bitten, something frequent after his performances. His most famous feat was kissing the feet of pope John Paul II, despite the very intense security apparatus.

It is said he still lives in Rio and can be seen kissing people on the streets, proposing marriage to those who pass by and preaching against the drugs. When he is not in the psychiatric aisle of some hospital.

I bumped into a few serious Pirate's Parrots in my day. One was former Congressman Moisés Lipnik, a man of big physical proportions but little political expression. The room leading to his office was a big display of him in all sorts of mixed company: writers, Telly Savallas, former presidents…

Another big-time Pirate's Parrot was the owner of Eron hotel, in Brasí­lia. The walls of the main restaurant of the hotel, elegant in the past, were literally covered with images of him hugging politicians and starlets. It was picturesque but not necessarily digestive.

The episode involving Obama and the couple of parrots tells me this type of social climbing – if I can call it that way – may be found anywhere. It is not just a product of our tropical enthusiasm for celebrities.

Brazilian born, French citizen, married to an American, Regina Scharf is the ultimate globetrotter. She graduated in Biology and Journalism from USP (Universidade de São Paulo) and has worked for Folha de S. Paulo, Gazeta Mercantil and Veja magazine as well as Radio France Internationale. Since 2004 she has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the US. She authored or co-authored several books in Portuguese on environmental issues and was honored by the 2002 Reuters-IUCN Press award for Latin America and by the 2004 Prêmio Ethos. You can read more by her at Deep Brazil – www.deepbrazil.com.

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